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Forest Poet Blog

Contemplative ecopsychology expressed somatically, artistically and poetically. 

Earthgrief

Laurel Vogel

Human beings evolved over the course of some three million years and a hundred thousand generations in synchronistic evolution with the natural world. We are creatures who grew from the Earth, who are physically and psychologically built to thrive in intimacy with the Earth.
— Chellis Glendinning
We are beginning to feel the full weight of our predicament. Discomfort, frustration, grief, rage, and fear arise as we tell the stories of our lives. To allow ourselves to feel these emotions is to come out from under the deadening of the freeways and nuclear warheads that encase our emotional lives—and of the mechanistic worldview that casts us as heartless robots and the world as a machine. To open our hearts to the sad history of humanity and the devastated state of the Earth is the next step in our reclamation of our bodies, the body of our human community, and the body of the Earth.
— --Chellis Glendinning

 

My heart is heavy today with grief. I watched a difficult video yesterday about the Dann sisters in Nevada, and I dreamed last night of the Shoshone grandmother asking for sanity in our treatment of our earth. I dreamed I was weaving through trees with others with candles, honoring them. Then when I awakened, the grandmother came to me and asked, "What is wrong with your mother?" 

Diseased, brutalized, scarred--treated as chattel, without voice, without reciprocal consideration, out of relationship. There is nothing wrong with the earth that we humans did not create. She is trying to speak with us and she has wisdom for those who listen. Somehow we need to listen better and communicate her words to those who tear into her as if she is the packaging on their christmas gift. 

She's hardly passive, but she has been extraordinarily patient with us. She's now letting us know that we have an affect on her, and that we are doing ourselves harm by harming her. But you've heard all of this before. What is it that we need to know, really? What can we do? 

I asked my husband to listen to me this morning. As I spoke of not sleeping well, suddenly the reasons for my sleeplessness came forward. The grandmothers fighting for the lands promised to them by our government. The mining of gold and making money overcoming all other concerns. The dead horses strewn on the land because no one would listen to those who knew how to care for them. 

I sobbed. And who would I be if I didn't sob? If I didn't let in this great grief for these people, these horses, and the sociopathic practices of the mining companies? The grief itself does not hurt me. I let it come up and flow through me. I feel it fully, witnessed by my beloved, who hears and appreciates that I am doing this work. 

I am completely preoccupied with the question, why are we suffering from this addictive disease? Why are we enabling corporations to destroy and exploit our planet? Why do we turn our ears and hearts away from the plea of the earth and the people closest to her? Why do we settle for the emptiness of malls and Big Gulps and video games and devices? For never looking into the eyes of those around us?

I must not push it aside. I must not hide from the suffering of the world. I have to look at it, straight on, and see the reality of how we've become a diseased and addicted culture. From feeling and being with my grief, my creativity will come forth. I have to trust that. I will write. I will make art. My sensitivity will increase, and my heart will break open. I will not privilege joy over sadness, and shove aside one feeling for another in the service of the American "happy imperative." We are standing in shit, and we must acknowledge that. 

But most of all, I will go out onto her skin and touch it. Today, and everyday, I vow to touch the unadorned surface of this beloved planet, and in this, a deeper joy can emerge--not the superficial and shallow happiness we are almost required to have in our interactions with others who are too fragile yet to feel. Not the kind that comes from numbing my sensitivity with substances, or with self-talk that denies and minimizes the reality that surrounds us in the hard concrete, the noise, and the glittering filth of this culture. Not the kind that requires us to simply be happy, as if this is a simple choice for many of us. This is Warrior Joy. It is fierce and kind and can cut through the bullshit of plastering happy faces across real suffering. It is the sort of joy that looks truth in the eye, and still manages to trust in something that carries us all, something that will go on long after we are gone. It is the sort of joy that doesn't require a smile and it is brave enough to cry. It is the joy of feeling congruent with all that we see around us and allows us to respond appropriately.  It is the joy that pools at the bottom of Earthgrief, and waits for us to partake. 

And soon I will be leaving to go on quest, to continue to ask this question--how can we hear the earth? How can we send the message of the earth to those without ears to hear her? I am going to the desert, to the lands covered in sun to sit and walk and feel and grieve. And find those places that still speak to the soul, so that our healing work can begin. So that in time we can be there for others who want to come back into relationship with her. So that we can belong again to this world we've severed ourselves from.

*Earthgrief comes from My Name is Chellis and I'm Recovering From Western Civilization. Chellis Glendinning is a Psychologist turned Ecopsychologist. To read more, go here: Technology, Trauma, and the Wild.

 

The Differences Between Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology

Laurel Vogel

In what is perhaps the most useful book for outlining the actual practice of ecotherapy, Nature and Therapy, Martin Jordan makes a plausible distinction between the two names we use to describe what we do. Ecopsychology posits that our core psychological illnesses emerge from the split between what is considered the natural world and the industrialized world. This alienation is "at the heart of the rampant ecological destruction inflicted by man upon the natural world" (38). Ecopsychology is a way of "greening" existing psychological structures, "whereas ecotherapy focuses on the total mind-body-spirit-relationship organism." I think of Ecopsychology as one academic underpinning for the work that is conducted in ecotherapeutic sessions. 

Ecotherapy focuses more on developing reciprocity with the earth--the natural world heals us and we in turn, heal our environment. Ecotherapy can happen in many different situations, and does not necessarily require a clinical psychotherapist at the helm. Forms of it that I teach are as varied as EcoArt Therapy, Shinrin-yoku (Japanese forest bathing), green exercise, and micro-questing(TM). Others do wilderness therapy, eco-dreamwork, animal-assisted therapy, and gardening therapy, among other things. The most important aspects of all these therapies are how they bring the individual into contact with the more-than-human world, and how that contact is made relevant to the client's healing. Auspicious situations often arise in real time and place contexts that assist the therapist and the client to more easily see core issues as they emerge. Allowing unpredictable non-human elements into a therapeutic dyad can provide opportunities that the controlled atmosphere of an office cannot.  It requires flexibility and in-the-moment skills, and a willingness to follow and trust. While sometimes a controlled environment is preferred and necessary for reasons of safety, it is important not to rule out the value such unexpected interactions can create in therapeutic work. 

What is Ecotherapy?

Laurel Vogel

"What's in a name?" --Shakespeare
"In indigenous ways of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it."  --Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss

Speaking of the territory of mosses, author and bryophyte expert Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: "The meeting between air and land is known as the boundary layer." Perhaps the boundary layer between the psyche and the physical world is language--close to the ground of experience, a subtle layer that mediates the lands between inner and outer worlds. "Words and names are the way we humans build relationship, not only with each other, but also with plants." 

As such, the words ecotherapy and ecopsychology merit an explanation. These terms help us see and define both the wound of our severed belonging with earth, and its repair. Though we are not truly severed, as anyone who eats and breathes knows on some level, still, there is a growing perception of loss in terms of our place on earth, as well as identifiable physical loss to the organic worlds of plants and animals--the "more than human world." This absence of contact and connection has created a sense of not-belonging anywhere--and of not being part of the ecological systems of the earth. In this way, humans fail to sense the impact we have on our ecosystem--even as we sense the psychic loss and act out in its wake.

In the anime' movie Spirited Away, a sad hungry ghost named No Face appears, and the innocent protagonist Sen allows him into the bathhouse where she has been indentured into servitude to free her parents, who have been turned into pigs. As No Face consumes more and more of what the bathhouse servants offer him, he becomes aggressively insatiable--the ultimate consumer who eventually and in a very corporate manner, also gobbles up people. He offers enchanted gold in return for the feeding of his appetites, all of which turns back into dirt once the spell is broken. Once human relationships are restored, that which has no true value disappears back into the earth, and No Face finds his place in the world. This is how we fill ourselves, with gold, with food, with addictions of all kinds, even as relationships (human and more-than-human) wain, even as we falter in attempting to discover where and how we belong. 

Unrelated to our ecosystems, we spin in a self-absorbed cocoon, with our isolated selves at center, looking for what is wrong with us. We reach and grab and ignore how all such attempts to fill our growing chasm of loss actually just increase its depths. When we first see Sen, her name is Chihiro, and she is in the backseat of her parents' car, holding severed flowers given to her by a friend she has had to say goodbye to on the way to a new neighborhood. The flowers symbolize what is civilized and cut-off, and even as they wilt, she knows they scarcely make up for being cut-off from home and friends. Through her experiences at the bathhouse, she learns how to become real again--how to materialize in a new world, through eating its food, through service, and through refusing to give in to the charms and baubles of false hope. She is heroic, restoring a polluted river to health, freeing its very spirit. 

This, in a few words, is what ecotherapy and its academic relative, ecopsychology, do: Identify and name our perceived severed belonging, describe it to ourselves, and then bring into practice real skills to re-establish our place in the ecological systems in ways that sustain and heal both ourselves, and our environment. 

--Laurel