October 2008

“Gaia can regulate without the need for foresight or planning by the biota. The regulation is entirely automatic.” James Lovelock

“Pooh hasn’t much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right.” Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh

“Only the development of his inner powers can offset the dangers inherent in man’s losing control of the tremendous natural forces at his disposal and becoming the victim of his own achievements.” Roberto Assagioli

Once upon a time our animal ancestors had an automatic and unconscious balancing system between internal instinct and external environment, there was no need to think about it. This also meant that we had our place in the universe, a context and meaning, which was an innate part of us which didn’t need thinking about.

The meaning of life is automatic for most plants and animals, no thought required, they have an organic initiation into the mysteries of the universe. But humans are no longer so automatic, we have minds that need to find a meaningful place in the universe because it is not automatically given to us through our genes or environments. Instead we require a cultural initiation, one that involves the abstract creativity of the human mind, making definitions and values that weren’t there before.

This has been a creative leap forward for us, with so many great arts and sciences that have moved us into new ways of living that our instincts alone cannot create. Unfortunately this also means we can no longer have a care-free existence, we are no longer automatically regulated by nature’s processes, instead we have to regulate ourselves. This lack of self-regulation is shown in our abuse of our environment, polluting and destroying it, which in turn changes the environment’s balancing system to our disadvantage.

We have to create our own balance, we cannot use our societies or governments to do that because who guides them? Each individual should learn its own balance and creativity. And if we rely on Earth to balance us, well, at the moment she’s reacting very badly to our imbalance and trying to dislodge us. If we want to survive we have to take our own balance into each and every individuals hands.

Once upon a time I was into the Taoist philosophy which to me was about “going with the flow.” The idea I read about was a bit anti-intellectual. It saw the human condition as marred because instead of letting things be organic and “flowing” the intellect would set up false definitions and “deform” the Uncarved Block, a concept used to describe things in their original nature before they were tampered with.

In some ways we do need to learn to “go with the flow” at least as far as nature is concerned. It is something that needs no guidance. As James Lovelocks quote above says, Gaia is an entirely self-regulating sysem, it’s too big for us to take the responsibility of running it. In Nature, there is a natural flow and rhythm to things which industrial humanity has tried to struggle against and take short cuts through, much to the detriment of the earth’s life, which includes humans.

What I don’t want to “go with the flow” with is the aspect of humanity that disturbs humanities place on earth and sends it into ecological disaster. Flowing with any society with a mindless herd mentality means being flooded in the Inner Space in “service” of its external pressures. My self-meaning, self-motivation and inner context can be hijacked by the flow of society, which itself is unconscious and with a materialistic view that humans live to work, to earn money, to buy stuff and the earth is premanufactured consumer stuff. This time I’ve got to be focussed and use my intellect to discriminate what flow I should “flow with” before I’m in carried away unconsciously by forces that I want nothing to do with.

Earth does not need regulating, but its humans need regulating. By what? The earth’s changes would kill us off, and the “higher powers” of human society aren’t always the most ethical choice for guidance. So then, we have to regulate ourselves, which brings the quote from Robert Assagioli into focus, that we can only look inside ourselves, at our own powers and learn to develop them in harmony with Gaia before we destroy ourselves with them. The tragic thing is that the Earth may change so much that humans may no longer be able to participate in the Earth’s evolution, we may become extinct, though life here will still carry on in some form without us.

Now one challenge remains for us, which is, are we as a species so stupid that we ruin the chance for future generations to continue participating in the evolution of Gaia, expressing humanities unique place in it? For me I have hope that humanity can be intelligient enough to continue existing. I am optimistic enough that humanity can change its ways, because to be proved wrong doesn’t bear thinking about.

Here’s an article from http://www.global-mindshift.org that has provided me with much inspiration for this blog; http://www.global-mindshift.org/discover/viewFile.asp?resourceID=224&formatID=252

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Gustav Jung

“Common people retreat from the world to country houses, the seashore or the mountains, but it is always in your power to retreat into yourself. Give yourself this retreat; renew and cleanse your soul completely.” Marcus Aurelius

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” Joseph Cambell

There I was, watching a beautiful scene unfolding before me. The large sky a clear blue and the sun shining upon lush green grass while birds dance and fly around trees and under bushes. Then I think of something… I remember something….something inside… something… something… “ADAM! Wake up daydreamer, get out of ‘your own little world’ and join us in the real world will you.”
The outside invades, pulling me out of my inner space, a subjective psychic space that noone can touch, even me apparently.

This is a problem, society’s unwritten dogma is that the objective material world has more worth than a individual’s subjective world but if it has any worth then it is for objective and materialist reasons. But the one thing I think makes humans human, is this ability for inner space, the abstract world as opposed to the concrete. It’s where our culture comes from, our arts, sciences, religions and ethics. Without it we’d be like any other animal, following the drive of instinct within the restrictions of environment. Inner space allows us a partial transcendence of environment and instinct to create new ways of living, problem solving, invention, an alchemy of mundane objects and situations transformed by the psychic powers of the mind, namely imagination, intellect, vision and intuition.

For years I haven’t properly been able to live in my inner space, I’ve been pulled out of it for some reason or another. For the last couple of years it’s been a bit of a battle to maintain it, what with 40hrs work a week, then domestic duties like dog walking, mowing the lawn, DIY, etc etc etc. Some of them necessary but also some not so. After this you might be able to find inner sanctum, that is if you’re not socialising or too tired to do anything but sleep. Was it worth me sacrificing that much of my time just to lose out on a vital part of myself? I don’t think so but all this comes from a society that unconsciously (or even consciously) makes its people a mere product of and resource for its materialism.

Through my life I’d occasionally go into natural places just to be away from these things. I’d sit under stars and just look up at them on cool nights, I’d find a secluded place somewhere in some woods and called it my “sacred grove.” Sometimes what I thought I was doing was connecting to nature in some deep mystical way. Perhaps I was, but mainly as I look back, it was really out of necessity to find my inner space again, to preserve that essential part of me. This is a practice I do now, I sit in a tree, by a stream or by my cairn to let my inner space play, or even work, just by itself with nothing outside imposing itself upon it.

What about now? Well now, I work on that inner space, I have the freedom to do that without it being denied me. Am I getting lost in “my own little world”? No, because my inner world is filled with energy, it is not some distant disconnected experience but something that is growing with vital energy which I learn to focus and flow with. In fact, my inner world hasn’t just been idly sitting within me, because it does find its manifestation. My dream was to live and work closer to Nature and also live in a spiritual context. Now, I live in the countryside, working in gardens, conservation and also on my own spiritual developement. So when people tell me I’m just daydreaming I can look around me and see what my dreams have become because I took an opportunity that so many others miss.

I know that I definitely do live in the objective world that I share with others and I do not want to run away from it. At the same time I have an inner world, just as real as the outer world for me, just as important to me as the outer world because it is from here that my life and destiny unfold, manifesting themselves around me and fulfilling the potential of my human spirit.



Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones
Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones

“There are few experiences quite so cruel as, when after having made a well-argued, even elegant and moving case to someone, you lean back expecting the warm sparkle of shared insight and understanding, only to encounter the flat opaqueness of complete and utter incomprehension.” John Livingstone

“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats

THAT (the quote by John Livingstone), I feel, is the result of centuries of religion where the only people being religious were the priests. They stand at their pulpits proclaiming the word of God, whilst the believers that they serve sit in their pews passively listening hoping some of the religiousness of the priest will wear off on them (Pew Potatos, like the Couch Potato but religious). But that’s not my way, I don’t want to be a passive listener, I want something more intelligent than that. Nor do I want to be the active proclaimer talking to a passive audience but I can’t help thinking that maybe I am. I mean, here I am writing things, hoping that my words will be more than just passive two-dimensional monologues but there’s no way of telling because, although I can see how many people have visited this blog, I don’t know who’s reading it and what they’re (you’re) thinking and feeling, what sort of dynamic responses is going on in the brains of the readers.

It’s only in active dialogues that words come alive, they take on the quality of vitality, not just something that’s known but something that’s experienced and developed into something that can be applied to life. Words can change things, that’s why talking, writing, conversing are arts, they can reach into minds and connect synapses that weren’t connected before, opening doors of realisation and comprehension. Or, if misused, words can create the opposite; ignorance and denial. Which is why we need to be wise enough to be careful with words; with who we speak to, what words we speak to them and how we speak to them.

Still, I don’t need comprehension here. I’m sure lots of people understand my words, and it’s easy to agree to words, but the real challenge is when someone disagrees or doubts (or doesn’t understand but wants to understand). For me that would be the real work with my words, to grapple with them (the grit in the oyster to create the pearl), give them dynamism by introducing them to other minds where they are expanded into dimensions beyond the original two they were written in. When that happens words then become an organic experience, growing, rooting, branching, like I said before, coming alive. Evolution happens! Synergy happens!

Synergy is a word I was introduced to a little while ago (last year I think), and it’s really opened my eyes to the sort of relationships we can have with people. A synergistic relationship doesn’t have an active part and a passive part, an energy giving and an energy taking part, no way! All “components” (or individuals) in a relationship of synergy are active parts (energy giving), and this positive contribution by all involved builds up momentum by itself, as long as there is energy being put into it and doesn’t become victim to energetic leaches.

Going back to the beginning, where I talked about active proclaimers and passive listeners; it doesn’t just happen in churches or other religious places, it also happens in schools and in present day entertainment. Students just passively “eat” what they learn, there’s no way of learning how to use their learning. And also there’s the TV, which has produced the well know Couch Potato (although if you’re lucky some synapse triggering stuff might appear lol). This is “filling a pail” when what we really need is “the lighting of a fire.”

Now, I’m not saying “come on have a dialogue with me,” although you can if you want to. What I really want to say is don’t be passive in reading this, use these words to light a fire inside you and make reading this blog, in fact any blog (or even any writing) a dynamic activity.

And finally, the only potatoes I want reading my blogs are the ones that you stick in the ground that grow more potatoes. Well, my dinner’s got to come from somewhere LOL 😉

And finally finally (no really, finally) a note on the image. That is from Smith and Jones, a British sketch comedy in the 80s and 90s. The image is of them in deep conversation (a well know “head to head” sketch), usually about some deeply inane subject. An image of the type of dialogue I DO NOT want. As it says in WikipediaSmith was the idiot who knew everything, Jones the idiot who knew nothing.”





“The Ancients wrote it in the Earth.” Traditional saying

There’s a cairn growing in Spain’s Prades mountains, each stone imbued with intent and meaning, giving focus to a place that in the human heart, my human heart, has a feeling of sacredness, of significance. Now, I do not know what the traditional significance of ancient cairns were but one thing I do know is what it means to me, my own personal significance.

My cairn is a place of focus, an anchor point for the human mind, to stop and think, and express a sacred feeling. Here, Nature isn’t just one anonymous environment amongst other anonymous environments. Here, the human mind sees or creates something special to focus the mind in Nature, where it recognises that it comes from Nature, that it is a part of Nature and that Nature is sacred.

“In America and in some other cultures of the world, dogs and the other animals we bring into our homes serve as one of our most important links to Mother Nature. We may not even know it consciously, but they are our lifelines to a part of ourselves that we are at the brink of losing altogether. When we humanize dogs, we cut ourselves off from the vital lessons they have been put here to teach us: How to experience the world through the truths of our animal instincts. How to live every moment and every day to the fullest.” Cesar Millan

I thought I’d share this quote from Cesar’s Cesar’s Way. For me, that’s what makes Cesar’s work very ecopsychological, it’s not just about getting your dog to behave well, but a whole philosophy of healing and enhancing our connection with Mother Nature.

(From left to right) Luna, Chispa and Kaila

“Dogs have found themselves in an odd predicament by living with humans. In the wild, dogs don’t need humans to achieve balance. They have a pack leader, work for food, and travel with the pack. But when we bring them into our world, we need to help them achieve balance by fulfilling their needs as nature intended them to be.” From Cesar Millan’s website here; http://www.cesarmillaninc.com/tips/retrain_balance.php

For some while we’ve been watching the Dog Whisperer, which shows a different side to dogs than simply “training them” to obey commands. It shows much more subtle ways to interact with the dog by fulfilling its natural instincts and giving it a balanced place in human society. It’s been really good as it has shown me what I do right and what I do wrong, so I’ve learned a lot. Generally I’m proud of how I handle dogs, especially when I see just how different the dogs in my life are from the dogs on the show, much more “well behaved” or, more appropriately, balanced.

But watching the Dog Whisperer you realise that it’s not the dogs that are at fault, but the owners that don’t treat them in a balanced way. “Well behaved,” then, doesn’t mean how controlled the dogs are but how sensitive the owners are to their dog’s behaviour, and how they treat and train them without depriving them of a healthy expression of instinct. Dogs aren’t robots that you just “program” to your requirements; they have their own set of instincts that if played around with too much or denied healthy expression, can cause problems, as shown in the Dog Whisperer.

And in some ways this reminds me of Ecopsychology. Our own psychological health is largely affected by how we interact with nature, not just the organisms and their habitats that are found outside of human society, but also the parts of nature that have found a niche within or alongside human society and even the instinctual self found within humans. We also have instinctive needs that society usually ignores. I think the way we interact with our dogs and other domestic animals can reflect our own instinctive and psychological state of being and even our relationship with nature in general, which is why I think of Ecopsychology.

Of the writings on Ecopsychology I’ve seen, most of them are about human’s relationship with natural environments and also our own inner ecological health, but I’ve never really seen anything about how we interact with the parts of nature within human society, whether it’s our pets, livestock, “pests,” and even our plant pots and useful vegetables, and the health of our “inner-animal.” I am convinced that Ecopsychology has a role to play within the domestic situation and that things, like The Dog Whisperer, can have their own place within Ecopsychology helping to shape a healthy place for humans within nature and a healthy place for nature within humans.

I also want to share something I learnt at college called the Five Freedoms, guidelines on how to treat livestock, but also how we should treat any domestic animal, even our own “inner-animal”;
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

“In nature there are boundaries. One man spent the last 13 years of his life crossing them.” Caption of the film-documentary Grizzly Man

“I will die for these animals.” Timothy Treadwell

“One should always keep an open mind, but not so open that one’s brains fall out.” Bertrand Russell

This film (Grizzly Man) I think is important for the consideration of Ecopsychology. Where Ecopsychology talks about how the human mind has become disassociated with the ecology that it depends upon and how we should become reidentified (reunited) with it, this film shows the importance of respecting the natural boundaries and limits that are within nature.

For instance, in the forest surrounding my house there are wild boar and if we don’t fence off our vegetable patches, our hard work gets eaten. Also we have chicken that supply us eggs, if we don’t fence them, predators will kill them and eat them. Or in the case of the film, if you keep trying to mix the human world with the bear world, you can get yourself, others and even the bears killed.

Bertrand Russell´s quote mentions an open mind but perhaps a broad mind is more appropriate. Our minds’ identity should be broad enough to encompass our interdependence with Gaia, but it should never forget the boundaries that define it, especially the common sense boundary of what’s dangerous and what’s safe.

Our physical and psychological unity with Gaia doesn’t mean she’ll give us preferential treatment or won’t be hostile to us. Even our own bodies can be hostile places; at times they can be vicious war zones against alien forces, fighting malign bacteria and viruses. Even more benign aliens, like transplanted organs, run the risk of being identified as alien and being attacked. So it happened with the “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell, he approached the bears as though he were one of them defying an ancient evolutionary boundary that separates our two species and his “alien” presence in the bear’s territory became an invitation for his death.

His work to increase consciousness and compassion in protecting bears may be inspiring and his skill at surviving for thirteen years face-to-face with bears is no mean feat. But for all his compassion, enthusiasm and skill he had little common sense or fear for his life. I think part of the reason for his fight for bears was an escape from his personal “human” issues. He detached from his humanity and pursued bear issues to forget his own, going so far as being willing “to die for these animals” as a martyr to their cause.

I think the film shows the dangers of running away from humanity and using nature as a compensation for “human” issues. I had it when I was a child, I saw no hope in humanity and the only place I thought sanity existed was nowhere near human civilisation. Also I idealised nature, thinking that animals can understand and be understood like humans, that nature was “nice,” and not tough or dangerous. I remember thinking simplistically that killing was bad and asked my mum why filmmakers of nature documentaries didn’t stop predators from killing prey, to which she replied “It’s nature, and the predators have to eat or they’ll die.” From then on I started to idealise nature less and see the importance of the predator-prey relationship. I’ve also reconciled myself with my humanity, embracing it is as a healthy source of hope rather than hating, escaping from or being ashamed of it.

Students of Ecopsychology, or indeed any nature-based psychology, therapy or spirituality, would do well to watch Grizzly Man to know that nature is complex and capricious and that opening yourself to it and being “at one” with it, if we do not have within ourselves the right boundaries and terms to relate with it properly, can be as detrimental as it is beneficial.

The challenges from this film for Ecopsychology are, when is nature escapism and when is it really therapy? And how can we reunite our humanity (psychologically) with nature without losing our humanity?

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