| ECOPSYCHOLOGY: an overview by John Seed|
|22 Jan 2002 @ 13:31, by John Finn|
(This address was presented by my close friend and mentor John Seed in 1993. It is still very relevent and explains ecopsychology and deep ecology. John is a rainforest activist, and founder of the Rainforest Information Centre. He was awarded the Australian Medal of Honour for his service to the enviornment. He travels a lot fundraising for the rainforests, presenting workshops on Ecopsychology, Deep Ecology, Gender healing, re-Earthing, and the state of the world's rainforests. He is based in Lismore Northern New South Wales, Australia).
THE AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY'S 28TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Ecopsychology: Ecos Psyche Logos.
Ecopsychology: Knowing that Earth is home to our soul.
Ecopsychology: Psychology in service to the Earth.
In spite of the modern delusion of alienation, of separation
from the living Earth, we human beings are NOT aliens. We
belong here. The human psyche too is Earth-born, the result of
4000 million years of continuous evolution. The complex, exquisite
biology from which psyche emerged inevitably remains the matrix,
the grounding of any sane psychology.
So, how are humans to change our thinking and how are we to change our
behaviour? Are these not questions for psychology? What is needed? Not
more horrifying statistics surely. Everybody already knows. We feel
largely helpless and disempowered. Yet psychology appears to be too busy
to address this. What are the matters of over-riding urgency that are
keeping psychologists and therapists busy? Where is everybody? Playing
at business as usual. Fiddling while Rome burns. Shuffling deck chairs
on the Titanic.
I myself graduated in psychology at Sydney University in the mid-'60's.
After a stint in London as a systems engineer for IBM I found myself up in
Nimbin with the hippies, building a meditation centre, building community,
delivering babies. Then, in 1979, by chance I found myself embroiled in
what turned out to be the first direct action in defense of the rain
forests to take place in Australia or indeed, the world.
Terania Creek happened to be adjacent to community where I had been living
for five years. I somehow found myself involved in the defense of the
rainforest there and suddenly everything changed. I heard the trees
screaming. I heard them calling to us for help and I couldn't resist that
call. If I had gone to see a psychiatrist and said that I heard the Earth
screaming, my experience would probably have been reduced to a purely
personal pathology. It would have indicated that there was something wrong
with me. Perhaps s/he would want me to talk about my childhood.
At first my experience was frightening and bewildering. The trees
screaming? Gimme a break! In later years I studied the rainforests and
learned that 130 million years ago, when Australia was joined to South
America and Antarctica as part of the mighty super-continent Gondwanaland,
all was covered in rainforest. Indeed, my ancestors were evolving within
these rainforests for nearly all those 130 million years, and it is only
during the last few million years that I sought my fortunes out on the
Learning this gave me strength, it became less surprising to me that some
kind of psychological or spiritual contact with the rainforest was possible,
and it became rather more surprising that most people didn't seem to
experience it. A relevant creation myth is perhaps, always a source of
strength and inspiration. Without a vision the people perish, and one of
the tasks of ecopsychology as I see it, is to help the scientific creation
myth move from the page of textbooks about evolution and into the
psychological life of the community. The work of "geologian" Thomas Berry
and Physicist Brian Swimme in elaborating the new cosmology spring to mind
in this context.
Anyhow, from Terania Creek in 1981 I went on to start the Rain Forest
Information Centre which has been engaged in the protection of rainforests
worldwide to this day with successful projects from India to Ecuador, from
New Guinea to Siberia.
However, in the midst of this campaigning, it became apparent that the
forests could not be saved one at a time. In spite of our successes
defending the temperate rainforests at the Franklin River, the tropical
rainforests of far north Queensland, it was clear that for every forest
we protected, hundreds disappeared. And of course the planet could not
be saved one issue at a time. While we were protecting forests, holes
were appearing in the sky and humanity threatened to choke on our own
exhaust gasses and the other "byproducts" of progress.
Unless we can somehow address the underlying psychological disease that
afflicts modern humanity, that allows us to soil our nest and "saw off
the branch we're sitting on", all of our actions and projects and
campaigns are merely symbolic. You can't save a forest. No planet, no
forests. It's the planet or nothing.
In 1982 I discovered Deep Ecology and first encountered an analysis of
our situation that helped me understand how we had come to this sorry
pass and, perhaps, what to do about it.
"Deep Ecology" is the name of a new philosophy of nature that has been
exerting a profound effect on environmentalism in the last decade. Deep
ecology is biocentric and stands in contrast to the anthropocentric
environmentalism which sees humans as the centre of everything, the crown
of creation, the measure of all meaning and the world as being composed
only of humans and resources for human use.
To deep ecology the world is seen not as a pyramid with humans on top,
but as a web. We humans are but one strand in that web and as we
destroy other strands, we destroy ourselves. James Lovelock, the
scientist who popularized the Gaia hypothesis, has said it well: our
inability to understand interconnectedness and interdependency is to
behave "as if the brain were to decide that it was the most important
organ in the body and started mining the liver."
After thousands of years of Judeo-Christian conditioning, we have
inherited the illusion of our separation from, and superiority to nature.
Even though our IDEAS may have changed, all of the institutions of our
society and the very language we speak, conspire to bind us to this
outmoded and now (wedded to our powerful technologies and growing
populations) deadly way of perceiving our world. Our institutions and
personalities were forged in this mold and we seem incapable of giving
substance to our new, ecological, vision - it is not enough to have
ecological ideas, we have to have ecological identity, ecological self.
It was in response to such questions that Dr. Joanna Macy and I developed
the deep ecology workshops called the Council of All Beings. Then,
with Pat Fleming and Arne Naess, we wrote a book on these matters -
Thinking Like A Mountain - Towards a Council of All Beings. In his essay,
Arne Naess, (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oslo University who had
coined the term "Deep Ecology"), pointed out that a sense of responsibility
or duty is a "treacherous basis" for conservation. How many of us
are capable of great altruism? As long as we are in the grip of the illusion
that the Earth is OTHER than our very self (alter = the other), it seems
fantastic to suppose that we can make the very difficult changes in our
lives and societies that would be needed to live contentedly within the
constraints of the ecological systems.
If we can IDENTIFY with the Earth we don't need altruism. If we have the
EXPERIENCE of ourselves, not merely as isolated, separate, skin
encapsulated egos, but also as part of the larger body of the Earth, then
the defense of nature becomes merely self-defense and this does not
require a highly elevated moral stature. Self-interest comes "naturally"
to us and it seems more hopeful to expand the sense of self to include the
air (my breath) and water (my blood) and soil (my body), than to suddenly
imagine many humans suddenly becoming "selfless" and acting against our
perceived "self-interest" to protect nature. As Arne wrote, "The
requisite care flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that
protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our
In response to the question "how is this expansion of identification to be
developed?", Arne responded that what are needed are "community therapies
to develop ecological self". At first I was very excited by this idea as
it gave me a new perspective on the Council of All Beings. Although I had
facilitated hundreds of such workshops, I'd never seen them in this light
as a "community therapy".
After some time however, I came to see certain shortcomings in the
"therapy" metaphor. While on Third Mesa in the South West of the US, I
was privileged to witness an ancient Hopi ritual. It took place in the
town square of the oldest continuously inhabited community in the Western
Hemisphere. Although the animal masks that the dancers wore were more
splendid than those we made in our workshops, in many ways their ceremony
was identical to the Council of All Beings and these people had been
doing this regularly for thousands and thousands of years.
But successful therapies are supposed to come to an end. These ceremonies
and rituals have no end. It made me think that perhaps the tendency for
us humans to lose our connection with the living Earth is very ancient.
Perhaps it began as soon as we began to think? What else but a strong and
ancient propensity to become disconnected can explain the fact that the
Hopi and every other intact indigenous culture that we look at has, at
it's root, a series of such ceremonies and rituals whereby the human
community acknowledges and nourishes it's interconnectedness with the
land and the rest of the Earth community?
It would seem that we "moderns" may be the first culture, in our arrogance,
to relegate these things to the realm of mumbojumbo or "mere" ritual and,
in our "enlightenment" and arrogance we proceed to dismember the Earth.
Of course it must be remembered that we did not easily give up our nature
ceremonies - six million people, mainly women, were not so long ago, burnt
at the stake to drive us away from the Earth and up into God's loving arms.
So, although the Council of All Beings is undeniably experienced as being
therapeutic by participants, it reveals I think, a deeper significance;
perhaps individual "therapy" is something that is only needed when
community has been dismembered, ancient ritual burnt at the stake and
people alienated from each other and the nourishing Earth. One remembers
Joseph Campbell's warning that the chief sources of anxiety in our age are
the loss of myth and ritual. If we could heal our culture so that it once
more provided us with authentic connection between our soul and the Earth,
perhaps the need for individual therapy would disappear again. For me,
the "real work" is very much in reclaiming these rituals and the
empowerment and vision that they offer, and to take that empowerment and
spread it through our lives, finding ways to serve the Earth.
Psychology, who's field is the human soul, might, I propose, take the lead
in legitimising the expansion of self that is pointed to here.
Psychologists, who define what's real and what's not, therapists who
define what's crazy and what's sane have a great opportunity and a deep
Be that as it may, the fact is that through thousands of years of
conditioning, absorbed by osmosis from the day we were born, we modern
humans have inherited this incredibly pervasive illusion of separation
from nature. Now the fact that this IS entirely an illusion can be
irrefutably demonstrated by holding your breath for a couple of minutes.
That is, I am not talking about anything particularly mystical, it is
very straight forward. We can speak of "the atmosphere" and think:
"oh what a good person that is, sacrificing their self interest by working
to protect the atmosphere instead of making lots of money" as though the
atmosphere was "out there". But it is not "out there". None of it is
"out there". It is all constantly migrating and cycling through us.
Atmosphere, water, soil- there is no "out there", it is all "in here".
Yet most modern people don't experience the world like this.
I see this as the central psychological problem of our age and (just as
a psychopath is coldly bereft of normal empathy and compassion in relation
to human society) I propose that we have become a culture of ecopaths.
As long as it is "out there", most people will leave it to some special
interest group like the greenies to protect the environment while the rest
of us look after number one. The matter changes once we have the deep and
transformative realisation that the nature "out there" and the nature "in
here" are one and the same, that the sense of separation no matter how
pervasive, is nonetheless totally illusory.
A century ago Freud discovered that many of the symptoms of his patients
could be traced to repressed sexual material. However, sexual repression
seems to me to be merely the tip of the mighty repression of our entire
organic nature which I see as one of the main projects of the
How then are we to recover the totality of our self, our actual, ecological
self? I see Ecopsychology as the logical locus of such enquiry. There
seems to have been little work done as yet. Arne Naess in the essay
mentioned above calls for "community therapy ... we must find and
develop therapies which heal our relations with the widest community, that
of all living beings."
My own explorations of such "community therapies" have been through the
Council of All Beings, Gender and Deep Ecology, Nurturing Ecological Self
and other reEarthing workshops. I have facilitated some hundreds of such
events in a score of countries over the past decade and find the results
promising with respect to the realisation of ecological self. I am also
aware of other promising approaches - vision quests, time alone in
wilderness, psychoactive herbs and plants, but very little work is being
done. Our most important task then is to convince those who's province is
the human soul, that this is the vital work of our age.
One reason why so much psychology is sterile and psychotherapy so often
doesn't work, is that the modern and postmodern "selves" that psychology
describes and psychotherapy purports to heal don't actually exist. They
are, constructions, social fictions that deny the fundamental reality of
our embodied, Earthed existence. In reality each human self exists at the
intersection of the ancient cycles of air and water and soil and is in this
way connected to all life. Without these life support systems there
IS no self and any attempt to heal the personality that denies or isn't
grounded in this fundamental fact is doomed to failure. Actual beings,
natural beings, can be healed by life flowing thru them, social fictions
can't be healed at all.
Interestingly enough, ACTUAL things are self-healing and I maintain that
to truly acknowledge our interconnectedness with air and water and soil,
our IDENTITY with them, is to create the conditions where the spontaneous
healing of psyche may take place. It is from air, water and soil after all,
that psyche herself evolved. Indeed the deep, personal realisation of our
billions of years of evolution in this universe, AS this universe, of the
fact that we BELONG here, this opens us to the fundamental healing that we
all long for. While incredible amounts of energy go into futile attempts
to heal a fictitious self, our ACTUAL, ecological self suffocates.
Two of the main thinkers defining and developing Ecopsychology to-day are
Theodore Roszak and James Hillman. Joe Reser quoted at length from Roszak
in his paper. I'd briefly like to refer you to Hillman's excellent book:
"100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse". Hillman blames
a lot of the social and environmental problems that we face on the fact
that the people who should be out there changing things are in therapy
instead. They treat the pain as personal, as a symptom of a personal
pathology rather than a goad to political action to bring about social
change. Therapists create patients instead of citizens.
Look at the amount of energy people invest in wars. It's clear to us all
that the trillion dollars a year that go into armaments is the very
resource we need to save the planet but how has this knowledge changed
anything? How is it that we are willing to waste this opportunity, to
continue to kill ourselves by the millions in defense of one social fiction
after another - countries, religions, ideologies - yet hardly anyone lifts
a finger while the biological fabric from which all of our constructions
are woven, is torn to shreds? Are there not indications of a psychological
problem here? Is this being addressed by psychology? It's clear that the
Earth fails to ignite anything near the passion and commitment that some of
her lesser works manage to do. Because we don't IDENTIFY with Her. Though
we're born, live and die in Her, we have made ourselves unconscious of this.
Once Nasrudin (the sufi saint) was on his hands and knees beneath a street
lamp. His friend asked him what he was looking for and Nasrudin replied
that he had lost his key. The friend joined Nasrudin in the pool of light
but after some time enquired "Are you SURE you lost it here?"
Nasrudin replied (pointing) "well, actually I lost it over there. But over
there it's too dark to see a thing."
Ecopsychology: Psychology that has worked thru it's denial, conformity and
fear and consents to be informed by the ecological crisis and engage in
"the real work" of this age.
In the Council of All Beings, through sharing in circles, group process,
ritual and music we allow ancient knowing to re-emerge. We recapitulate
our entire evolutionary journey and we experience the fact that every
cell in our body is descended in an ancient unbroken chain, through fish
that learned to walk the land, reptiles who's scales turned to fur and
became mammals, evolving through to the present.
We further extend our sense of identity in a ritual where we find an "ally"
in the natural world - a plant or animal or feature of the landscape. We
make a mask to represent that ally, and then offer it our voice - we invite
the animals and plants to speak through us. We are shocked at the very
different view of the world that emerges from the ensuing dialogue.
Creative suggestions for human actions emerge and we invoke the powers and
knowledge of these other life-forms to transform and empower us in our lives.
Humans have engaged in such rituals for a long time, hundreds of thousands
of years perhaps, and in spite of their dissonance with the personal and
historical backgrounds of most modern people, these rituals generate
feelings and knowings that seem utterly authentic to nearly all participants. Not surprisingly,
some are initially skeptical, thinking that what we're seeing here is just
projection of some aspect of our personalities, or that it's just
psychodrama. However, it doesn't seem to matter, you don't have to BELIEVE
any of this, all you need to do is join in with an open mind and see what
happens. Something amazing will happen, it always does. Invariably we are
shocked to hear voices that we have never heard before, profound truths
revealed. As Carl Jung noted, every person has a "bush soul".
These processes allow it to articulate.
When I first started facilitating these workshops in 1987, they tended to
fill with hippies, pagans, witches and environmentalists. Now, however,
especially in the US, more and more therapists, psychologists and other
professionals are participating. This community seems increasingly
dissatisfied with it's trivial roles, and many are searching to develop
practices that serve the Earth. This fringe may be in ferment but the
dominant paradigm remains in denial. How much of psychology is in denial?
One of the rituals that we may perform in a Council of All Beings is to
embrace a tree. To exhale carbon dioxide to it's leaves, to inhale the
oxygen that it exhales and to give thanks for this and all the ancient
cycles of partnership. Many insights may come to us in this way and these
we share in our circle.
We may see life as a tree and the myriad individual selves as leaves on
this tree. The sap of the tree flows thru each leaf just as water, air
and soil flow thru our bodies connecting us to all of life. Obviously
there's no such thing as a healthy leaf on a dying tree. Yet each human
leaf, laboring under the delusion that it is an independent, separate
"self", may expend vast amounts of energy in the futile attempt at healing
Imagine if our experience of self expanded, and all the energy that goes
into therapy were to include the healing of our world? Were the combined
energies of all of the leaves who think and behave thus to be placed at the
service of tree-healing, the tree might stand a chance and with it the
myriad leaves that depend upon it.
Nonetheless, here we are, leaves thoroughly conditioned to ignore the
obvious implications of the sap that unites us with the tree on which we
grow. We have more-or-less successfully repressed our knowing of the tree.
We believe that only human-leaf has soul, none of the other leaves, nor
sap, nor the tree itself does. Through this separation we have been able
to achieve mighty things but now our very success threatens us with
annihilation. We feel intense longing and dis-ease yet everything we do to
try to assuage that longing only makes things worse.
We have a deep longing for reconnection with the Earth. With this longing
repressed, a host of displacement activities arise. We feel a pervasive
emptiness and spend our lives trying to fill the gaping wound with all
manner of "stuff". We dig up and chop down the Earth to make and power
all the hair-driers and microwave ovens and electric toothbrushes with which
we try, unsuccessfully, to fill the hole.
It's not really all these material "goods" that we want however, but a
certain psychological state that we imagine will follow. It never does
of course, and no amount of "stuff" brings us peace.
Surely one of the reasons that the environment movement has failed to
awaken us sufficiently to the urgency of the task at hand is it's
psychological ineptness. But what can it do? Bludgeon us with more
horrifying statistics? More doom and gloom? Surely not. Already we're
afraid to let the sun shine on our bodies, we lose confidence in the air,
in water and in the food we eat, the year 2000 looms like a storm on the
horizon we hear of the death of hundreds of species with each day that
passes and we numb out.
If it's not more guilt we need to change our behaviour, what CAN we do?
This is an important question that psychology might well address. I call
once more for an eco-psychology, a psychology in service to the Earth, a
psychology with a future.
Category: Addresses/Speeches etc.
22 Jan 2002 @ 18:27 by sharie : Our Soul... in service to Earth
Maybe he didn't actually come out and said it, but his words struck me with an new understanding of *psychology* - which means "the study of the soul" - with our *Soul* in service to Earth, an intelligent, *sentient* Being. This is magnificent. Thank you.
23 Jan 2002 @ 07:18 by istvan : YES-YES-YES
If i was the speaker on a state of the Planet presentation, i would start with the sentence. KNOW THAT WE ARE MAD, and than read this article to proove it.
I am hoping that we in this online community are some of the ones that are beginnig to be respons-able to see this and more; the possibility of healing the condition of madness that is the unfortunate legacy of the Homo sapien. Only a madman would agree to take a byte of an apple(the self intersted ego) that would end the condition to be in pradise. Yet we did.
30 Jan 2002 @ 11:18 by shawa : Right On!...
Thanks for sharing this; it made my day. Our Earth Sanctuary (website under construction) is exactly about deep ecology.
Love from Spain,
The Lady Moonshadow.
29 Apr 2005 @ 19:59 by Timbiti Moses @18.104.22.168 : environment
importance of deep ecology in preserving our environment
Other entries in Addresses/Speeches etc.
29 Apr 2002 @ 19:21: Arms, Climate Change, and the Grand Media Deception
22 Apr 2002 @ 16:47: Statement of Congresswomen Cynthia McKenney