“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?