Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.
~ Marianne Williamson
This book is a Clarion Call to Awakening, reaching out to all the hearts and minds of all the people who are rightly concerned about the future of life on Planet Earth. The time has come for us to rise up in response to the existential challenge we are facing – for our children’s and their children’s sake, and for the sake of all sentient beings living in the world today.
The premise of this book is quite simple. The Climate Crisis we face is not an environmental problem, and there is no environmental solution. It is not a political issue, and there will be no timely political solutions forthcoming. It is certainly a moral issue, as recognized by Pope Francis, and every religion should treat it as such. But given the deep psychological roots of our behavior, moralizing about climate change is also not the solution. No, this is a crisis of spirit, a crisis in relationship, raising the question who we humans really are. We can think of it as a kind of collective identity crisis – one that will only be resolved when a critical mass of human beings heal the split between our Psyche, or collective soul, and nature, the soul of the world.
Fortunately for us, though it’s tendrils sink deep into the fields of human endeavor, this split is still of relatively recent origin. As you will see in these pages, it can actually be traced back to the splitting of the atom in 1945, which involved humans taking over the reigns of nature and which triggered a seismic shift in the human psyche itself – a splitting apart that we have yet to fully acknowledge and come to grips with. This disruption in our Psyche manifested as a new way of life, the so-called “modern” (or atomic) age, and coincided with the emergence of the nuclear family inhabiting a materialistic, hyper-consumer culture that was seductively labeled The American Dream…
In gaining mastery over nature, asserting unimaginable control over the very forces of creation and destruction, we seem to have severed our connection to nature at its very root, objectifying the Earth and each other, commodifying our lives, designing artificial living environments called suburbs, and creating an entirely new, virtual reality to soothe our aching souls. In the process, we unintentionally isolated ourselves from our own true nature as earthlings – creatures of the Earth. We created a social and cultural matrix of isolation, and then we proceeded to act out this story of separation, objectification, commodification, and alienation in increasingly harmful ways, until now we are unraveling the very fabric of life and assaulting the global ecosystem that has nourished and supported us, and all beings, since beginningless time.
Why have we subconsciously externalized this fundamental split between Psyche and nature in such alarming ways? Because it is an untenable situation. Because we as a species cannot exist apart from our mother for very long. This is called ‘Ecopsychology’ – the psychology of placing humans back in their natural “being” state, as earthlings. Ecopsychology is a shared social and cultural undertaking that humanizes psychology by recognizing that we, too, are part of nature and – just as critically – nature is a part of us. They cannot be split up and analyzed separately. That has been the fundamental error of Western psychology. Ecopsychology is the necessary corrective for our climate in crisis, the final piece of the puzzle that can lead us back to a natural state of wholeness and balance.
Make no mistake – this crisis is calling us home. It is nature’s way of awakening us from this deluded dream – so that we may reintegrate our selves with our world, our human nature.
From the perspective of Americans of European descent, we who have dominated this culture for so long and have largely defined the dominant global culture of subjugation and consumption, this split from the natural world and from our own human nature was admittedly the end of a long and inglorious path. I do not mean to naively suggest that we only recently left ‘the Garden.’ Far from it! We had already long been on this crazy path of manifest destiny, of man against nature rather than in or with nature, before we successfully split the atom. What was ‘achieved’ in the Trinity Test over the white sands of New Mexico was the culmination of that wayward path.
This unhealthy split actually goes all the way back to Rene Descartes – “I think, therefore I am” – and it only kept picking up steam throughout the feverish pursuit of riches in this, the ‘new world.’ That locomotive force of ignorance and greed rolled right over and through the ancient inhabitants of this new world, and quickly laid waste to the natural abundance that they had been caretakers of for millennia. Certainly it would be difficult to imagine a more traumatic war against nature than the genocide that Europeans visited on the Earth-based cultures of the indigenous tribes of Turtle Island, or a more heart-breaking ecocide than reducing the dominant species here when we landed, the majestic and socially developed American Buffalo, bison bison, from 60 million to fewer than 6ooo today – a thousand-fold reduction via slaughter.
Nevertheless, this book is by design ethno- and Euro-centric, because the fact of the matter is that it is our culture that has become the planet’s problem, a chronic dis-ease that has spread across the globe, gobbling up species and habitat at an alarming rate. And it is this culture that now demands a cure before it lays waste to the entire biosphere. Since the traumatic culmination of this long path away from nature, with all its terrible consequences, happened in very recent memory, it can still be called up in our collective consciousness and healed.
As the Pulitzer prize winning poet James Agee noted in TIME magazine at the end of WWII, splitting the atom brought us “inescapably into a new age in which all thoughts and things were split.” While we see the result in the extreme polarization of society, this split is not irreparable, we humans are not irredeemable, and the truth and reconciliation process that needs to happen is not all that complicated. To become whole again, to restore the natural part of ‘human nature,’ requires only that we hear the deafening call of the natural world, and recognize that something is terribly amiss within, as well – as reflected without. Only then can we actively engage in a concerted, conscientious effort to heal the psychic wound we can all still feel in our hearts whenever we stop numbing ourselves to the dreadful pain inherent in our present predicament.
This book is an attempt to facilitate the individual process that needs to be undertaken for each of us to heal, and for all of us to awaken to our incredible human potential, in direct response to the greatest crisis we have ever faced. Because that is what we do. That is what makes us human. We rise to the occasion no matter how long the odds. We never give up.
While it would be lovely if we would all awaken together, the truth of the matter is that we can only do this one mind at a time. No one will lead us out of this crisis to some new promised land. We will only emerge from the climate crisis by taking responsibility for it upon ourselves — by assuming authority for our own psychological state of well being, and by reconnecting to this amazing planet through our own very personal connections to the natural world – no matter where we live – and to our collective psyche, which will look different for each one of us.
That’s how it will work. And it must work. We will make it work.
Just before his passing in 1975, noted British historian Arnold Toynbee cautioned us that the “present threat to mankind’s survival can be removed only by a revolutionary change of heart in individual human beings” – a sentiment now echoed by Pope Francis, and before him by our wise American elder, the psychotherapist, mythologist, and teacher Ralph Metzner:
It is in the hearts and minds of human beings that the causes and cures of the ecocatastrophe are to be found.
There is a school of thought that the true religion of America today is self-help psychology, and that all mythology is individual now. I think there is some real merit to these ideas. I have great faith in our ability to heal through our relations. Mainstream psychology has largely failed us, however, by creating an industry that is too wedded to scientific materialism and Western medicine (and thus the pharmaceutical industry), perpetuating our problems by profitably treating their symptoms without ever getting to the root dis-ease of our culture.
In response to this institutional inertia, Ecopsychology seeks not just to reform psychology, but to displace it. We do this by acknowledging and elevating a natural phenomenon that is both ancient and radically subversive to consumer culture – the spiritual connection between human beings and the living planet. In the recent past, such talk has been subject to ridicule. But what is perhaps most notable about this natural phenomenon in the modern context is that it has now been effectively proven by the equally subversive modern science – quantum physics – precisely at the time when we of the dominant culture are most in need of recovering that inner-dependent and inter-penetrating connection.
We are ‘one flesh,’ as the influential Ecopsychologist Andy Fisher puts it, by our very nature inseparable from nature. And so we also are all afflicted by the same mental illness, like a viral strain of deluded awareness. It does little good to mask the symptoms with spirit-numbing drugs, the dehumanizing approach of modern medicine. The aim of Ecopsychology is not to isolate individuals and treat them as identical with their pathology, but rather to awaken us to our true nature and transform society in the process – thus averting (un)natural catastrophe to whatever extent we can. In other words, it is a form of psychosocial activism on behalf of the natural world; or, as Dr. Fisher puts it, “psychology in the service of life.” That is actually considered radical!
After a lifetime of advocating for wildlife and wild places in courtrooms, I am now forced by circumstance to advocate for mother nature herself in the court of public opinion and social media, as part of an epic struggle many are waging over the heart and soul of humanity – a battle in which my country and my culture happens to be ground zero. The American Dream has become the natural world’s worst nightmare. We must rouse ourselves from this suicidal slumber…
As one of my long-time teachers likes to say, “the workshop is the mind.” This book is intended to be a catalyst for psychological catharsis that takes place in the reader’s mind. Catharsis refers to “a psychological technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.” That is my promise to you. The process of reading this book is itself intended to induce a kind of “climate catharsis,” leading to a heightened climate sense. I myself experienced this in the writing of the paper that led to this book, and have since confirmed that the ideas set forth here can readily have this same psychological impact on you.
Over the course of our lives, we have all repressed natural feelings of grief over our lost connection to nature herself, our true nature, and we all harbor deep fears as a result. When we get in touch with these feelings and fears, there is a tremendous release of tension, anxiety, and depression. If we have an appropriate spiritual container for processing this natural grief, then we will be transformed by the expression of our repressed grief. We will have greater joy. So…
Do not be afraid.
By acknowledging the losses we have experienced in relation to nature, by embracing our fears and seeing them as intelligent guides along our spiritual path, we have nothing more to lose, really, and everything in the world to gain. Awakening from the nightmare that has been mis-labeled the American Dream does not happen in everyone all at once by some miracle. And yet, it is already happening — one by one. After you read this book, you will no longer be heard to ask meekly “What can I as one person do about the climate crisis?” In fact, you will be able to answer others when they ask this same question.
Who knows, maybe you will be the one whose awakening brings about critical mass, at which point we’ll call it a social awakening. But it doesn’t really matter whose awakening brings us to critical mass, because once awakened the illusion of separation itself fades. Then we know what to do without being asked, without being led. So, as the Christian Goddess Pistis Sophia herself urges us in the psalm “Thunder, Perfect Mind”:
Awaken and remember…