At its simplest eco-psychology is the recognition that we are part of this Earth and it is part of us. Stated like this, it almost seems too obvious to be worth saying at all. But the discipline of psychology has its roots in scientific rationalism which was based on the erroneous concept that the world consisted of indivisible units and an objective knowable reality. Not only this, but the tendency to dismiss psychology as a ‘soft’ science, meant that psychologists were anxious to prove its scientific credentials and thus insisted on the appropriateness of adopting an objective, rational, ‘neutral’ stance in studying human nature. One of the consequences of this is that the locus of mental illness was (and to a great extent still is) viewed as being the individual psyche. R.D. Laing’s assertion that the environment, the system in which an individual found themselves, had a bearing on their mental health lead to his being rejected by his peers and derided as a fool.
Eco-psychology grows out of a very different view of reality than the scientific positivism that underpins classical psychology. Rather than the world being regarded as made up of separate units, it is based on an understanding of the world as interwoven. Eco-psychology is based on ‘the radical interconnectedness of all things’. Energy flows. When we say “we are part of this Earth and it is part of us” we are claiming a synergistic relationship between planetary and personal well being.
In eco-psychology we are invited to take our place in the family of All Beings relinquishing our mistaken belief in our superiority and embrace our ‘ecological self’, opening to our connection with the world around us. It asks us to recognise that the illusion of our separation from nature leads to suffering for both us as humans (alienation, despair and grief) and for the environment as we continue to abuse the world around us. Reconnecting is healing. When we make the shift from our alienated, anthropocentric errors of consciousness, we discover our true nature as Gaia and that is liberation indeed.
Such a shift profoundly affects how we live on the planet. It is not just about living sustainably although that is part of it. A ecopsychological approach include both the psychological and the environmental. Thich Nhat Hahn says that the most important thing for us to do now “is to hear within ourselves the sound of the Earth crying” and that is undoubtedly part of the awakening we are invited to at this time. Our alienation has done us all great harm. Becoming Gaia ‘healing herself’ may involve tears but there is also great joy to be found in such healing.