Posts Tagged ‘mind nature relationship’

Unresponsiveness to climate change: one reason

January 20, 2014

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The more news about the impending consequences of climate change, the more I wonder why individuals react so slowly to the reality of climate change.  Many behavioral scientists now attempt to address this issue.  In the UK an organization called Climate Psychology Alliance serves as a hub for analysts and other practitioners of therapy who try to understand the human relationship to climate change. Last summer, they published my “letter from the U.S.”   I’ve been wondering whether or not too much time spent on technology and indoors can lead to a flattening of consciousness. Maybe we need to re-dimensionalize human consciousness?

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Limits Sustain People and the Environment

July 15, 2011

Part Five of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here,  part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here ).

image from http://www.20somethingfinance.com

President Obama is correctly observing that budgetary health depends on incisive and strategic limit setting.The same is true for ecological and psychological health. Most people tend to over correct for problems assuming that only massive overhaul constitutes change. Yet we have evidence to the contrary. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg has created a sustainable urban ecology and economy by taking small yet systemically coherent steps, see here. Likewise, we can produce psychological and environmental balance by exercising limits without cutting off what is best about the expansive possibilities of our minds and our resources.

Is the United States a culture of excess? Some think so, including Jay Slosar.  My take? People have lost the practice of personal and environmental frugality because technological innovation has been exciting and stimulating, and mostly for the good. How amazing to be able to save lives, prevent disease, feed the hungary! How great to be able to enjoy fresh food in the winter, travel to see loved ones, and to know the world! In pursuit of the possibilities of our modern conveniences, we have all lost track of personal and environmental boundaries.  In the end, our landscapes and our minds do have end points. It may be important to tether the open horizon of expansionism and possibility to inherent psychological and environmental, not to mention budgetary, boundaries.  Working within sustainable boundaries doesn’t mean returning to the caves or preparing for life on another plant.  It means integrating a few old-fashioned rules back into the American lifestyle.

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Going Outside as a Mental Health Strategy

June 27, 2011

Part three of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here and part 2 here).

Mental health experts (and parents) argue that people of all ages need to spend time outside. Richard Louv has gathered some of the latest research in his two books: Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. It is also true that being outside promotes better environmental stewardship.  Yet most people assume that going outside can only mean wilderness.  A woman once explained, “I can’t figure out how to get outside because I live in the city so I just give in and stop trying.” That is a mistake. The possibilities for outdoor experience are endless no matter where a person lives. So are the psychological benefits as well as the opportunities for sustainable practices. My top three choices for going outside can be found after the jump. (more…)

Eat Food, With Others

June 24, 2011

(The second in a series about the convergence of psychological and environmental health)

photo from AP

One strategy that any person or family can adopt to promote psychological and environmental health is to pay a good deal of attention to what is happening at the kitchen table. Almost five years ago Michael Pollan advised “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” While Pollan emphasized that rule as good for our bodies, and our planet, he didn’t explicitly link it to psychological health. Yet, eating food, not too much, mostly plants is good for our planet, our bodies and our psychological health especially if we recognize the role of relationships in the maintenance and organization of food resources.

In taking a broader view of food that is “at once more cultural and ecological” he suggests thinking “about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship.” Pollan clearly states that, “our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.”

While he emphasizes health in the bodily sense of the word, it is important to remember that health also means our psychological well being. In addition to the fact that physical well-being enhances mental health, food  can importantly impact mood states.  And it isn’t only the chemical breakdown of foods that can affect our personalities.  The way in which food is distributed also shapes and forms personality. Home cooked soup may contain chemical compounds, forge connections to important people (the forager for ingredients, the cook, and those who share the meal), and symbolically enact care and attachment.

Pollan notes, “Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never “designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.”

His point is that there needs to be a producer of food who understands both the individual needs of eaters, the range of available foods, and the relational complexity in which food is situated.  Yes, it has often been mom, but it can also be dad, or anyone else in a family or a group of eaters. That person is not only taking into account the person’s body. That person also uses food to alter the so-called “chemical” mood of the family or group by providing foods that heal, celebrate, get someone through a hard bout of work, or nurture someone through a loss.

What follows is my psychological elaboration of Pollan’s nine food rules.

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The Negev: Desert People

April 11, 2010

After passing through a fertile agriculture zone,  one confronts the sand dunes of the Negev. In this dry, hot place, the evidence of human innovation is everywhere. With bold sweeps, the land rolls seemingly endlessly onward.  Yet, human communities live within this the expansive collage of sand, rock, and the majesty of the maktesh, exemplifying the link between the possibility of geography and that of the human spirit.   (more…)

Diagnosis, Flow and Motion

March 16, 2010

“Don’t tell me what is going on with me, help me understand the how of me.” AJ, a 24 year old male.

With the release of the proposed draft revisions (version 5) to DSM disorders and criteria, new questions have arisen about psychiatric diagnosis.  Articles like the very in-depth analysis by Louis Menand in The New Yorker wonder whether or not the classification of mental disorders doesn’t pathologize the vicissitudes of human emotional expression. Jonah Lehrer’s recent piece in the NYTimes adds another element to the discourse about what is diagnosis: what if mental illness, like depression, has value? I would like to suggest another angle to this over-due debate: Diagnosis is a process, a fluid and mutable motion between body, mind, other people, culture and the environment. A diagnosis should not be construed as a territory with fixed boundaries nor a rigid categorical definition.  A viewing lens can assist in the identification of a Downey Woodpecker but you can’t learn anything about the creature until you observe it flying and interacting with the trees.  A psychological enterprise should always engage with a person’s process, and should aim to assist a person in the discovery of how all the pieces of their life come together.  This work relies on experience and training, as well as science and art. It also depends on a deep understanding of the natural, evolutionary world in which we are all embedded.

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People Don’t Always Act in their Best Interest

March 9, 2010

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Some people have been debating whether or not scientists should become climate change activists or if they should stick to the data. The concern is that the general population seems less worried about environmental issues.  Given our culture’s typical reliance on external solutions to problems, it doesn’t surprise me that journalists and pundits are looking to Obama, scientists, activists, politicians and economists to motivate change. As someone who helps people transform less than optimal behavioral problems into opportunities for accomplishment, lets begin with this fact:  People don’t always act in their own best interest.  Usually, what most motivates people to behave in a manner that affirms self and others is direct  emotional enlivenment that connects to an inner conviction or memory.  Let me provide an example from my work to illustrate how it might be possible to get people interested in climate change. (more…)

Nick Totton and the UK ecopsychologists

February 12, 2010

Yorkshire countryside, UK, photo by hchalkley

Having read my Wasted and Bombed paper, Nick Totton contacted me. He is a body therapist with an MA in psychoanalysis from Yorkshire, part of a network of British therapists of different specialties working on the interface between psychology and the environment.  Check them out.  And here too. Totton is currently editing a collection of writing on ecopsychology for the journal he edits Psychotherapy and Politics International . He is also working on a book which is intended to bring together ecopsychology, ecotherapy, and political issues.  I had the opportunity to read his enlightening key-note address to an Adventure therapy conference.

He wrote: “But as a therapist, I am also aware of the need for a change of mind, a huge shift of consciousness, if humanity is going to take a different path into the future. That is why I have become involved with ecopsychology – an involvement which stems from my work as a body psychotherapist: it seems to me that a positive relationship with the other-than-human is founded in a positive relationship with our own embodiment.”

Between Glenn Albrect in Australia, Thomas Doherty and Peter Kahn on the west coast and now these folks in the UK,  along with myself and the folks at CRED in NYC where I have spent some time learning and researching, it does feel as though there is a growing international interest in the unacknowledged relationship between our psyches and our environment.  Thrilling, really.

Thoughts on the Ecological Unconscious

February 1, 2010

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? (more…)


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