F. Kenneth Freedman
We live in a racist , patriarchal and
anti-erotic society, Lorde writes in "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as
Power." We live in a pornographic society that insists on the separation
of so many inseparable things; that insists on ways of thinking that separate
the body from the world, the body from the mind, nature from culture, men from
women, black from white; a society that insists on bounded categories of
But we can use erotic power to resist those
splitting forces. The erotic is a sensual bridge that connects the spiritual
and the political. It has something to do with love. The word itself comes from
the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its
aspects--born of Chaos and personifying creative power and harmony. Eros
is not about what we do but about how acutely and fully we can feel in the
doing, says Lorde. Its opposite, the pornographic, emphasizes sensation without
feeling. Pornographic relationships are those that are born not of human erotic
feeling and desire, not of a love of life and a love of the body, but those
relationships, those ideas born of a fear of bodily knowledge and a desire to
silence the erotic....
Lorde asks when we will be able, in our
relationships with one another and with the world, to risk sharing the
erotic’s electric charge without having to look away, and without
distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange.
Embracing the erotic means accepting our own mortality, our own bodiedness
(Legler, 1995, p. 83).
For me, a sense of separation has pervaded
most of my childhood and adult life. I was petrified of the dark as a child,
and can remember episodes of terror as early as age 5. I’m not sure about
the provenance of these feelings, but can trace their history throughout my
childhood in such places as my bedroom; a breezway leading from the main part
of our California house to the bedroom (which I shared with an older
brother); the outdoors at night; and most certainly being out in the
wilderness, day or night. I have never felt comfortable in "Nature"
and never been able to draw on her healing powers. I’m a prime candidate
for wilderness therapy.
It is in this context that I came to
ecopsychology. It has been an intensely powerful journey, one that I’ve
only just started with this reading and this paper. It will continue for the
remainder of my time on this earth, I suspect, and the challenges will be
joined as I reunite with Gaia from whom I have cowered in terror most of my
Ecopsychologists believe there is an emotional
bond between human beings and the natural environment out of which we evolve.
The major contribution ecopsychology promises
to make to environmental politics is the identification of the irrational
forces that tie people to their bad environmental habits. For example, some
ecopsychologists believe that our consumption habits are connected to deep
addictive attractions. Little wonder. The advertising industry is a contingent
of talented "pushers" working to make us compulsive consumers. That
is psychology working against environmental sanity. Ecopsychology seeks
to redress that balance. It wants to know how to free people from the
addictions of the shopping mall and to encourage values that serve the life of
the planet rather than imperiling it.
...ecopsychology...contends that seeking to
heal the soul without reference to the ecological system of which we are an
integral part is a form of self-destructive blindness ("A Psyche the Size
of the Earth," by James Hillman in Roszak, et. al., 1995, p. xvi).
It is only recently that I’ve come to
see that counseling is in dire need of an ecological component. The weakness in
a discipline based in individual growth, is clear; in the family systems
approach there is some thought given to the environment albeit the family
environment, and not the planet per se; in feminist therapy, there is
much more thought given to the connections between people, close family,
extended family, and the planet. It is this last direction that leads to
ecofeminism that forms the foundation for ecopsychology to which I strongly
relate. The difficulty, as I see it, is in the actual use of ecopsychological
principles: how do we, as counselors, help clients to heal not only in the
context of their own lives and concerns, but also in the wide-world context of
concern for people and animals with whom they have no special acquaintance,
much less with a planet that more or less sustains them for today and shows
them no extreme or immediate threat in terms of food or shelter.
I envision this process in terms of
connectedness. Ecofeminists have been talking about this for years. The issue
is one of (usually male, but not always) isolation and individualism giving way
to connectedness, mindfulness, and compassion about ourselves, others, and the
planet. If we learn to think simultaneously about what is good for us
individually and what is good for others and the planet, a tenet of "right
elation" (see below), there is a good chance that therapy can succeed in
terms of healing on a global basis.
If, on the other hand, we remain isolated,
combative, and addicted, the energy translates into abuse of self, others, and
the planet. Social philosopher Morris Berman In "The Re-Enchantment of the
World," says that we might be addicted to technology itself, though the
issue is more complex:
Addiction, in one form or another,
characterizes every aspect of industrial society.... Dependence on alcohol,
food, drugs, tobacco...is not formally different from dependence on prestige,
career achievement, world influence, wealth, the need to build more ingenious
bombs, or the need to exercise control over everything ("Technology,
Trauma, and the Wild," by Chellis Glendinning in Roszak, et. al., 1995, p.
From a counseling standpoint, there is
fertile ground here. Whether one is addicted to the (Lesbian or Gay male)
closet (perhaps as an adjunct to being addicted to self-denial), or clambering
after fame, the result is the same: loss of self respect. With loss of self
respect comes a diminished connection with family and friends, an even lesser
connection to the natural world, and little or no concern for the planet.
Technology might be another way to spend less time with ourselves, in a
qualitative manner. It’s easier to go to the spa and lie on a tanning
table or check the e-mail or surf the Net than it is to take a hike in the
mountains; and it’s easier to buy and use the latest kitchen appliances
than put the work into food preparation, using hands and bringing self and
mindfulness to the process:
Let us also consider the very structure of
modern technology. The kinds of technologies a society develops are not as
absolute or preordained as our ethos of linear progress would have us believe;
they express a society’s goals, both conscious and unconscious ("Technology,
Trauma, and the Wild," by Chellis Glendinning in Roszak, et. al., p. 48)
We are as much addicted to technology as we
are to the creation of it--our own self-perpetuating vicious circle.
Daniel Spencer’s (1996) premise is that
by embracing a society that fosters and encourages power-over attitudes and
structures rather than power-with attitudes and structures, we channel our
energy toward domination. Since the world (and probably the universe) and all
creatures in it, including humans, requires mutual dependence, this attitude of
power-over and dominion, even oppression of minority races and sexual
orientations, directly impedes the healing process, mutual cooperation, and
Only when we are able to reintegrate our
sexuality with our spirituality--to reintegrate the energy that flows from
within with the energy that draws us from without--will we have the moral
grounding and maturity needed to live our ethical values.... How ironic that a
Western religious tradition centered on love too often has made "making
love" to appear to be the opposite of God!
This is what I believe is at stake, finally,
in many of the issues of gender and sexuality in ethics. It is the violation of
right relationship along lines of gender and sexuality through fearing and
distorting the erotic, channeling it only into safely controlled norms--that
is, compulsory heterosexual marriage--that leads to the abuses of sex and power
that have engulfed our society. Because religious and societal attempts to
control the erotic have been the source of much of the oppression of those of
us who are lesbian and gay, our voices are critical to revisioning what right
relationship might look like at all levels of our human and natural communities
I had not previously thought deeply about the
connection between the sacred act of love and oppression--at least not in the
same thought process. What I now see is what may as well be called a
conspiracy, wherein unsuspecting people are taught about the evils of sex and
the joys of procreation as if there were something bad to come from enjoying a
close and sensual experience and something wonderful to come from a sometimes
wanton and thoughtless procreation/overpopulation. I suppose the
"bad" part of making love, in the eyes of those who would be loath to
relinquish their power, is that some folks might discover the joy of
connection, a real and purposeful connection to God/Buddha Spirit/Energy, begin
truly to love themselves and their neighbors, and maybe even Earth. This would,
of course, put a different slant on spirituality, cause Western power-dominated
society to revision motive in power, give up control, accept a more feminist
approach, and live an egalitarian life. The one part of that picture that is a
real threat, I suppose, is the vulnerability. When one isn’t in power one
is vulnerable, which means accountable to everyone around, dependent on them,
and in need of being part of the process, not being above it, or under the
illusion that one is separate from it.
It is not coincidental that the same people
who oppose civil rights for gay men and lesbians and procreative choice for
women also oppose legislation to protect the environment and label their
opponents "feminazis" and "ecofascists." (Spencer, 1996, p.
The stewardship of the planet and ourselves,
it seems to me, is a matter of cooperation. And if, as theologian Sally McFague
says the earth could be thought of as if it were the body of God, then all the
creatures that inhabit that body need to be equal in the responsibilities of
stewardship. If Gays and Lesbians, for example, are demonized as the cause of
the evils of the world, attention from the real issue can be diverted. The real
issue is how do we, as inhabitants of the earth make our stay here about
sustainable living, and not about blame. To blame the homeless for their own
plight is to abdicate responsibility for what Spencer calls right relation. To
blame the murderer for his or her own evil ways is to look away from the
problem and pretend it isn’t connected to each and everyone of us. That
logic allows for the rape of the earth, each other, and ourselves.
The relationship to counseling is clear to
me. There has to be a moderating vision (the counselor) that places the session
in a larger context. This is not to say that a person with life-threatening
issues needs a lecture on the environment (though I wouldn’t entirely
dismiss that possibility). When appropriate, however, it seems to me that
social and environmental context must be discussed. We exist in a world where
human interaction is our way of validating our very existence, our happiness,
our productivity, and our spirituality. Where a client might tend to isolate,
for example, be traumatized by childhood sexual abuse, or might just be angry
at the boss, there might (among other issues) be discussion about our
connectedness and all that it implies, the damage that can be visited on
ourselves and others if we don’t deal with abuse, or work around how
anger, when not appropriately released, can short-circuit our ability to enjoy
right relations with ourselves, our jobs, or our planet. (This is a superficial
rendering of how counseling might include ecology in a session--more detail
will emerge as this paper continues.) I think James Hillman’s article ("A
Psyche the Size of the Earth") in Roszak, et. al. (1995) sums it up pretty
Perhaps working on my feelings is not more
"subjective" than working on the neighborhood air quality. Perhaps killing
weeds on my lawn with herbicides may be as repressive as what I am doing with
my childhood memories. Perhaps the abuses I have unconsciously suffered in my
deep interior subjectivity pale in comparison with the abuses going around me
every minute in my ecological surroundings, abuses that I myself commit or
comply with. It may be easier to discover yourself a victim than admit yourself
a perpetrator (p. xx).
Here is another vital link in the
interconnectedness and interdependence that informs our existence: we are users
and must own up to our role in ecological destruction (and try amain to
minimize it). We must concentrate on our own healing but not ignore how our
healing is directly tied to the health of the planet.
Terrance O’Connor is a psychiatric
social worker in Silver
Spring, Maryland. At a lecture one evening an audience member opined
that a speaker the previous week had said that some people are satisfied with
limited relationships and why should anyone bother with trying to have a mature
and healthy intimate relationship. In a sudden outburst he replied:
Let me say something about the status quo.
The status quo is that the hole in the ozone layer is as big as the United States. The status quo is that some scientists are
predicting that by the middle of the next century global warming will result in
most of the coastal cities in the United States being below sea level, and will make the grain belt a
wasteland. The status quo is that acid rain, besides destroying the lakes and
forests, is now considered to be the leading cause of lung cancer after
cigarette smoke. The status quo is that thirty-five thousand people die of
starvation every day. Also every day, two or more species become extinct, not
due to natural selection but due to deforestation and pollution. By the year
2000 this is expected to accelerate to one hundred species a day. In other
words, mass extinction. What does this say to you? To me it says that the
status quo is that the planet is dying! The planet is dying because we are satisfied
with our limited relationships in which control, denial, and abuse are
tolerated. The status quo is that we have these petty relationships with each
other, between nations, with ourselves and the natural world. Why should we
bother? Because healthy relationships are not an esoteric goal. It is a matter
of our very survival and the survival of most of the life upon this earth
("Therapy for a Dying Planet," by Terrance O’Connor in Roszak,
et. al., 1995, pp. 150-151).
I have read few more enlightened statements
on the issue of right relation and ecology. This illuminates a clear connection
between healthy relations with self, others, and the planet, and our survival.
For myself this means working through my issues with fear of the dark and the
wilderness, which, I suspect is related to numerous childhood experiences that
somehow got magnified into out-of-proportion and, now unrelated survival
In my practice I am seeing a young Gay man
who has spent his life in the closet, has had no intimate or sexual
relationships, and is emotionally so isolated as to be socially handicapped. In
addition to the issues that need to be processed around childhood events and
development of current-day coping skills, there is an urgent need to see the
connectedness that is all around him. As a lapsed Catholic, there seems now to
be a bleak outlook, though he has taken the first steps in therapy. I feel
it’s important to nurture that connectedness simultaneous with the
individual work. The relationship he develops with himself will have a profound
impact on his immediate environment and, by extension, the planet.
In previous papers (Freedman, 1996b), I have
discussed the idea that many Gay men and Lesbians don’t get to go through
the rites of passage of adolescence in a normal way because they are
marginalized. They can’t easily come out to peers because of possible
rejection by the clique, and they can’t share their crushes and sexual
exploits (or fears) because of the coming out issue. The result is living a
life of lies of hiding and of arrested development. I wonder if the state of
humankind isn’t in a somewhat similar place. Ralph Metzner in "The
Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship" (Roszak, et. al., 1995)
talks about how many Western cultural supports have been abandoned with the
result that we grow up in a social environment lacking in many of the rituals
and lessons that shore up a healthy psychological development. If we have
little appreciation for Nature and the healing and nurturing aspects of it, and
have more appreciation for technology, the latest sneakers and
brand-name-on-the-front designer clothes (as if that gave us identity), and the
fastest cars, then we are, indeed, in an adolescent phase which is known for
its dangers due to lack of perspective and compassion.
One of the worst consequences of this
collective pathology is "a readiness to strike back at a natural world
that we dimly perceive as having failed us." Adults who have basic trust that
the world of nature and society can provide for their needs are not likely to
be attracted to a worldview that demands a relentless struggle for competitive
advantage (p. 58)
Another facet of a client’s situation
might be his or her physical environment. Being in a "tough place,"
might mean there’s a connection to his or her living space and/or work
The "bad" place I am "in"
may refer not only to a depressed mood or an anxious state of mind; it may
refer to a sealed-up office tower where I work, a set-apart suburban
subdivision where I sleep, or the jammed freeway on which I commute between the
two ("A Psyche the Size of the Earth," by James Hillman in Roszak,
et. al., 1995, p. xx).
Clinebell (1996) makes ecotherapy more
It is clear that the environmental toxins
that diminish our wellness often are in the homes, offices, schools, and
communities where we spend most of our lives. Therefore, greening and cleaning
the places where we live and work is the most immediate contribution we can make
to the ecological well-being of ourselves, our families, and those we serve in
our professional lives....
Being in such settings impacts the
body-mind-spirit organisms of healers and their clients, teachers, and
learners, whether or not anyone is aware of this deleterious influence (p.
One reason I decided to move back to Alaska from New York City was the noise, air, and quality of life. Not to
mention unnatural (to me) crowding and density. Additionally, Alaska has a spirituality that drew me, as did intimate
friends (who remained intimate after nearly 15 years’ absence). Perhaps
my healing began when I chose to return "home" and is now beginning
the second stage, that of healing my relationship with the outdoors.
There’s a lot to be said for American
and Alaska Native and Eastern cultures and beliefs when it comes to a respect
for the land and sacred places.
The strict thinkers of the Direct Perception
school of J. J. Gibson of Cornell University locate memory as much in the world
as in the interior brain of the subject. Landscape affords information to an
animal; it is not simply stored in the mind. The animal--and we humans are
animals--perceives what is there in the environment, given with the environment
if we attend to it carefully. Do not these schools, as well as the recent
publications of Edward S. Casey on the phenomenology of place, suggest a
nonhuman subjectivity, precisely what non-Western cultures have known and lived
by for millennia, but which ours has denigrated as superstitious animism?
("A Psyche the Size of the Earth," by James Hillman in Roszak, et.
al., 1995, p. xxi).
My personal journey in this regard began some
months ago when a friend put perennials in two huge planters in my back yard.
They are about 8’x15’ each and hold many flowering plants. And need
care. I have watered my front and back lawns grudgingly over the years. These
planters, however, require personal care. The first time I went out to weed
them, I was sweating, swearing, and hating the entire process. I kept at it,
thinking I needed to work through the issues. Why was I fighting this
close-to-the-earth work? Why was I upset at the thought of helping beautiful
flowers to grow in my back yard where I could see them every day from many
windows in my house, even sit among them to meditate? A lot of the resentment
comes from childhood chores I was required to perform, mostly in the back yard
of our California house, alone. I was furious that I had to do this
work with plants and trees, not because I disliked the plants and trees, but
because I’d been ordered to do the work as if I were chattel to do
another’s bidding, that I had no life of my own, and could be bossed
about without regard to my feelings or needs. Granted, I needed to do my bit
for the family. What I resented was not being involved in the family process,
not being honored as a member of the group, not encouraged with the helping
hands and feelings of other members of the family. The disconnection with
family and land was, you should pardon the pun, ingrained in me early on.
It seems I have isolated myself from Nature
in many ways and deprived myself of the healing nurturing that can be found
there. In a way I’ve projected my own dislike and isolation around
gardening chores onto the Earth and found it wanting. Roszak, et. al.
(1995) talks about this concept in terms of what I call ecological projection:
Unlike other mainstream schools of psychology
that limit themselves to the intrapsychic mechanisms or to a narrow social
range that may not look beyond the family, ecopsychology proceeds from the
assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded
to the Earth that mothered us into existence. Ecopsychology suggests that we
can read our transactions with the natural environment--the way we use or abuse
the planet--as projections of unconscious needs and desires, in much the same
way we can read dreams and hallucinations to learn about our deep motivations,
fears, hatreds.... Precisely because we have acquired the power to work our will
upon the environment, the planet has become like that blank psychiatric screen
on which the neurotic unconscious projects its fantasies ("Where Psyche
Meets Gaia," by Theodore Roszak in Roszak, et. al, 1995, p. 5).
As it is for me, so could clients begin the
process of "greening and cleaning" their personal environments with
some of the following of Clinebell’s suggestions. I posit, however, that
the very process of greening and cleaning is therapeutic. When the world seems
a dark and dreary place, one antidote to the sinking feeling is to get out in
the world and do something helpful to others or the planet. Therapy by
experience (wilderness therapy and art therapy, for example) can have dramatic
effects. If the experience is processed with a therapist, the effects can be
exponentially greater than the individual effort. That sense of having been
involved and connected with one’s environment can have a powerful healing
1. Start by carefully checking your workplace
and home for toxins, pollutants, and other health hazards. Then take whatever
action is needed to remove these.
2. Naturize the places where you live and
work with an abundance of living plants and, whenever feasible, natural light
from the sun, plus open windows. If possible, create easy assess [sic] to
outdoor areas where plants and birds flourish.
3. Arrange to do some of your
work--counseling, therapy, teaching--and some of your relaxing and reading
while sitting or walking outdoors.
4. Include a question or two about
environmental pollution in the initial assessment or diagnosis, especially when
clients, patients, or students live in obviously toxic environments or describe
what may be ecological distress caused by pollution.
5. Urge clients, patients, students, and
parents to do everything they can to clean and green their own most-occupied
settings as well as their communities.
6. Check for environmental health hazards in
the neighborhood, and the wider community where you live. Remember that the
sickness or the health of these places impacts yourself, your family, and the
people you serve.
7. Use a carrot-and-stick approach to
motivating yourself and others to do essential ecological cleanups.
8. If the sheer number of things that need
doing is overwhelming, start with one important cleaning-and-greening action
(Clinebell, 1996, pp. 165-167).
Then there’s the somewhat related story
about Sigmund Freud. Seems he was answering questions after a lecture. A person
in the audience asked what should someone do who was horribly depressed, down
and out, and suicidal? Freud allegedly did not reply that the person should get
psychoanalysis (as everyone expected), but rather for the person go to
"the other side of the tracks," find someone who needed help, and
pitch in. Profound words, indeed--a sort of personal "greening and
There is another aspect of ecojustice that
ties into a previous paper I did on sacred psychology (Freedman, 1996a). When
confronted with injustice, one might respond with outrage and action or with
silence: the AIDS slogan that began appearing stenciled on New York sidewalks in the mid ‘80s was
"Silence=Death," and was met with disdain from many people, until the
truth of it burrowed under their collective skin. A distant echo is heard in
the Latin phrase qui tacit consentire: they who remain silent, give
their consent. In that Study Packet I quoted James Fowler talking about a universalizing
faith which could not stand idly by in the face of injustice. People such
as Ghandi and the late Mother Teresa come to mind.
What I hold to be most sacred in the
universe, that which has my awe, reverence, loyalty, and friendship, is not
indifferent when faced with injustice. Rather it is an understanding of
ultimate commitment that responds to injustice with "the power of anger in
the work of love" (Spencer, 1996, pp. 12).
The difficulty many people face is the how-to
of such convictions. Faced with an overwhelming array of environmental ills,
many people (myself included) find it nearly impossible to figure out how to
even make a dent. The trick, I believe, is to take faith in the small,
individual acts. It seems impossible that putting a plant in one’s living
room could help heal the planet, but it is the consciousness about the plant
and its effect on the room’s environment that provides the start, the
minimal change in attitude, and the subsequent care of the plant and what that
might stand for that makes the difference. It is a step. And in terms of
therapy, it has yet another effect. We prescribe bibliotherapy from time to time,
so why not "floratherapy." If experiences help bring our feelings to
reality, then it might stand to reason that a client’s isolation could be
assuaged, for example, by caring for and tending to an African violet, or an
The same healing process we use to help
ourselves, interestingly, needs to be used to heal the planet.
We value all parts of our bodies for the many
different things each contributes to the whole, but when one part is sick or
injured or threatened, we focus our healing, protective efforts there, giving
it preferential attention, in order to restore health to the whole again. So is
this liberationist understanding of the sacred--it prioritizes the well-being
of the most needy in order to bring health and wholeness to the whole. Without
this preferential perspective, this "epistemological privilege of the
oppressed," we cannot see well, let alone act justly (Spencer, 1996, pp.
Without a sense of connectedness
(Indra’s Net), it would be hard to see the need for global healing. It
seems important to me to help clients find that sense of belonging so that they
might, in turn, sense the interdependence with the planet, see the need for
healing on a more-than-individual scale, and find their own ways to pitch in.
We have a deeply ingrained belief that our
spiritual life, our spiritual practices, must tend in a direction opposite to
our nature. Spirit, we imagine, rises upward, into transcendent realms, whereas
nature, which includes bodily sensations and feelings, draws us downward. In
some versions of this core image, the contrast between the two realms is even
sharper: spirit is not only separated from nature, but incompatible and
opposed. The human spiritual is then always regarded as superior to the animal
This image says that to enter into the city
of God, the divine realms, you have to work against your
nature; this was called the opus contra naturam. In the modern
psychological, Freudian version of the ancient split, the conflict is between
the human ego consciousness, which has to struggle against the
unconscious body-based, animal id, in order to attain consciousness and
truly human culture ("The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature
Relationship," by Ralph Metzner in Roszak, et. al., 1995, pp. 65-66).
Under that passage on the page I wrote a
note: "does this mean that ‘homosexual’ priests, or even
sexual predators, are trying to control their victims as a way of getting back
at a religion or society that has abandoned its true spiritual nature in favor
of empty ritual and simplistic answers that don’t acknowledge the
complexity of human and spiritual connection?" I am struck by the
appalling split between body and spirit that has been perpetrated upon
unsuspecting souls. That dualism isn’t new. What captures my attention is
that organized religion is about negation of body in the mistaken belief that
true spiritual connection is outside our physical or emotional ken. If
religious leaders would teach about the total involvement of the body in our
spiritual endeavors, there might be more credence paid to the connection with
and mindfulness of others rather than competition among religions to determine
which is holier than thou--and that might lead to a more compassionate view of
other people, Nature, and the planet. Alas, organized religion believes that
acknowledgment of the body is tantamount to sexual license.
The ecologically disastrous consequences of
this dissociative split in Western human’s identity become clear when we
reflect upon the fact that if we feel ourselves mentally and spiritually
separate from our own nature (body, instincts, sensations, and so on), then
this separation will also be projected outward, so that we think of ourselves
as separate from the great realm of Nature, the Earth, all around us. If we
believe that in order to advance spiritually we have to go against, to inhibit
and control, the natural feelings and impulses of our own body, then this same
kind of antagonism and control will also be projected outward, supporting the well-known
Western "conquest of nature" ideology. For most people in the West,
their highest values, their nobles ideals, their image of themselves as
spiritual beings striving to be good and come closer to God, have been deeply
associated with a sense of having to overcome and separate from nature....
Furthermore, the idea that the spiritual and
the natural are opposed or that spirituality must always transcend nature is a
culturally relative concept not shared by non-monotheistic religions or
traditional societies. In indigenous cultures around the world the natural
world is regarded as the realm of spirit and the sacred; the natural is
the spiritual ("The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature
Relationship," by Ralph Metzner in Roszak, et. al., 1995, pp. 66-67).
In therapy I sense not a few clients
wondering what I’m going "to do to them." I strive to help them
realize that it is they who will do the "doing." I try to help them
find that place in themselves that is kind, gentle, and connected, so that
their healing is a wonder-filled and eager "moving toward" rather
than a "separation (or running) from." This connectedness, I believe,
will go farther in the process of healing than the usually mistaken view that a
client is "broken" and needs fixing.
Acknowledging other ways of knowing, as
Spencer (1996) puts it are also vital to our planetary well-being. It seems
that those who hold power often use it to exclude other viewpoints, to the
detriment of themselves, the other viewpoint, and the world. In client work,
other ways of knowing, especially in a cross-cultural setting, are often
overlooked, ignored, or just plain missed. How we know what we know is
as important as the feelings surrounding those beliefs. To have that process
disparaged as an abnormality, a deviation, or a sin (based solely on prejudice
and ignorance) is to diminish the healing potential in the world.
Finally, in a liberationist ethic, scientific
knowledge must be engaged with and held accountable to other ways of knowing
that shape our praxis. Separating scientific knowledge from other ways of
knowing results in a reductionistic epistemology characteristic of the
Enlightenment mechanistic worldview--an epistemology that threatens the
diversity of experiences and meanings in our social and ecological worlds. For
lesbians and gay men this means insisting that the use of science take our
experiences and ways of knowing seriously rather than reducing the complexities
of our experiences and identities to an "objective" biological factor
in formulating its truth claims (Spencer, 1996, p. 25).
It is amazing to me how many therapists
I’ve encountered who claim that their Lesbian and Gay clients are
"just like all my straight clients." It is as if the therapists are
not able to expand their own view enough to notice the differences that do
exist. Even if the only difference between Gay and non-Gay people was
the oppression they suffer, honoring that oppression and the way it informs
ones life permanently alters the "just like all my straight clients"
attitude. The psychological process a Lesbian or Gay man uses to deal with
oppression is different from the way a straight person would cope, which, in
turn, is different from the way an Asian person, for example, would deal with
oppression. But we know that, developmentally, Gays and Lesbians do mature
differently, do see the world differently, and do have ways of knowing that are
different from any one else’s way. To dishonor these differences is to perpetuate
the power-over attitude that cripples individual as well as planetary healing.
This shift to an understanding of authority
grounded in communitarian values of right relation opens up the possibility of
developing an ecological hermeneutics of suspicion that actively engages the
Bible and tradition without falling into either temptation--apologetics or
dismissal and withdrawal. An ecological hermeneutics of suspicion questions
anything that may lead to a harmful relation with the earth, examining anthropocentric
and androcentric texts and claims for the hidden interests they reflect and
their ramifications for the interweaving of social and ecological justice and
well-being (Spencer, 1996, p. 42).
This leads us full circle back to the Roszak
quote on page 4 of this paper. It is vital that we find a way to right
relations with ourselves, or gods and goddesses, our families (extended and
chosen), and our planet. Even if the final destruction of our environment (and
life on earth?) is years away (a tragic legacy for our children), the quality
of life is greatly diminished as our global nest disintegrates. How else to
stanch the downward course if not through right relation with the earth, which
requires right relation to self? By oppressing others (or by buying into the
oppression and not working to transform it) we continue the process of decay.
And we continue it by spending our energy in identifying with or fighting
against an oppression rather than in creativity--a creativity that
recapitulates our interconnectedness to all people, animals, plants, and the
planet, not to mention our spirituality.
Finally, one implication of paying attention
to difference and particularity is that, just as Rosemary Reuther calls for
"many ecofeminisms," we will need a plurality of ecological ethics
appropriate to different social and ecological locations, communities and
religious traditions, rather than one universalized or monolithic approach.
This is an ecological insight--recognizing that each "ecological
niche" or location must develop an ecologically sound ethics appropriate
to that web or relationships. What makes it liberationist is the insistence
that this pluralism of different ecological ethics is not simply relativistic,
but engaged, interactive, and [infused] with continued attention to how
shifting power relations between communities and different social/ecological
locations affect and reshape the resulting ethics (Spencer, 1996, pp. 54-55).
Giving voice to many different ecological
locations echoes the need to give voice to many cultures. The final truths, it
seems to me, lie in the right relations to self, spirit, others, and planet. In
a counseling setting, the importance of right relation can’t be
emphasized enough. I there are therapists who work from this premise, whether
consciously or not. What would help more, I believe, is the attention to the
connection between right relation (on a conscious level) and the survival of
the planet, not to mention the people and non-humans on it. I think
there’s a "something else" in counseling that many overlook
which is the step beyond individual mental health--which means that there are
both personal and a global worlds that need attention. To heal enough to
participate in daily activities is all good and well. However, I believe
there’s a next and vital step, which is the connection to all other
living creatures (and that includes the mountains, rocks, and clouds). That
conscious connection is necessary to an extended healing process.
Writers outside the lesbian and gay communities
also are connecting the erotic and the ecological in ways important to an
ecological ethics. Writing from an African American context, Alice Walker makes
explicit this sense of sacred power in erotic/ecological interconnection in
many of her writings. Returning to the scene in The Color Purple I
examined in the opening chapter, Shug explains to Celie how she came to believe
that God was not white, male, or "out there," but "is inside you
and inside everybody else":
My first step from the old white man was
trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting
quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that
feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut
a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all round the
house. I knew just what is was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss
it. It sort of like know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my
In the context of an erotic relationship between
two women in an oppressed community, Shug ties feeling interconnected with all
things in nature to erotic interconnection with another woman by debunking a
racist patriarchal concept of God that fosters disconnection and relations of
power-over. These connections empower both Celie’s and Shug’s sense
of moral agency (symbolized for Celie in her decision to no longer write
letters to an oppressive image of God) and their connection to all parts of the
earth (Spencer, 1996, pp. 322-323).
Here, then, is an effective other view to
answer the oppressive religious and political power brokers who believe that
the unrelenting suppression of sexual desire is the only way to insure the
moral strength of humankind (even though their views are limited to the Western
world and give short shrift to any views held in the East). The logic, however,
is inescapable: that our lives are indeed sensual (we have 5 senses with which
we corroborate our very existence), and that sensuality, whether expressed in
care for a plant or an animal or sexually with another person, is our direct
and only line to spirit. Even a meditating monk high in the Himalayan Mountains is subject to the weather, the ground, the food, and
the isolation, all of which he or she senses. And those senses, supporting the
desire for Union, are the vehicles of the aspiration. It follows, for
me, at least, that in a caring and mindful sexual union a very similar
connection takes place. It is only in the usurpation of that thoughtful right
relation that, I believe, "sin" occurs.
In addition to examining the problem of
anthropocentrism in the ecological crisis as deep ecologists have done, we must
go beyond this to ask how androcentric, heterosexist, and racist values and
practices in human communities shape our relations to each other and to
our biotic communities in ecologically nonsustainable and damaging ways.
This means reconceiving power in our social
and ecological relations, moving away from hierarchical patterns of
"power-over" to "power-with," enabling an ethics and
pattern of care and respect. Here lesbian, gay, and feminist attention to eros
and the erotic as the grounding for understandings of power that are mutually
enabling rather than coercive has a critical contribution to make to ecological
ethics. Ecojustice understood as right relation is grounded in the ecological
and erotic insight that all of nature, including its human component, is
intimately and inseparably connected. Reclaiming our erotic experience as the
basis for knowing and connecting to others can ground an ecological ethic of
interconnection in right relation (Spencer, 1996, p. 325).
The truly interesting feature of
Spencer’s argument is that in order for there to be ecojustice, there
must be social justice, and for there to be social justice there has to be
right relation, and that right relation is based firmly on our sentience, a
sentience which is the very foundation of our relationship to ourselves,
others, and to spirit.
I can see a direct and immediate connection
in the counseling environment, and have already begun to use the information in
some ways. I think the goal is to help clients with the problems with which
they come into the office; but simultaneously I see my responsibility as
pointing up the significance of being connected, knowing that one is connected,
and knowing the importance of that connection--to self, others, spirit, and
Consumerism is another aspect of loss of
connection. The more we are admonished to buy, the more we embrace
obsolescence, which, in turn, requires us to work more to earn more money to
buy the thing that wore out or went out of style. This all serves to sever us
from enjoyment of ourselves, spirit, others, and nature:
Lowering consumption need not deprive people
of goods and services that really matter. To the contrary, life’s most
meaningful and pleasant activities are often paragons of environmental virtue.
The preponderance of things that people name as their most rewarding pastimes
are infinitely sustainable. Religious practice, conversation, family and
community gatherings, theater, music, dance, literature, sports, poetry,
artistic and creative pursuits, education, and appreciation of nature all fit
readily into a culture of permanence--a way of life that can endure through
countless generations ("Are We Happy Yet?" by Alan Thein Durning in
Roszak, et. al., 1995, p. 75).
The flip side of the helping-the-client coin
is that of psychologists helping corporations sell to the public:
When psychologists offer their services to
corporations, their statistical skills and therapeutic insights are used to
manipulate people for economic gain rather than to foster well-being. Yet
consumerism is so ingrained in American society that this outright abuse of
psychological expertise receives no mention in the ethical code of the American
Psychological Association ("The All-Consuming Self," by Allen D.
Kanner and Mary E. Gomes in Roszak, et. al., 1995, p. 83)
The really scary part is what is happening to
American children. When my family got our first television in the 1950s, the
advertising was pretty crude and fairly unsophisticated. We looked at the
commercials, laughed a bit, turned off the sound, and paid little attention.
Not so today:
...American children come to internalize the
messages they see in the media and in society at large. They learn to
substitute what they are told to want--mounds of material possessions--for what
they truly want. By the time they reach adulthood, their authentic feelings are
so well buried that they have only the vaguest sense that "something"
is missing. Having ignored their genuine needs for so long, they feel empty
("The All-Consuming Self," by Allen D. Kanner and Mary E. Gomes in
Roszak, et. al., 1995, p. 83)
I am seeing a young Aleut man who believes
that wearing Nike shoes and clothes identifies him as "someone." It
saddens me to see the values that do truly sustain us as humans are being
usurped by commercial interests, ones that ultimately will not help us heal
when we sense the emptiness that comes with consumerism.
Socialized by film and television to identify
with the attitudes and values of privileged classes in this society, many
people who are poor, or a few paychecks away from poverty, internalize fear and
contempt for those who are poor. When materially deprived teenagers kill for
tennis shoes or jackets they are not doing so because they like those items so
much. They also hope to escape the stigma of their class by appearing to have
the trappings of more privileged classes. Poverty, in their minds and in our
society as a whole, is seen as synonymous with depravity, lack, and
worthlessness ("Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations," by bell
hooks [lower case intentional] in Roszak, et. al., 1995, pp. 87-88).
A sense of worthlessness, we would add, that fits
precisely with our understanding of media-induced narcissistic injury. Within
these poor communities, we again find an injured self striving to overcome the
humiliation of material lack, yet so caught up in this struggle that it fails
to challenge the consumer ideal of the dominant culture ("The
All-Consuming Self," by Allen D. Kanner and Mary E. Gomes in Roszak, et.
al., 1995, p. 83)
It is obvious that this misuse of knowledge
is dangerous. A psychologist working for a corporation could easily convince
him- or herself that there’s nothing inherently wrong helping others sell
their goods. After all, the argument might go, consumers are not stupid and
they can see they’re being manipulated and will make responsible
decisions. Would that it were true.
A therapist, as one approach, might start
with the thorny issue of self-esteem (keeping in mind the immediate peer group
and the pressures that exist there), trying to lead into a sense of self
identified by more earth-related (natural) values and perhaps even a sense
spirituality as opposed to goods; then move to a sense of community and social
values, perhaps wilderness therapy focusing on some sort of recognition of or
communion with Earth, leading, one would hope, to a sense of social
responsibility. A tall order, but necessary for mental, physical, emotional,
and spiritual growth, and, of course, the survival of the planet.
It’s a thin line between misuse of
knowledge, manipulation of people’s minds, and violence. Spencer (1996)
carefully points out the violent uses of the erotic against women, children,
and other minorities. The problem is so pervasive that it is almost dangerous
to talk of the erotic as "the source of identity or moral agency in
women’s lives" (p. 326). Yet I believe that violence is other side
of the desire for connection. I am not so naive as to think that by healing
one’s desire for connection one stops the violence, or that there are not
pathological conditions that are mostly beyond healing without drugs or even
incarceration. But that is the point, after all. The healing that must occur is
as much at the individual level as it is at the global level. Until we as
humans take seriously those among us who are not well, we ourselves cannot heal
completely. I suppose it is futile to think that healing completely is even
possible, but without that as a goal, we seriously cripple our ability to heal
ourselves and the planet, which relates directly to our survival, our quality
of life, our relation to spirit. Sally McFague (see page 3 of this paper)
posits that seeing the Earth as the body of God may be an image that awakens
our desire to assist in the global healing process: I see it as earth-shakingly
Like all liberation theologies, lesbian and
gay hermeneutics incorporate as a critical first step the suspicion that
dominant portrayals of reality and the world do not tell the whole story, and
the story they do tell is distorted, often at our expense. From concrete
experiences of either being totally invisible in the human ecology, or
portrayed as dangerous or exotic aberrations, lesbians and gay men have learned
to identify and question those values and practices that lead to our being
ignored, dismissed, or actively exploited and repressed. Even our close allies,
such as ecofeminists, too often limit their analysis to the connections between
the domination of women and nature, missing or ignoring the links between heterosexism
and ecological exploitation, and thus further reproducing lesbian and gay
invisibility. Since many of these same values and practices lie at the heart of
the ecological crisis where the well-being of the environment has been ignored,
dismissed, or actively exploited, lesbian and gay hermeneutics of suspicion
have an important contribution to make toward developing a more inclusive
liberationist ecological hermeneutics (Spencer, 1996, p. 327).
I had a conversation the other day with a
psychological colleague, who said (she’s straight) that she has Lesbian
and Gay clients and there’s no real difference in the way they process
their problems. I was shocked by this well-meaning (and good) therapist who
seemed oblivious not only to the actual differences between Gays and non-Gays
but also to the harm this brings to the therapeutic relationship. It’s
similar to having an Asian client come in and treat them as if their
psychological process had nothing to do with their stage of cultural
It is injurious to pay lip service to a
culture but, I believe, worse to maintain that there are no essential
differences between cultures, especially in a psychological process, and even
more damaging to say that Gays and Lesbians are just like straight people
except for the "choice of sexual partner."
If I do nothing else in these papers and in
my practice, I hope it will be to help dispel the homophobia that is carried by
Gay, Lesbian, and straight alike, even in its most innocent-seeming guises.
...[The] fundamental reality of
interdependence and interconnectedness--of becoming-in-relation--means we can
no longer accept any hierarchical evaluation of human over nonhuman, animal
over plant, biosphere over geosphere. He [Clark] ties this explicitly to
lesbian and gay suspicion of hierarchical ways of thinking that result in
reductionism rather than affirmation of diversity: "The hope that connects
gay eco-theology with gay liberation theology is the belief that if people can
learn to value diversity throughout all life, then they will also appreciate
diversity in human life. Then will homophobia disappear; then will no one and
no thing ever be expendable again (Spencer, 1996, p. 329).
I wish this would put the lie once and for
all to the concept that everyone is alike in the basics of their psychological
process. The reductionist thinking is offensive. But I suppose it reveals a
therapist’s own probable fear of exploring the unknown--exploring it
right along side the client, venturing into places that neither have previously
explored working together to find a right relation, and not necessarily
the one with which either counselor or client went into the process.
Celebration of diversity is what makes life interesting, and, I suppose, it is
that very "spice" that scares some folks into the reductionism. In the
helping professions it is unacceptable; in the broader world of quotidian life
it is the very stuff of ecological disaster; once we accept that differences
are to be minimized, we can easily accept that differences should be
minimized. It is a slippery slope from there on.
Spencer (1996) helps elucidate some of those
differences in quoting from Walter L. William’s "groundbreaking
study of the berdache" (p. 334):
Equally important, where berdache was
respected in Native American cultures, the status of women’s roles
usually was high. Hence the berdache’s involvement with feminine tasks
and roles was not interpreted as a betrayal by men of a "superior"
masculinity, but as a (spiritually powerful) variant within the natural
spectrum of human diversity on gender and sexuality. The explicitly profeminist
stance of an ethic of Gay and Gaia echoes this understanding.
Overcoming rigid dichotomized thinking,
whether between humanity and nature, or between male and female, is basic to a
liberationist ecological ethic. While his focus is on Native American
societies, Williams cites examples across the globe of berdache- and amazonlike
gender and sexuality patterns. Not coincidentally many of these indigenous
cultures are among the most ecologically sustainable and earth-friendly,
holding nature in high esteem and central to their spirituality and
understanding of human identity and culture. Conspicuously absent is the
othering mechanism of associating certain groups and classes with a
"lower" nature as a justification for domination... (pp. 335-336).
I have dealt in other papers (Freedman
(1996b)) with the subject of Gay affirmative counseling. I can’t
emphasize enough that the multiculturally affirmative counselor can’t
read enough books or attend enough workshops to learn about the cultures with
which they work. And spiritual considerations are very much a part of this same
warning. Counselors might easily fall into the Christian tradition of
condemnation of homo-orientation:
Those who seek a liberating praxis from within
the Christian tradition must see challenging and overturning the
churches’ traditional condemnatory stance toward homosexuality as central
to ecojustice work, no only for lesbians and gay men in our communities, but
also for non-Christian peoples. It must form an integral part of reshaping an
ecological worldview: affirming and advocating for human diversity--including
human sexual, gender, cultural, and religious diversity--must be seen as
inseparably linked to affirming and protecting ecological diversity (Spencer,
1996, p. 337).
last word on Gay-affirmative counseling as necessary to an ecological praxis.
Tolerance has long been rejected as an acceptable response from a dominating
culture. For a sustainable social justice, and, by extension, a sustainable
ecojustice, there must be positive regard for diversity of all kinds, whether
based on race, creed, color, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation:
Gender egalitarian societies often have
creation stories which give important roles to women. Without the active
explanation in myth, there is no ideological underpinning for a high female
status. The same may be true for the berdache. In cultures where berdaches have
high status, there is usually mythological justification for the practice. It
is not enough that the religion be neutral or tolerant. It must actively
explain the phenomenon in a positive manner. The biblical Genesis creation
accounts, in their bias toward maleness and heterosexual complementarity, do
not offer a similar flexibility. This suggests again the importance of opening
up the canon of Christian scripture to other voices that reflect a broader
array of human and ecological diversity (Spencer, 1996, p. 338).
Positive regard for diversity can also be
expressed in terms of relationships. The Classic Western models tend toward
autonomy and individualism, but "rather than equating healthy development
with increasing autonomy, relational theory suggests that as we mature, we move
toward greater complexity in relationships" ("The Rape of the
Well-Maidens," by Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner in Roszak, et. al.,
1995, p. 117). And complexity often brings uncertainty which requires more
interdependence, not the strong suit of many Western medical models.
To acknowledge a different area of
ecotherapy, one’s relationship to nature can also involve attention to
seasons. Clinebell (1996) recounts how a social worker friend connects
nature’s changes to the counseling session:
As the seasons change or when cycles of the
moon are obvious, this therapist sometimes mentions such changes to clients in
passing. She has discovered this increases awareness of the renewing cycles of
nature, which creates opportunities to reflect therapeutically on the clients’
using the cycles and transitions in their own lives, as well as the cycles of
nature (p. 196).
Seasonal Affect Disorder (S.A.D.) is very
real in Alaska and many Northern hemispheres. In addition to dealing
with light deprivation medically (and perhaps with full-spectrum lights),
appreciating how nature cycles, hibernates, slows down, and "puts on a
blanket" (of snow) for the winter can be helpful in understanding our
relationship to ourselves in nature. Trying to maintain the same mood in
the dead of an Alaskan winter as one might in the middle of the Alaskan summer
is, in my mind, going contrary to natural cycles. There is a time for burrowing
in and being, perhaps, more introspective; and there is a time for running
naked through the woods. Being aware of the Earth’s "moods" is
an important key to living that many indigenous cultures have been aware of and
in tune with for millennia.
Another issue that seems obvious to me is how
we use nature to heal (going to the mountains or the seashore for a relaxing,
rejuvenating getaway), and yet we rape and pillage it with our shopping malls,
highways, power lines, dams, and urbanization projects. We need nature for our
very survival, yet we deplete it for our perceived needs (wants, more likely).
In therapy, I see it as important that the connection is made between personal
problems and our attitude toward our Earth home.
Clinical evidence suggests that chronic noise
pollution and deprivation of quietness may contribute to diminished wellness.
Studies of stress levels in overcrowded, polluted, noisy cities suggest that
chronic noise, with no respites of relative quiet, may contribute to our
society’s epidemic of chronic stress overload.... Since it is clear that
having regular times of serenity in nature tends to enhance the
body-mind-spirit well-being of many people, it is important to encourage people
to give themselves the gift of slowing down long enough to open oneself to the
rhythms of nature and the non-verbal messages of trees and clouds, of rocks and
animals (Clinebell, 1996, p. 197).
My agenda includes a personal response to
saving our natural resources as a direct effort to saving ourselves. Recycling,
for example, could be discussed in a session as part of a mental health program
that connects the client to their Earth home in an important way, similar to
Freud’s alleged admonition to a depressed person to go to "the other
side of the tracks" and help someone in need. One could develop a sense of
connection, an important first step toward caring for ourselves/our planet.
...some Native Americans...choose a
particular tree or other plant to spend time with every day, becoming tuned to
its energies and rhythms. Some report that they receive helpful messages--gifts
from their particular plant-companion (Clinebell, 1996, p. 198).
In a Reiki1
class I took years ago, our first assignment was to go outside and Reiki trees
and plants. The object was not only to get a sense of the energy Reiki imparts
(and receives) but to get somewhat more in tune with the world of non-human
energy around us. Animals "have a sense" of safe places to go, dogs
sense a person’s mood or fear, and a Prescott College classmate told me of a particular outdoor place he
had gone to that had a tremendously sad "affect." I believe
it’s as important for us to be in tune with nature as it is for us to
help heal nature.
The following case vignette illustrates how
this therapist worked with a woman client who came to therapy suffering from
multiple problems, including family dysfunction and other relationship
problems, work impairment, rheumatoid arthritis, agitated stress, and
depression. Over several pervious years of work with other therapists, the
woman had experienced only minimal improvement in a variety of traditional therapies.
These included hospitalization, family and one-on-one therapy, and a
twelve-step recovery program.
Gradually, as the client worked with this
therapist, she experienced marked improvement in many areas of her troubled
life. The therapist encouraged her to begin intensive organic gardening as both
"recreation and a way to reconnect with a life-giving source."
Despite pain in her knee joints, the client dug roots from a patch of earth
infested by thorns and discovered that "gaining control over the weeds
gave her a sense of possibility in her own recovery and renewal".... The
client, who had grown up in the mountains and by the ocean, reported that now
she was able to "be a part of them again." This reunion had, she
said, enabled her to have a kind of spiritual rebirth (Clinebell, 1996, p.
In the beginning of this paper I discussed my
fear of the dark and nature in general. Clinebell (1996) talks directly to that
point, and by extension, any loss of relationship with nature:
The process of overcoming ecoalienation often
involves confronting and experiencing the healing of painful nature-alienating
memories from earlier life, like those I relived by working with my river
dream. Healing these ghost memories that still haunt one’s relationship
with the earth is frequently a crucial aspect of ecohealing. When this healing
of forgotten earth trauma occurs, people often recover repressed positive
bonding experiences with nature. These probably are held out of awareness
because they are intertwined with repressed traumatic memories. Thus, one of
the potential benefits of walking the inner path from alienation to healing is
that linked positive earth memories and feelings may come back into
awareness--memories of satisfying, nurturing bonding with nature. These can
become resources that enrich one’s current life and relationship with the
earth (Clinebell, 1996, p. 203).
In a counseling environment I should think
that any sense of alienation, isolation, or even problems with self-esteem could
be addressed in part with a relationship with nature. Someone who is extremely
shy, for example, might start the process of recovery by establishing a caring
relationship with some small aspect of, say, gardening. It’s not a sure
bet that any alleviation of symptoms will occur (in any modality), but it is
another possibility in the pantheon of healing practices.
As a last comment on ecopsychology (a topic
about which I could write volumes), I’d like to mention grief for the
planet. In counseling work, there is the very real possibility that grief work
needs to be done for parts of nature that have been decimated and defiled. A
very real example: a young Gay, born-again Christian friend of mine was raised
in South Anchorage where there were trees and forests (such as they are
in Anchorage, due to the permafrost), and bred and ran his sled
dogs there and lived a very isolated, lonely life. But the trees were his
friends, and the animals, and plants. He reveled in their support of him and
communicated with that energy daily. He was arbitrarily uprooted from that
place to another and grieved the loss of his personal habitat. Recently (years
after the uprooting) he took me back to that area, which now has been
transmogrified into a suburb and the land he knew has been largely developed.
There were some forest tracts still standing and we hiked into the middle of
one of his sacred spaces. We sat there and talked for a long while, and,
finally, he asked me if I’d Reiki the space, which I did. No sooner than
I began Reikiing the space but I was overcome with tremendous grief and tears.
The energy coming from that tract of standing forest was overwhelming and I
immediately began crying, saying to my friend, "your forest is crying out
to you and needs you and wants you to come home." I’d never
experienced that kind of connection before, but felt that even that little
healing work was helpful. I doubt that the tract of land will be there long,
before the developers get at it, but identifying these areas and helping them
and ourselves heal is tremendously important work. The power of the connection
I made with a patch of South
Anchorage forest that Spring
day lives in my heart to this day.
Providing opportunities for people to do
their "ecogrief work" is important in today’s ecological
crisis. Because the causes of ecological grief are ongoing, complete healing of
this grief clearly is neither feasible nor desirable. What is important is
healing those dimensions of grief that produce denial and action-paralysis. The
ecogrief group leader’s task is to facilitate interpersonal trust and
group bonding so that members will feel free to express their feelings
candidly, be heard empathically and without judgment, and be motivated to use
the energy of their grief, guilt, and anger for earth-caring actions
(Clinebell, 1996, p. 203).
In this paper I have discussed the basic
tenets of ecopsychology, covering methods that could be used in counseling
sessions to help clients (and non-clients as well) reconnect with their Earth
relations/relatives. I discussed the interdependence of humans and non-humans,
and the importance of right relations with all cultures (including Gays and
Lesbians), and different religions as well. I talked about sexuality as one
path toward right relation, and how religious suppression of our physical
selves oppresses everyone and everything--and actually prevents global healing
from taking root; that it is the patriarchal power-over syndrome that must be
transformed for true global healing to find a foothold. For this to happen, I
believe we must change our approach from an all western medical power-over
model and explore alternative venues, methodologies, and earth-related
The traditional argument of psychology says:
maintain the closed vessel of the consulting room, of the behavioral lab, of
the field itself, for this tradition is born from nineteenth-century science,
which continues to define psychology as the "scientific" study of
subjectivity. And science works best in controllable situations, in vitro,
under the bell jar, where it can carefully observe, predict, and thereby
perhaps alter the minutiae of the subject.
Psychology may take the wider road,
however.... The interior would be anywhere: anywhere we look and listen with a
psychological eye and ear. The whole world becomes our consulting room, our
petri dish. Psychology would track the fields of naturalists, botanists,
oceanographers, geologists, urbanists, designers for the concealed intentions,
the latent subjectivity of regions the old paradigm considered only objective,
beyond consciousness and interiority. The wider road is also a two-way street.
Besides entering the world with it psychological eye, it would let the world
enter its province, admitting that airs, waters, and places play as large a
role in the problems psychology faces as do moods, relationships, and memories
(Roszak, et. al., 1995, p. xxii).
1a centuries-old Japanese hands-on healing technique
Clinebell, H. (1996). Ecotherapy: healing
ourselves, healing the earth. New York: The Haworth Press.
Freedman, F. K. (1996a). Study Packet #2. Anchorage, AK/Prescott College. Unpublished.
Freedman, F. K. (1996b). Study Packet #4. Anchorage, AK/Prescott College. Unpublished.
Legler, G. (1995). All the powerful invisible
things: a sportswoman’s notebook. Seattle: Seal Press.
Roszak, T, Gomes, M., & Kanner, A.
(1995). Ecopsychology: restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Spencer, D. (1996). Gay and Gaia. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.