I think sometimes we need to take a step back and just remember we have no greater right to be here than any other animal.– David Attenborough
Why do most people love nature? Why do we experience it as healing?
One answer is that it’s because we are nature. We are an expression of this living planet as everything else is.
Another is that nearly all of our ancestors lived in nature. They were adapted to it. It was their home. It is our home. We are – literally – made to be in nature.
There is also a simplicity in being in nature. It helps us focus on the basics and we don’t need to pay attention to all the complexities of modern life. Food. Shelter. Getting from A to B. That’s the few simple things we need to focus on.
It also helps us prioritize and see our life in perspective. When I am in civilization, I am immensely grateful for electricity, running water, hot showers, and being able to go to the grocery store for food. These are not anything we can take for granted at all. Also, I get to see that I can be content with little as long as my basic needs are covered. My quality of life does not come from all the extra things that modern life offers. It comes from the simple things in everyday life, and especially in how I relate to my life and the world in general.
The simplicity of being in nature is also a kind of retreat. It helps us meet ourselves. And instead of going to distractions, we are invited to find another – and more kind and content – way of being with ourselves.
Is this love for nature only for ourselves? No. It can certainly enrich our lives immensely and also clarify our lives. But it also makes us into advocates for nature, and few things are as important – for us as humans and for all Earth life – than that today.
I am very aware that what I write here is a reflection of privilege. I can go into nature when I want. I have a home in civilization. I have my basic needs covered. I don’t need to collect or catch my own food.
I am also aware that since I am from Norway, and a deep love for nature is an important part of Norwegian culture, these views are somewhat influenced by my culture. In the US, I didn’t find the same universal love for nature, or at least not the love that makes us want to be in and experience nature first hand.
When you hear the words Mother Earth, what does it mean to you? A poetic metaphor? A reminder to recycle? Something a tree-hugger would say?
Or does it mean something more? Perhaps it’s literally true?
We are born from Earth. We are sustained by Earth. All we know is Earth. We are, in a very real and literal sense, Earth. We are a local and temporary expression of this living system we call Earth – amazing and beautiful far beyond what we can even begin to understand.
Our human culture and everything part of it is Earth. That too is a local and temporary expression of Earth. We and all we know and all we are and all we have created grew out of and is part of this amazing, beautiful, living, evolving system we call Earth.
Earth is not other. It’s not something to take care of as we take care of a possession. It’s what we are. When we care for Earth we care of ourselves.
This is the most obvious thing in the world. And yet, it’s not. And the only reason it’s not is that we live within a culture, a mindset, and a worldview that says we are separate. Earth is a commodity. Earth provides resources for our civilization. Earth provides space for our waste. Earth can be owned and used for our pleasure.
And we forget that we are part of this amazing living system. We are part of the evolution of Earth. We are born from and sustained by Earth. We are the local expression of Earth. We are Earth. We are the ones who can speak for Earth. Protect Earth as ourselves. Cherish Earth as ourselves. Love Earth as ourselves.
We need a profound transformation into a more sustainable and life-centered culture, and this shift in perception is part of it. It’s a change in how we see ourselves and Earth. We never were separate individuals wandering around in an environment. We are local expressions of Earth.
Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.– Rewilding Europe
How do we rewild ourselves?
It’s another big topic that a short article can’t do justice, but I’ll mention a few things.
One is to recognize that we are nature, we are already wild. We are the local expression of earth, the universe, and reality. Recognize it, feel it more deeply, reorient within this realization.
Another is to look at what in us prevents is from realizing this and live from it. And also from living from a more natural expression of our kindness and wisdom. Often, and perhaps more often than we realize, our beliefs, identities, and emotional wounds keeps us within a narrow range when a far larger range could be available to us.
Spending time in nature is helpful for rewilding ourselves. As is becoming comfortable with silence and listening. (Inner and outer silence, and listening to the inner and outer.) And befriending ourselves as we are, including our emotions, feelings, and body. And learning to appreciate and enjoy who and what we are.
Rewilding ourselves is a process of recognizing and taking in what we are. (A local expression of nature, Earth, the universe.) Listening. Befriending ourselves and reality. Venturing outside of artificial boundaries we put on ourselves. (Aka stressful, limiting beliefs and identities, fear rooted in emotional wounds and trauma.) Respect. Patience. Recognizing all as part of the same whole.
Befriending the wild in ourselves is very similar to befriending a wild animal.
Rewilding ourselves helps us find a deeper and more stable and universal identity (and perhaps freedom from identities). It helps us feel that we belong to nature, earth, the universe, and existence (as we do). It can help us find a deeper relaxion and ease, and comfort with ourselves and reality.
And it helps Earth. We realize we are the earth, and this naturally leads to changes in our life. We reprioritize. We live differently. We may become activists in our own way.
We realize that, by doing so, we are nature taking care of itself. We are nature protecting and defending itself.
As our eco-systems keep unraveling, ecological grief will only go more into the mainstream as an experience and topic.
How do we deal with our ecological grief?
Here are some things I have found helpful for me:
Recognize it’s natural and even healthy. My ecological grief – for what I see happening locally and globally – is natural, understandable, and even healthy. It’s an expression of recognizing what’s happening. It comes from caring for myself, those close to me, humanity, future generations, non-human beings, species, ecosystems, and Earth a beautiful and amazing-beyond-comprehension living whole.
Share with likeminded people. Share as a confession.
Deep Ecology practices – like the Practices to Reconnect. These help us befriend our grief, find nourishment from our deep connection with all of life and past and future generations, and renew our hope and motivation for action. They can be done with a small group of friends or larger and more organized groups. I have led them myself with one or two other people and up to groups of ten or more.
Channeling the grief into action. This is not only how we transform society into a more Earth-centered one, but it also helps our own mental health. Even small actions are valuable, especially when I do it with others. (A while back, I helped start up neighborhood eco-teams and NWEI groups and these transformed people’s lives at many levels.)
I can support politicians and policies that help us transform into a more life-centered society. I can donate to organizations. I can make changes in my own life. I can join a local organization. I can communicate with politicians, businesses, and corporations. I can inform myself about what’s happening and win-win-win solutions. I can choose to focus on the solutions. I can envision the world I want to live with and share my vision.
I can choose to focus on systemic solutions because that’s where the problems are (not in individuals or “human nature”) and that’s also the best strategy for getting others on board (avoiding blaming individuals or particular groups of people).
Changing how I see it. I am not (only) an individual stressed out or in grief from witnessing the destruction of nature. I am nature reacting to its own destruction. And when I channel it into action, I am – quite literally – nature protecting itself. (Deep Ecology, ecopsychology, eco-spirituality, Deep Time, Big History, Universe Story, etc.)
Clear up stressful beliefs and identifications, and find healing for triggered emotional issues. When we respond to ecological destruction – whether it’s local or global – it inevitably ties into our own personal wounds and hangups. I can use my reaction to what’s going on in the world as a pointer to my own personal issues and I can explore and find healing for these. That not only improves my quality of life, it also makes me a more effective agent for change in the world. I act more from clarity and kindness and less from reactivity and wounds.
yugen – a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universeWikipedia article on Japanese Aesthetics
I don’t speak Japanese so I know I am bound to get this slightly wrong. It seems that yugen often refers to something evoked in us related to our own past (as most poetry does), although perhaps also something evoked in us about nature itself?
Here, I’ll be selective and use it in the sense of something evoked in us about nature itself.
If we talk about that, and a feeling or sense of nature as sacred, then we have nature mysticism.
Nature mysticism can refer to this feeling or sense of the sacred in nature and the universe. It can refer to a deep sense of belonging to nature and the universe. And it can refer to a sense of oneness with it all, that we are all one and the same and part of a seamless reality. (Which is obviously true even from a modern science perspective, and this sense of oneness happens when we realize it, take it in, and perhaps live more from it.) Either of these can come over us, often when we are in nature. Or it’s more stable and with us most or all of the time.
Is this just something that happens on its own or can we invite it in and deepen in it? For me, both seem true.
Yes, it can certainly happen on its own. (For me, all three happened from early childhood on and later became more stabilized in the oneness. The mysterious feeling was stronger earlier on and now is rarer, but that’s natural since the oneness is independent of any feelings.)
And yes, we can invite it in – through being in nature, poetry, deep ecology readings and practices (Practices to Reconnect), eco-psychology and eco-spirituality readings and practices, inquiry to help us remove mind-barrier to a sense of oneness with it all, and so on. (I have been deeply involved in this too over the last three decades.)
And we can go beyond nature mysticism. It can become much more clear and – in a sense – simple.
We can taste and stabilize in oneness. In noticing, realizing, and living from all content of experience happening within and as what we are. (Whether we chose to interpret this in a big or small way, or a spiritual or psychological way, as I have written about in other articles.)
Here, any sense of being a separate self is left behind.
This too can happen spontaneously or through practices and exploration. Usually, it’s a combination of both. (The practices are the usual spiritual ones like meditation, prayer, heart-centered practices, inquiry, energy- and body-centered practices and so on.)
There are a few things it’s good to clarify.
Nature mysticism does often refer to a feeling. A feeling of nature and the universe as sacred, and perhaps even a feeling or sense of oneness with all of existence. Here, there is usually still a sense of being a separate self. (Which is fine and natural, it’s the mind creating this experience for itself.)
Even when oneness is more clear and stabilized, this feeling can come and go. As mentioned above, for me the feeling was much stronger earlier in my process although it still comes very occasionally. Now, there is usually just the noticing of oneness.
And all of this, whether it’s a variety of nature mysticism or some level of oneness, is typically translated into profound shifts in our worldview and – yes – in our lives and how we live in the world.
That’s why I write about it. It can be cool and help us as (individual) human beings in the world. And yet, what it can do for the world is equally or more important. The world today needs this. It needs more people experiencing it, being transformed by it, sharing it with others, and – in turn – transforming humanity (even if it’s just a tiny bit) and how we are in the world.
Image: Hiroshige, View of a Long Bridge Across a Lake
When we talk about climate change (or climate crisis) denial, we usually mean denial of it happening or that it’s created by humans. Although this gets a lot of attention, it’s fortunately not so widespread. When it happens, it’s typically fueled by money from the fossil fuel industry, based on misinformation, and mostly involves people who – based on what they have heard and emotional reasoning – think they know better than people who have devoted their life to understanding and studying it.
There is another climate change denial that’s as or more important. This is the denial of the seriousness of the crisis we are in. It’s a denial not only if the seriousness of the climate crisis, but of the wider ecological crisis we are in.
Here are some of the views characterizing this denial:
It won’t be very serious. For decades, this was the default approach. Some years ago, I read news stories about a 10-30cm ocean level rise while anyone who had thought about it (the amount of land-based ice that would melt) realized it could easily be in the several meter range.
Other things are more important. Again, this is a typical default view. Short-term interest are more important. Group interests are more important. We sometimes also assume that issues that are important – education, healthcare, infrastructure etc. – are more important. They are obviously important, but to prioritize it over creating a truly sustainable global culture and society is misguided. Currently, the young climate rebels are among those who really gets this and act on it.
We have time. No, we don’t have time. We needed to make the changes yesterday, or a decade ago, or several decades ago. We can’t put it off.
It requires only a few peripheral adjustments. No, it requires profound and deep systemic changes in all social systems, including economics (how we think about economics and our framework for it), transportation, energy production and use, education, and more. It requires deep changes in how we see ourselves in relation to the world as a whole and how this is reflected in our intellectual frameworks and social infrastructure.
Others will do it. Others may take the lead, but we – each one of us – are required to participate. This is about humanity as a whole.
It’s mainly about climate change. No, it’s equally or more about shrinking natural ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, toxins in air, water and soil, lack of clean drinking water, and social injustice.
It’s true that the denial of the climate crisis – or denying it’s created by human activity — is serious and needs to be addressed.
But the real climate denial is the one most of us participate in. It’s the denial of the seriousness and acuteness of the issue and that it’s about a lot more than just climate change.
Afterwards, my friend shows me a book called “God as WE” and asked me if I know of other authors on that topic.From Dream: A New Dance, a post from 2007
This is from an old post that showed up in the sidebar today.
God as WE. That’s still alive for me.
All of existence is the divine. And so are all beings – the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as individuals and communities, and as evolving species and societies.
It’s already that way. God is already WE. And yet, when God recognizes and notices itself as WE something else comes in. A new dimension in our experience of ourselves as WE.
To me, this WE is not only all human beings, it’s also the whole Earth community. It’s all of life. It includes any beings other places in the universe, whether we know about them or not. And it even includes all of existence. All of it is WE.
This larger WE
There is an ongoing debate in norway about whether we should have wolves or not, and how many. The fault lines – as so often these days – seem to go between the urban and/or more educated, and the rural and/or less educated.
Here are some of the arguments against wolves, and my comments.
They take livestock. They do, but they take far fewer than trains, traffic, and disease. And the farmers receive compensation from the state if any are taken.
They are a risk to humans. No, they are virtually no risk to humans. The real risks are what we all know about, including traffic, suicide, poor lifestyle and food choices, and much more.
They are evil and scary. Yes, we may culturally have learned to see them as evil and project our shadow onto them, and they may trigger fear in us. That’s no reason to get rid of them. (I suspect this is what’s really going on since the apparently rational arguments are not very strong.)
And here are some arguments for having wolves.
For the benefit of the wolves. They have as much right to be here as we do. They are sentient beings just as us and wish to live.
For the ecosystems. Our ecosystems evolved with large predators, and healthy and thriving ecosystems depend on large predators.
For our benefit. Just as ecosystems, we need the wild. We evolved with and in the wild, and with high level predators. We need it for our own health and well being. We need it as a reminder of who we are, in an evolutionary context. We need it to feel alive.
Why are people really against wolves? I suspect primal fear of wolves is one aspect. Specifically, fear of losing animals to wolves may trigger a more primal fear than losing them to illness or trains. Another may be instinctual competition. Humans and wolves are both large predators, and it’s natural to try to eliminate the competition.
In my view, the arguments against don’t hold up well. And the arguments for are far more important – for them, for us, for nature as a whole.
As usual, I can add that this view is very predictable for someone with my background. I grew up in a well educated urban family. I love nature. I want to consider the rights and needs of other beings, including nonhuman species. I am liberal in terms of politics. If I had grown up as a sheep farmer in an area with wolves, my views may well have been different. And that doesn’t mean I won’t speak up for wolves. They need someone to speak for them.
Inquiry can easily be used in an ecopsychology context.
Specifically how depends on the person and his or her situation.
For people concerned about our current ecological situation, we can look at fear, stress, a sense of inadequacy etc.
For people worried they are not doing enough, we can look at guilt, shame, fear, and commands to do more (or less!).
For people caught up in us vs them thinking, we can look at identities and perceived boundaries creating this sense of division and separation.
For people who want to experience a deeper connection with nature, we can look at identities with a charge that creates a sense of separation.
There is no end to possibilities. It would be fun to do a workshop on this one day. It could perhaps be combined with Practices to Reconnect developed by Joanna Macy.
I just listened to the Revisionist History episode of Stuff You Should Know.
As they suggest, all history is by nature revisionist. We always change how we see and interpret the past, based on what’s important to us now (and sometimes just new information).
For a while now, historians have looked more at economy and class, gender, ethnicity, religion, and more. They have used these as filters, and looked at history from the perspective of groups previously left out such as women, children, non-European ethnic groups, the working class and poor, and religious minorities.
Two things were not mentioned in the podcast:
First, the difference between focusing on “ordinary” people vs. extraordinary people in history. Both has it’s value, and more historians are now focusing on the history of the ordinary people. How was their life and conditions? (This was a big part of my history classes in school.)
The other is looking at history through the filter of nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations. If history is, at least partly, about giving voice to the voiceless, and giving focus to the previously invisible, then this has to be included. How has our actions through history impacted nonhuman species and ecosystems, and also future generations? How have we treated these? How have they been ignored, or included and valued, in our decision process?
A Green History of the World by Clive Pointing is an example from the 90s, and many people in the Deep Ecology and ecopsychology world have addressed the topic, but it’s still not included in mainstream history. It will, most likely, and perhaps sooner rather than later as ecological and sustainability issues become more and more obviously important to us.
Some green history questions that come to mind:
How have we (humans, at different places and times through history) treated the nonhuman world? How have we treated nonhuman species, nature, ecosystems? How have we treated future generations? (Both human and nonhuman.)
Have they been ignored? Included in our decision making? Respected? Have we been blind to them? Have we justified mistreatment of them, and how?
And why? How has our world view, values, fears, survival needs and more influenced this?
What can we learn from this? How does it apply to our current situation? What are the lessons?
I am ambivalent about right wing sustainability.
It’s good that sustainability is a concern across the political spectrum, and I wish to support that.
At the same time, would I really want to cooperate with eco-fascists? With fascists who happen to be into sustainability and even deep ecology? I don’t know. I guess I could if I made it clear that I don’t support many of their other views, we agree to disagree on those, and leave what we disagree on aside while focusing on practical sustainability solutions we can agree on. I see that as very possible.
It’s interesting that right wing folks in the US often are vehemently against sustainability, while right wingers in other places of the world often see sustainability as central to their orientation and views. After all, being conservative – at least in my view – means protecting our natural resources for our children, and be good stewards of God’s creation. It can also mean protecting the nature where our ancestors lived, and which formed our culture.
Of course, the ancestors of white conservatives in the US didn’t live in the US, and their culture was not formed by this landscape. Maybe that’s part of the reason for this disconnect. Maybe that’s why they see it as more OK to ravage it, while people living where their ancestors lived – and where their culture was formed – are more inclined to protect it.
I also realize there are many ways of being conservative, and I agree with many of the views of traditional conservatives. (At least in terms of being a good steward and caring for our families, communities, and culture.)
It seems that it’s more the neo-liberals who feel threatened by the idea of sustainability. They see it as impinging on the freedom of businesses and corporations to do what they want to make more money. Which is true. Although they sometimes overlook the huge business opportunities in sustainability and our transition to a more sustainable society.
I suspect that in the (near?) future, neo-liberals or their ideological heirs will embrace sustainability exactly for that reason. It means new and amazing business opportunities, the possibility of big profits, and even the possibility to channel public money to corporations (now) working with sustainability.
There are many topics I don’t address here, mainly because what comes to me to say about it seems too obvious or predictable, at least if addressed in a brief blog post. Inquiry and deep ecology is one of them.
I also realize that by writing about it, I may uncover things that I wasn’t initially aware of. Or, engaging with the topic with curiosity may plant a seed that reveals something to me later.
How does inquiry connect with deep ecology?
One approach would be to look for…..
A boundary between me and the wider world, nature, the universe.
A boundary between me and nonhuman species, and future generations.
Me, nonhuman species, future generations, Earth, the universe.
Can I find any of these boundaries? Can I find it, outside of words, images, sensations?
Can I find what stops me from acting on behalf of nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations? Can I find the fear, lethargy?
Can I find a command to act, or not to act?
And so on. (Living Inquiries.) I can also identify and question any stressful thoughts, or any assumptions, I have on any of these topics. (The Work.)
I went to a talk with Stephan Harding and David Abram at Schumacher College earlier tonight, and was reminded of the connection between nonduality and ecophilosophy. (Mainly because the way they talked about it bordered on the nondual, but didn’t quite embrace or come from it.)
To me, nonduality, systems views, and various forms of ecophilosophy are natural allies. They complement each other beautifully.
Nonduality simplifies and unifies, and offers pointers to see through stories.
And the other ones are powerful stories which can transform our lives at individual and collective levels in a very much needed way at this point in our history.
What these all have in common is a recognition of stories as stories, with a power to guide and transform our lives. And of the oneness of all life, of everything that is.
In the beginning of this excerpt, Arne Næss speaks as if deep ecology and Kant are incompatible.
For me, both appear equally valid.
Deep ecology invites a deep caring for the whole of nature, a deep meaning, and it supports a deep engagement.
Kant invites an exploration of how I create my world. I come to recognize that my world is created in my own world of images, and this helps me hold it all more lightly.