Thoughts on the Ecological Unconscious

A NYTimes article by Daniel Smith describes a growing field of psychology, ecopsychology, that examines links between the function of the human psyche and nature.  Glenn Albrecht in Australia coined “solastalgia” – “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”  Thomas Doherty is a clinical psychologist in Portland Oregon trying to analyze and explicate the relationship between environmental issues and psychological well-being.  Peter Kahn is a developmental psychologist researching, among other things, how technologically mediated nature versus real nature impacts human functioning.  My take? In an article published in Psychoanalytic Dialogues (which to my delight Doherty has used in his courses), I suggest that some common behaviors of young adulthood like obliterative drinking, excessive sexuality and dissociative materialism – as well as other classic psychological difficulties – are very much an expression of our changed relationship to the physical environment.  In another paper based on random interviews I see a pattern. The more engaged a person’s relationship to the physical world, the more active they are in making choices about their life.  In other words, the mind’s agency is directly affected by experiences with the environment.   Like Gregory Bateson , I believe that the mind and the planet/environment/ecology in which we live define each other in an ongoing dialectic.    What does this mean for you?

First of all, it means that the line drawn in the sand between nature and civilization is arbitrary.   Try to understand that the psyche and the environment are intertwined.  Experiences with our environments determine our neurological wiring.  Our neurological underpinnings importantly organize the experience of psyche.  The manner in which we shape our environment will importantly define the people we become.

Second of all it means that how we treat the life of the planet is in no small way intimately connected to how we are treating ourselves.  When we hurt, devour and maim resources, we are also destroying ourselves.

Third of all it means that preventing climate change starts at home, with how you live and the choices you make.  Politics and legislation help but the force of change that will inspire us all and our planet to a better world begins at home.  Does it seem overwhelming?  Check out this to see how you can exercise your power as a consumer.

When Freud started writing about the psychological problems he attributed most of them to not acknowledging our most natural instincts and most visceral relationships.  Now, perhaps, we can apply a Freudian frame to reckoning with the implications of our disconnection from our physical environments.

There is much, much more on this topic.  Stay tuned. For now, imagine that your mind is in part a landscape.  And next time you wander into an open field or a busy urban street,  act as if the ground upon which you walk is a part of you.

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