Arnold Schwarzenegger as Bill Nye’s climate change therapist in Explorer: Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown  (Photo Credit: National Geographic Channels/Gina Cholick)

by Zhiwa Woodbury, M.A., J.D.

So… tell me about your relationship with your mother.

Mother Earth, that is.

At this crucial juncture in the history of our civilization, when the decisions we make on a daily basis are determining whether or not our children and their children will have a viable future to look forward to, one that happens to include lions and tigers and elephants – oh my! – we could all use a good shrink. Someone who we can turn to, without fear of judgment or shaming, who will appreciate the conflicts we are facing in this crazy, mixed up world of distractions, who will appreciate the depths of our fears and anxieties, and will even give us permission to grieve the things we are losing.

But in these times, for these purposes, not any old Freudian shrink will do! In fact, one can easily make the case that it was Freud – through his American nephew Edward Bernays – who got us into this mess of managed unhappiness and manipulated desires. No, let’s put aside all that clinically-depressed, brain-obsessed, pathological mainstream psychology, and focus instead on the revolution in psycho-spiritual thinking that the American Psychological Association is working so hard to repress. It’s called ‘Ecopsychology’ – psychology in the service of life, which begins with the idea that mainstream psychology in the West is part of the problem, not the solution, because it has consistently left nature out of its equation of human nature, and in so doing has perpetuated (enabled?) a culture that is killing our home planet.

Mary Gomes probably put forth the best description of this new field of inquiry in 1998:

“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.”

Theodore Roszak, in his pioneering book The Voice of the Earth, said: “Ecopsychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being.” The implications of this symbiosis are staggering. This means that the climate crisis is not a technological problem or a political issue. It’s not even an environmental problem. We in the West confuse symptoms with diseases. Instead, climate mayhem is a natural result of our own collective psychology. Because we have become so split from nature – objectifying, then commodifying it – everything is out of balance in the world.

The climate crisis is the natural world’s way of calling our attention to this imbalance that is rooted in our own psyche. It is the voice of our Mother calling us home.

Will we heed her call?

That is the point of this “advice” column. To engage in the kind of Earth-centered, culturally driven therapy that Pope Francis and so many others are trying to foster – in order for a future to be possible. In his message to humanity, Laudato Si’, Pope Frank has issued anurgent appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” It has to begin right there, with how you and I think and feel about our climate in crisis, because our terms of engagement are not going to change from the suicidal path we are on until we begin to speak skillfully from the heart. And the way to our heart is through our psyche, not through science, our intellect, or our opinions.

So please – lay down on the chaise lounge there by the window, don’t mind the storms raging outside – just relax and we’ll begin our first session when you’re ready. 

(sound of pipe-chewing)

Now tell me, how long have you had this obsession with zombies?

What – do you think that’s a strange place to begin our therapy?

You think it is just a coincidence that the first generation of humans ever to grow up wondering if they will have a future worth inhabiting are borderline obsessed with the walking dead and, to a lesser extent perhaps, vampires that look like you and me, but suck the life out of living beings??


This is how our myths live us when we are not living them. Our subconscious fears rise up and are projected into suitable cultural memes. Like the old Godzilla movies that came to us from the first generation of Japanese spawned by our nuclear harvest.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein introduced the zombie prototype. Shelley included an alternate title in the original: The Modern Prometheus. Her fable is a precautionary tale about humans wresting power from the gods. In the ancient Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire from the gods and brings it to humans, ushering in the age of civilization. The gods get even by sending a special sealed jar as a wedding present on the occasion of the betrothal of Prometheus’ brother to a fair maiden named Pandora. Curious about the urn’s contents, she inadvertently lets loose all the plagues of civilization. In Shelley’s novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein usurps the creative power of the gods, bringing the dead back to life, then watches the unintended results in horror until he is ultimately slain by his own creation.

Hmm… what can we learn from this fable? Are we the walking dead?

We, too, stole the fire of heaven, bringing it down to Earth in the form of a hellfire rain in the Land of the Rising Sun. Our Promethean leader, President Truman, informed us in his atomic hubris that we now controlled “the basic power of the universe,” echoing Dr. Frankenstein’s obsession with discovering “the secrets of heaven and earth.” Pandora, played by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, knew in his Trinitarian moment of triumph that nothing would ever be the same, that we had become death – destroyer of worlds. Indeed, in reporting Truman’s boast to the American people, at least one newscaster added: “For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein!”

How does that make you feel?

Oops! I see our time is over. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground here. Let’s pick it up here next week…

6 thoughts on “CLIMATE SHRINK”

  1. Has anyone considered that we humans are the Aliens who have invaded earth?
    Somewhere in our distant past we were hominoid. Something happened awhile back, where some of us were genetically altered. -Enough to begin a few small colonies of humanoids. An experiment perhaps, or smart enough to be slaves. The other hominoids remained as is, to become the apes we know today.
    Can this be the reason we, as a species, are at once driven to reduce the Earth to rubble as conquering technophiles (for the lack of a better word, right now) and deeply rooted into our Mother Earth? These days, there are those who understand our need for a healthy, life sustaining relationship with Earth, and there are those who have lost touch with that reality. And there are those who are conflicted as to how to proceed, how to live, how to thrive without destroying what is essential to that life.
    We are Frankenstein. We are the vampires. We are the walking dead. We are also the caregivers, the gentle gardeners, the delighters in all of life.

    I believe that the patriarchy began as a side effect of this genetic manipulation. It has come full circle, and must be deconstructed. We had a brief period of matriarchy in our history, until the masculine overwhelmed that line of thought. It is so strong now most can not see it for what it is. But, like I said it has reached it’s endpoint. We need a new egalitarian kind of thinking and being. When that happens we can get onto lifting each other up in spiritual incredulity.

    1. Crone: I think the etiology of “Zenobia” may in fact be Andromodean! “Frankenstein” was the name of the crazed doctor in Mary Shelley’s book, while his creation remained nameless. It is quite interesting that in our culture we have somehow transposed the name of the real monster, who symbolizes the hubris of man’s creative and controlling impulses, and his unfortunate creation. So you’re right, we really are Frankenstein, and have been at least since we assumed dominion over nature, asserted control over the forces of creation, and used them to create hell on Earth. But that wasn’t so long ago, Shelley’s dream was prophetic (she was only 18!), and I don’t think it is necessary to go so far as to imagine ourselves invaders from another solar system in order to appreciate the roots of our existential crisis.

      According to cutting edge cosmological theory, as espoused for e.g. by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, the cosmos is a self-organizing, intelligent being, or process, and it is striving to become self-aware through us. And it has been proven, at least at the level of bacteria, that organisms are capable of proactively altering their own genetic code quite quickly in response to dynamic changes in their environment. We humans, by the way, are composed of mostly bacteria, viruses, and other non-human organisms. In fact, 99.5% of the genes in our bodies are non-human! So we don’t need to look to outer space to understand creative genetic emergence. We are potential being, we are already in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing, continually, and as you infer, “we” contain multitudes! We may be in for a rough ride, but somehow, someway, we’ll figure it out. We’re just spiritual beings having a physical experience…

  2. Zenobia is at least ancient Syrian. 🙂

    No, we don’t have to go as far as alien beings, perhaps just an accidental, but ultimately successful, gene mutation. But do you think we are alone in the Cosmos? I certainly expect not.
    I should have added Monster. I do know better.
    I also understand that humans -earth beings- are merely a blimp on the evolutionary scale of things; that we are bio-matter of an extremely low order is a fair idea. Just as I’m sure the the skin cells that I wash off and then wash out of my bath towel will be ejected into the atmosphere as it is shaken with a breeze off the clothes line. I might eat that energy in a potato from my garden, some time later.
    Oh I get that I am an Earth child, And someday all that is Me in spirit will be unrecognizable, But what of my thoughts and lessons learned, and truths I held? Where do they go?
    Is there a word that means, ‘the ache in one’s chest, when gazing at the impermanence of it all.’? There is one, Yugen, (with the little bar over the U, that means, an awareness of the Universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words.
    Yep, I’m an Earth Child and I don’t know what to do with this knowledge.

    1. Alone? Dear goddess no! NASA recently announced their estimation based on their findings to date that there are approximately 1 billion earth-like planets in the Milky Way, which is one of at least 100 billion galaxies, meaning approximately 100 billion billion earth-like planets are out there (I don’t even know what that number is). So even if only one in a billion have higher intelligence life forms like elephants, dolphins, and whales (I’ll leave humans out of this for our purposes!), that’s still a 100 billion ‘earths’! It would be ludicrously self-inflated to think we were the only one, wouldn’t it? As to what happens to the thought forms and their effects, as a Buddhist, I have no questions about that. It’s all cause and effect. Each mind moment is a result of the previous mind moment, meaning a beginningless and endless mind stream we inhabit for a short while in these funny physical forms. There is a concept in Buddhism called “zigpa” which loosely translates as “disintegratedness” or “just having happened-ness” which explains how the energy of our thoughts and actions emanates like a wave, and if we repeat them (e.g., mantra), then there is more power to those waves as they accumulate (think ripples here), and the really powerful ones (“I have a dream” or “Be the change you want to see in the world” etc.) manifest in all kinds of forms. Anyway, it is this same zigpa that carries karmic imprints, and supports transmigration of our mindstream to another body — which does not have to be human, and does not have to be here on Earth. It’s non-local, in other words, potential energy, and we can take rebirth in our next lives on a planet where everyone lives in harmony with their environment — after we work off the negative karma that caused us to be reborn at this time on this planet! You see, it really helps to have a sturdy spiritual container in dealing with all this. Buddhism, Advaita-vedanta, Gnosticism (which I would argue is reflected in the Pope’s encyclical), B’hai… like that. Then you don’t ever fall into despair. Depression, maybe, but not despair. Hope this helps.

  3. What of the energy, the zigpa of my anger and depression, and my despair? My need to not give that away. To not spread it around or let it go where it doesn’t/shouldn’t/ mustn’t go. I understand that I do not have control of anything, really, but there are feelings within me that I have no desire to allow to go anywhere else. Like spreading a contagion of negativity.

    1. I appreciate your open-heartedness, Crone. To answer your question briefly, those afflictive emotions are natural, given the circumstances (our environmental karma), and they must be processed, not repressed. That’s what a spiritual container is for, and why we carve refuge out of the physical space in our homes as a reflection of the psychological space within. Now, as to how to process these naturally afflictive emotions, well – I’m putting the finishing touches on a book right now that is intended to facilitate exactly that kind of processing, with a goal of “catharsis” (release of these emotions). If you go to the home page on this web site, and click on chapters 4-6, you will find a brief synopsis of the process. If you are far enough along, there might be enough there for you to run with without having to wait for the book to come out next year. It is also what I am trying to address with proposing this weekly column. Finally, and especially if you feel stuck in despair, I’m available for consultations over Skype as well. I’ve been helping people, mostly activists, deal with these kinds of issues for many years now, and I seem to have a lot of success. Ultimately, we all need to do the work on our own, but it helps to have an experienced guide.

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