The deep and enduring psychological and spiritual questions - who we are, how we grow, why we suffer, how we heal--are inseparable from our relationships with the physical world. Similarly, the over-riding environmental questions--the sources of, consequences of, and solutions to environmental disaster--are deeply rooted in the psyche, our images of self and nature, and our behaviors. Ecopsychology integrates ecology and psychology in responding to both sets of questions. Among its contributions are shifting environmental action from anxiety, blame, and coercion to devotion, joy, and invitation; bringing ecological thinking and the natural world to psychotherapy and personal growth; encouraging a phenomenological basis for environmental education; and fostering lifestyles that are both ecologically and psychologically healthy and sustainable.
Ecopsychology is rooted in three insights. (1) There is a deeply bonded and reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. Ecopsychology has presented two metaphors for this relationship: (a) nature as home and family (e.g., Earth as mother, animals as siblings) and (b) nature as Self, in which self-identifications are broadened to include the "greater-than-human" world and Gaia. (2) The illusion of a separation of humans and nature leads to suffering both for the environment (as ecological devastation) and for humans (as grief, despair, and alienation). (3) Realizing the connection between humans and nature is healing for both. This reconnection includes the healing potential of contact with nature, work on grief and despair about environmental destruction, ecotherapy, and psychoemotional bonding with the world as a source of environmental action and sustainable lifestyles.
While ecopsychology has flirted with nature-based spirituality, it has rarely articulated the connections between psyche, nature, and spirit clearly and robustly. Ecopsychology has the potential to reveal psyche and nature as expressions of the same whole and to reveal our deep questions as essentially spiritual. I propose that ecopsychology be extended to a view that both includes and transcends the nature-as-family and nature-as-self metaphors, recognizing a fundamentally nondual, seamless unity in which both nature and psyche flow as expressions of the same ground or source. This is not simply a reciprocity between humans and nature, nor merely a broadening of the self to include the natural world, though it includes both. Rather, it calls for levels of development beyond the individual self as a separate entity to an identification with being, spirit, or the mystery which gives rise to all manifestations, human and nature.
The implications of this transpersonal view are radical. Nature and human become relative but limited distinctions, not final. Fundamentally, there is no nature and there is no human. Rather, being is characterized by unlimited creativity, awareness, presence, and the richness and beauty of its myriad forms. This view values all forms of being, recognizes a ground of emptiness, and points to a transcendence of both emptiness and form. Action is revealed as a caring reflex responding to the suffering of the psyche and the destruction of the ecosystem. Mindfulness, contemplation, ritual, and direct contact with the world are the core practices for this awakening and development. Here, we deepen our realization of our true nature, being awakens to itself more fully as, and through, human nature, and ecopsychology becomes a foundation for a path of self-realization and full development.
Ecology and psychology, having grown up on different sides of the mountain, met one day in the thick brush at the ridge line separating their home territories. Their first contact was awkward and hesitant—different dress, different languages, different dances, songs, and stories. One looked out and the other looked in. Yet, there was a strong mutual attraction, a sense in each that a longing could be satisfied here. They began to circle, they danced, and finally they joined. Their offspring are twins. One is vigorous, skillful, joyous, and sustainable environmental action. The other is the wonder, intimacy, expansion, and grace of finding ourselves at home in the world. They realized, too, that there was much work to be done together. There were other such liaisons in the thick brush at the edges, but this one was particularly juicy, wild, and fertile.
John Davis, Home of the Soul / Soul of the Home (Unpub.)
At the [first transpersonal] level, a person might temporarily dissolve the separate-self sense (the ego) and find an identity with the entire gross or sensorimotor world -- so-called nature mysticism. You’re on a nice nature walk, relaxed and expansive in your awareness, and you look at a beautiful mountain, and wham! -- suddenly there is no looker, just the mountain -- and you are the mountain. You are not in here looking at the mountain out there. There is just the mountain, and it seems to see itself, or you seem to be seeing it from within. The mountain is closer to you than your own skin. ... Inside and outside—they don’t have any meaning anymore. You can still tell perfectly well where you body stops and the environment begins -- this is not psychotic adualism... It is your own higher Self at this stage... You are a “nature mystic.”
[In regard to this higher Self ] I am a big fan of the deep ecologists. They have an important message for the modern world: to find that deep Self that embraces all of nature, and thus to treat nature with the same revereance you would extend to your own being.
Ken Wilber. (1996). Brief History of Everything. Shambhala. p 202-204.
The backpacker-pilgrim's step-by-step, breath-by-breath walk up a trail, carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to trigger perennial images and a profound sense of body-mind joy.
Not just backpackers, of course. The same happens to those who sail in the ocean, kayak rivers, tend a garden, even sit on a meditation cushion. The point is in making intimate contact with wild world, wild self. Sacred refers to that which helps take us out of our little selves into the larger self of the whole universe.
Inspiration, exaltation, insight do not end, however, when one steps outside the doors of the church. The wilderness as a temple is only a beginning. That is: one should not dwell in the specialness of the extraordinary experience, not leave the political world behind to be in a state of heightened insight. The best purpose of such studies and backpack hikes is to be able to come back into the world to see all the land about us, agricultural, suburban, urban, as part of the same giant realm of processes and beings—never totally ruined, never completely unnatural. Great Brown Bear is walking with us, salmon swimming upstream with us, as we stroll a city street.
Gary Snyder. (1984). Good Wild Sacred. Five Seasons Press. p. 26.
“I am the protecting the rainforest” develops to “I am part of the rainforest protecting myself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking.” What a relief then! The thousands of years of imagined separation are over and we begin to recall our true nature. That is, the change is a spiritual one, sometimes referred to as deep ecology.” ...
What humankind is capable of loving from mere duty or moral exhortation is, unfortunately very limited. ... The extensive moralizing within the ecological movement has given the public the false impression that they are primarily asked to sacrifice, to show more responsibility, more concern, and better morals. ... [But] the requisite care flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our very selves.
John Seed, (1988), quoted in Macy & Brown, Coming Back to Life. New Society,
For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.
Rumi, Open Secret, Coleman & Barks, Trans.