Posted by: Michael George Daniel | July 5, 2008

Ecopsychology Project

The following is excerpted from an ecopsychology orientation course, hopefully part of the beginning of PhD studies in this field for which I have applied. Ecopsychology seeks to serve two pressing needs of the current socio-culture paradigm, that of offering a means of support to help and allow people to re-connect with their own personal, unique life energy, and to also provide a vehicle of social criticism and positive change in recognition of the negative ecological and dehumanizing impacts of the current techno-economic culture. The work of ProjectNature connect focuses on supporting people in reconnecting with a meaningful relationship with the natural, wild world. This work allows us to be in conversation with aspects of the other-than-human world as part of our life-satisfying journey into meaning, purpose and place in the cosmos. While similar to meditative modalities, the work of ecopsychology includes a focus on the importance of re-expanding our sphere of contact with the world to include natural things: plants, animals and unanimated objects. This effort recognizes the shrinking of our world where all of our meaningful, life reflections increasingly come from human created devices and environments. It can, and should be argued, that this state of affairs is psychically dead – that, if all of our meaning is derived from things of our own making, then our sphere of contact is no longer moving out in a mode of discovery, which is antithetical to a definition of life based on our growth through and into an ever increasing and more complex understanding and contact with the world and cosmos.

Sitting on the front porch at six am, there was a gentle rain falling. It filled the air with patterns of sound, a white, spraying sound made up of thousands of tiny patters and pits. I sat under the porch roof facing west. The morning light was filling in behind the house and me. Through my closed eyelids, I perceived a waxing and waning of the light that seemed to correspond with the intensity of the rain coming in waves. At times the sounds of the birds dominated, but as the rain got stronger, they seemed to fall silent as we all listened to the gift of the water being delivered. When I opened my eyes, it seemed darker than I remembered. The lush green of the trees, bushes and grass was deep and rich. Each plant seemed to stand out as an individual being. I felt more able to see each as a unique living entity. Throughout the process, thoughts came and went. At one point, I noticed my thoughts had become more empathic and compassionate. I thought of an elderly neighbor who longs to return to the activity of sailing. I thought about brining him out for a sail – about the challenge that it might entail given his advancing age; at the possibility of his joy and gratitude as well.

The precious gift of air is ubiquitous. Simply because of its all encompassing nature, we loose touch with it, take it for granted. Thus, we loose touch with this most basic connection to the natural world. It is helpful to be reminded of this gift; to move through the thought of air and into the experience of it; the joy and pleasant sensation of receiving needed oxygen with each inhalation and too, the satisfaction of offering back to the earth the product of carbon dioxide. As a result, the importance of clean air becomes felt. We long for the nurturing feeling of freshness. Our offering back to the earth is purer, more useful and sustaining when it is built upon clean air. We offer revitalization to the depleted air even in our disconnected state. We have an opportunity for greater awareness of our interconnection with the natural world by realizing this replenishing role.

This then forms a spiritual basis of simple life-giving qualities. The words inhalation, exhalation, atmosphere, psyche, psychological all are derived from, and offer, windows of experience into our role as bridges between the realms of spirit/energy and material manifestation. As both a human being and a spiritual, energetic being, we are not altogether separate, but attached infinitely to the universe while still being differentiated. Our understanding of life, then, comes from the reflections we receive from all that is other-than-me. Our trend to anthropomorphism then, cuts off our access to meaning. From this void of meaning spring our psychological challenges.

It is a sensory experience to breath air. Life is more satisfying, more complete when we can experience the sensory nature of a common breath in a flowing, give-and-take cycle of inspiration/exhalation. This feeling informs and is useful in creating a deep understanding of our role in sustaining the natural environment. This wisdom can guide our every action and decision if only it is kept in consciousness through both thought and an openness to feeling and being through feeling.

Celebrate and trust this communication and connection with all of life. It is an ancient relationship that is worthy of attention, respect, gratitude and trust. It is a distinct paradigm shift that holds the seeds of a new way of being (a human) in the world, where our experience is filled with abundant connections to the natural world that reflect who we are in the cosmos, give us meaning, purpose and satisfaction in our life. This is nutritious satisfaction unlike the unsatisfying reward of consumption that we are taught will someday complete us and make us happy. This is living a felt existence in the moment, a dialectic relationship with all that is other than our selves.

It is powerful to realize words have the ability to convince us to disconnect us from our natural attractions. For example, if we read the words, “try this exercise and hold your breath”, we just might do it even though the innate wisdom of our body and its connection with the natural world tells us otherwise. Try it. Hold your breath right now and focus on the feeling the arises urging you to breath again. Contemplate the source of this feeling, this urge.

It is equally important to realize the information needed to guide us back to connection with our life energy is immediately available in our felt presence.

On some level we are all afraid of the intelligence of our natural attraction to breath because it points out how uncomfortable we are while holding our breath. This is true of our psychic condition in the world today as well. We are, of course, thankful for the urge to breath, rationally. But in the moment, it is illuminating to realize there may be a reluctance to connecting with this natural intelligence because, from a dualistic point of view, it necessarily must contrast our current misery, emptiness and disconnection in order to allow us understanding access to more comforting, life-sustaining alternatives.

This deeper understanding of our spiritual condition unfolds in its beauty, complexity and wisdom if we follow it. It is a simple shift into being in the world through all of our natural senses – instincts, intuitions, feelings, emotions, thoughts and words – both rationality and the myriad aspects of felt or sensuous experience. This is a model for understanding the irreplaceable role that nature has in achieving a holistic expression of our physical, spiritual, emotional and rational being-ness.

It is important to apply these ideas to other humans as well. Most of our interactions seem to take place in our head, in our rationality and the thoughts arising from our emotions. Yet our connection with other people can only be felt. To the extent that we do not feel these connections, our emotions will be bereft and our thoughts correspondingly so. Thoughts become things and if our thoughts of people and the earth are barren, so too will our relationships with them be.

This is the story of cosmic evolution, everything turning itself inside out, each time revealing a more complex pattern, more abundant connections. We are just in one part of a cycle of destruction now that will ultimately lead to our own existence turning itself inside out into a different reality, once again integrated and connected fully with the earth and the universe. Our natural state is to go with this flow. This is the ineffable Tao, this process of unfolding, differentiating, reintegrating. We are but etchings on a great stone of existence washed by wind and waves, carved by the slimmest powers heaving together in great rhythm with the Way of life.

Gaining fulfillment is the first order and if done through the natural world, it is aligned with the Tao, the Way of life and a higher purpose at the same time. This is the meaning of not striving, but choosing that which serves our own personal life force as it is expressed through our unique journey through and connection with all-that-is. This is why our economized, capitalized, monetized, consumerized world is the ultimate false God, because it offers only a substitute for the true journey of meaning creation and experiential interaction with that which is other than our self. Thus we can serve our selves, our personal relationships, our communities, societies, cultures and the natural world through our work with ecopsychology and natural attraction.

The great fallacy of our technological age is that we could replace, with our human intelligence, the super intelligence, attraction, love that is the global, cosmic, earth brain. So simply might we reconnect with this intelligence by following our joy, love and satisfaction, yet we are caught in a system that must convince us satisfaction exists in the future as a result of progress and that we can satisfy ourselves only through the consumption of the products of this progress.

It is most definitely not reasonable that we should dominate nature, subdue earth and convert it into anthropomorphic objects. It is the source of great anger, grief and frustration that the Bible would have God telling us to claim dominion over the earth. This example is probably the clearest evidence of the depth of the roots of our conditioning to disconnect and thus serve a viscous cycle of striving for satisfaction through the consumption of our mother.

Despite this anger and grief, we can compassionately see this as a necessary step in creating polarity. This polarity is the potential from which we may be catapulted over the evolutionary chasm between our super-developed frontal lobes and a state of greater integrated being-ness with all of our sensory, natural connections with all-that-is. While discovering this compassion, we must, too, allow for the energy of the anger and grief to move us forward out of our current inertia.

Yet we are afraid of that energy of passion. Thus we are afraid of our natural, in-the-moment attractions for what they will tell us, for what they will have us feel. Instead we live in a state of denergized-ness, desensitized-ness, numbness, dumbness and flatness; a capitalistic prison for which we toil to carve a great key to a door that leads nowhere.

This is the work of our age: coming to once again know ourselves in the context of the cosmos as they are primarily manifested as our earth.

Our culture and society is a great ship that moves through the ocean of the universe with the power of ancient momentum; 6,000 years of imperialistic, male oriented, nature dominating energy. But even on the largest ships, there is a small device attached to the rudder, the steering mechanism of the boat. Our culture is out-of-control, moving in the wrong direction. It is so big and so powerful that turning it is nearly out of the question.

The device attached to the rudder of the ship is called a trim tab. It is a tiny rudder on the rudder, used to initiate the movement of the rudder itself that would otherwise be nearly impossible to move because of the great mass and momentum of the ship. Such is the challenge of turning the course of our society today. Our natural connections are a trim tab with which we begin to turn the chain of events, the course of history. As elements of that trim tab, we respond to a natural cycle of evolution that is helping us awaken to our role and power initiating this great new era, a different direction for mankind and the earth.

It is important that we celebrate the trim tab capacity of our burgeoning understanding of ecopsychology and natural attractions. We should not shrink from the challenge of deeply knowing why our current state will never work because it substitutes the plastic goods of our economic philosophy for a reality made from felt interactions with each other, other beings, things and the cosmos. Instead, let us embrace this new understanding as we exercise and develop our inherent, natural connections with the global community of life and thus we move into not only a state of conscious living, but one of consensus with all things.

It is polluted thinking to value material facts while devaluing sensory facts. Although it is only words that we have to offer through this blog and the internet, we must reach out with our own personal felt understanding; try to write from the deepest level of experience and allow the words to form in response to bodily felt ideas that would otherwise never be articulated through our currently fiercely rational, linear brains.

The result will be a mixture of insights and half-finished thoughts, pregnant with possibility, yet just a flag of knowing of our current state of partial personal and social integration. This work then becomes part of the ground of experience going forward.

We have many more than five senses. In fact, our connections and natural sensibility expand and increase if we grow through life. The great regret of our current culture is that it serves to reduce, eradicate, eliminate, hide and repress our natural connection sensibilities, a direct contradiction of serving life in which the life experience is defined as an ever increasing sphere of contact.

We can justify our work in this area for economic benefit. That approach only keeps us in the sinking ship frame of our current systems. Instead, happily conspire with all humans, animals, plants and things to try to guide our societies to support the life process and experience of increasing our ability to access and the number of connections to all aspects of the earth and cosmos. Indeed, this is truly living and as such, we are able to release from a fear of death, release from the idea of future satisfaction, and return to the present where we can be even more effective as a trim tabs for mother earth.



  1. Stumbled across your blog by way of having entered ‘ecopsychology’ as a search term; grateful to have found this–a very rich, meaty, and at the same time elegantly crafted piece of writing.

    It was a lark–I was merely curious to see to what extent the blogging realm was embracing the topic of ecopsychology, and I did find a small handful of gems, this one chiefly among them.

    I’m an ecopsych layman–have studied earth and social sciences, my partner’s a psychotherapist, and I bought Roszak et. al.’s 1995 compendium of essays a couple years ago, as a free-of-preconception way to explore an intersection between our respective fields. Since though, I’ve found the subject to have really continued to take root as I view the world, the things to which we inexplicably and unconstructively apply meaning, and what resonates as I become in closer touch with myself as a spiritual being having a human experience.

    I will want to re-read and ruminate, but for now, I hope that this note of appreciation will suffice.



  2. I’m glad the tag helped attract interest in this field. It seems to bring together critically important elements and offers a reliable framework for discussing ideas about moving beyond the prevalent mindset. None too soon!

  3. I didn’t read this but I’ll come back and look at it again. I’m working in an ecopsychological context, seeking any information that might be interesting 🙂

  4. It’s true, the course of our (humanity’s) development is very hard to change, very unwieldy. I may not be able to move the “rudder” but I’m certainly working on the “trim tab.” As the saying goes, every little helps 🙂

  5. It’s true, the course of our (humanity’s) development is very hard to change, very unwieldy. I may not be able to move the “rudder” but I’m certainly working on the “trim tab.” As the saying goes, every little helps.

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