The deep taproot of this existential crisis we are facing, reflected in runaway climate change, is ultimately a spiritual problem. As Naomi Klein rightly points out in her book This Changes Everything:
“Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews.”
Our worldview is no longer harmonious with the world itself. We have fallen out of balance with nature, and it seems like we cannot get up. At the same time, if we do not recover our balance with nature, if we do not harmonize our world view with the natural world, then every attempt to solve the climate crisis will just lead to unintended consequences that only serve to perpetuate the crisis.
Splitting the atom may have severed our connection to nature at its root, but this split was conceived in philosophy hundreds of years ago, with the revolutionary influence of a French philosopher famous for not trusting his own senses. The wrong step that Rene Descartes took, and in so taking led all of humankind down the wrong path, is today referred to as ‘Cartesian Dualism.’ Simply put, it is the monstrous idea that there is me – in here – and all of nature out there. This is the divisive seed that mushroomed three centuries later in a cloud over the White Sands Proving Ground, and began a chain reaction that has been reverberating in our collective psyche ever since…The notion that man somehow stands apart from nature!
The very idea of a consumer society, which is based on objectifying animals as “commodities” and exploitation of natural resources to the point of exhaustion, would not be feasible without this world view of Cartesian duality. We would not be perpetrating the world’s 6th Great Extinction, and we would not be confronted with this existential climate crisis.
Slowly, but surely, the dualistic and materialistic views from scientism that have been handed down to us through the ages from Descartes are being replaced by a much more radical and naturalist view of the world that everyone and every ‘thing’ is interconnected and interdependent.
It necessarily follows from this new worldview that the climate crisis is a crisis of relationship. Our relationship to the Earth, to nature. And since we are actually a part of nature, and not apart from it, this really all comes down to how we relate to ourselves — which depends of course on how we think about ourselves.
A spiritual crisis is playing out in our psyche, and manifesting on the world stage.
Ecopsychology represents a paradigm shift for Western Psychology – a revolution in the way we think of ourselves psychologically that has been made necessary by Western Psychology’s failure to contribute in a responsible way to the existential crisis we are facing at this pivotal point in human history. Ecopsychology presents a radically different view of humans naturally being. As Mary Gomes has so eloquently put it:
“Ecopsychology has emerged over the past several years as an intellectual and social movement that seeks to understand and heal our relationship with the Earth. It examines the psychological processes that bond us to the natural world or that alienate us from it…. We need to uncover ways to heal the culture as well as the individuals who live in it. Ecopsychology is essentially about becoming cultural healers.”
Adopting and integrating this revised world view is a critical first step in assuming personal responsibility for climate change and our children’s future. It is as if we are being asked by the Earth to evolve just a little bit quicker if we want to survive within her forgiving body. To break the dualistic habits of our conditioned minds takes a little effort – the conscious effort of re-minding ourselves again and again to see things as they really exist, as referent points in a beautiful web of relations, and not the way we have been conditioned to think of things as objects to be possessed and consumed.
Consistent with this expansive view of human beings, Carl Jung saw the psyche as ‘pure nature.’ He himself explored an in-between realm where psyche and matter are one:
“This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence… a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
No great leap of faith is required for us to accept the idea that the world has a soul, and that we are and have always been connected to that world soul – whether or not we have recently forgotten it in Western culture. Anima mundi cries out to us now to reunite with her, as a mother would to her wayward children. As the late, great Jungian psychotherapist James Hillman put it, after concluding that he found the pathology of the world soul reflected in our own pathology:
“The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”
Let us put this in more personal terms. Anima Mundi, the natural world, because of our split from her, is entering a new conscious relationship with us. By drawing attention to herself by means of the climate crisis, she is becoming aware of herself (and forcing us to do the same) as a psychic reality.
She is calling us home…
(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction of this and related pieces without express authorization from the author