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Outside vs. Inside: A Depth Psychological Perspective on the Planetary Crisis and the Psyche/Nature Split

 

If the “outside,” as we in modern western cultures generally consider the physical world, is manifesting rather worrisome phenomena in the form of conflict, destruction of nature and home places, and racial and income inequality, we can draw a connection from what is occurring in the physical world to what must be occurring on an inner level, and therefore witness symptoms in the psychological realm as well.

The physical symptoms that are manifesting lie within a larger set of underlying issues, which, in turn, are psychological symptoms of an even larger and more fundamental issue: the sense of separation and loss due to our dearth of what C. G. Jung considered the “feeling function” in the world. This feeling function is often overlooked in lieu of our general propensity to adopt the “thinking function” and to disregard the value (and intelligence) of things in the nature.

Psyche and nature are intrinsic to one another, occupying adjacent positions on the same spectrum of being. In light of this, ecocide—the destruction of home and home places in the physical world—may be seen as a pollution, contamination, or killing of psyche in what we have traditionally considered the inner world. Our brazen destruction of nature is so symbolic of the destruction of the connection with the collective unconscious or what Jung called the Self.

Our wholeness is no longer intact; our psyches are under attack and are, in turn, unable to “house us” properly because of the damage. Deforestation, wildfires, floods, and the like may be witnessed not only in the outer world, but may also be applied to the inner world of psyche. The Cartesian split between nature and psyche can result in a rampant deforestation of the psyche, leaving the ecosystem of the self out of balance, or leave us vulnerable to inundation by the unconscious that can swamp our psychic boundaries, leading to neurosis or even psychosis.

The climate of current culture is changing, and so is our inherent capacity for healing, learning, and individuation, a psychological and spiritual journey of self-realization. At the end of the road, if something does not shift, we will see death of a certain sort—very likely extinction of life as we know it, a transformation to a new way of being in the world: a new culture that arises that is not longer consumer-based, but one based rather on community, reflection, and connection.

Ashok Gangadean (2006), director and founder of the Global Dialogue Institute and professor of philosophy at Haverford College, also stresses that our ego-based cultures are no longer sustainable and are now at a tipping point vis-à-vis a planetary crisis. However, the real crisis, he maintains, is a crisis of consciousness—and we are undergoing a painful transition to increased wisdom and awareness.

The psychological fallout of such dire news is apt to be significant, and some psychologists worry that we, as a culture, are not equipped to deal with it. A report from the National Wildlife Federation (Coyle & Susteren, 2012) suggests that destruction to our planet in the form of the ever-increasing threats posed by climate change “will foster public trauma, depression, violence, alienation, substance abuse, suicide, psychotic episodes, post-traumatic stress disorders and many other mental health-related conditions,” (p. i) and indicates mental and social disorders including depressive and anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicides will increase dramatically, as will incidences of violence.

Jung (1928/1977) corroborated the connection between the crisis emerging in the so-called “outer” world and the critical correlation with the psyche:

Just as outwardly we live in a world where a whole continent may be submerged at any moment . . . so inwardly we live in a world where at any moment something similar may occur, albeit in the form of an idea, but no less dangerous and untrustworthy for that. Failure to adapt to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world. (p. 204)

Clearly it is vital to reflect on the psychological and spiritual issues underlying our individual and collective pathology when it comes to ecological destruction and environmental distress. Not only is our perception of profound division from the earth and nature a significant issue, but a lack of a generative myth for our time, of connection and communication with ancestors and spirits of place, and the opposing pervasiveness of the “hero archetype”—particularly in the United States, driving us to seek success as individuals at all costs—all contribute to a modern mindset that is often working invisibly beneath the surface of our conscious minds.

It is the work of depth psychology to seek to perceive the underlying issues, endeavoring to discover what is beneath the surface or on the outer margins of a given topic, inquiring more deeply, reading between the lines to begin to understand what is occurring at the root of things. The planetary crisis of potential collapse we now face as human beings can be perceived by first observing and taking time to reflect on the pattern of external physical symptoms, which are inevitably derived from underlying psychological and spiritual issues we generally maintain both as individuals and as a culture.

Then, it is imperative to shift our gaze to another, deeper layer, one that exists beneath the surface level of the manifest physical symptoms of a world in crisis and begin to derive the psychological issues that are at work. How can we shift a gaze we are not quite aware of in daily life? If you feel the call to make a change in your own life—or make a difference—seek out the aid of the practitioners listed here on DepthPsychologyList.com. They can help you understand what the greater Self is trying to communicate to reprogram ways of being.

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References

Coyle, K. J., & Susteren, L. V. (2012). The psychological effects of global warming on the United States. http://www.nwf.org/pdf/Reports/Psych_Effects_Climate_Change_Full_3_23.pdf

Gangadean, A. (2006). A planetary crisis of consciousness: The end of ego-based cultures and our dimensional shift toward a sustainable global civilization. World Futures: The Journal Of General Evolution, 62(6), 441-454. doi: 10.1080/02604020600798627

Jung, C. G. (1977). The relations between the ego and the unconscious. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 121-241). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1928)

Archetypal Aspects of Home

earth-home-archetype“Home” is a word weighted with affect and associated with rootedness, attachment, belonging, shelter, refuge, comfort, and identity. When our relationship to “home” is considered in the context of depth psychology, the study of the unconscious pioneered by Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung among others, it stands to reason that our individual notions of “home” may impact us rather profoundly.

A severed connection with “home,” particularly with the earth that supports and nurtures us, produces physical, emotional, and psychological implications. That is to say, the lack of a connection with a “home” that offers us a sense of psychological and spiritual wholeness, potentiality, and belonging in a larger archetypal manner may well compose the very heart of our disorder.

Depth psychology calls for an understanding of how we are influenced by invisible elements beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. Tracing a path from the notion of “home” which we each carry, backward and down into its deeper meaning and psychological effect on us, can begin to shed light on why we treat the earth so destructively that we have come to a state of potential culture collapse.

In At Home in the World, Jungian analyst John Hill (2010) relates how the biological origins of home began with the animal instinct to mark territory. The fight or flight mechanism, to defend space or to abandon it and flee, also carries a critical effect on our psyche since home is tied to caretaking, nurturing, and sustenance. Home has an affiliation with landscape, community, and surroundings, and it is connected to history, memory, and clan, Hill asserts, defining it further as a “narrative reality,” the manner in which we attach to a place a person or an object, a nation, a group, a culture or an ideal. These attachments are experiential, conferring a sense of belonging. Home, whether a physical place or a psychological concept, is a container for those who reside within its borders.

This concept of home as a container, a place to which one can belong, is what C. G. Jung referred to as archetypal. According to Jung (1964), the unconscious is made up of archetypes, autonomous instincts, patterns, or behaviors, which are common across all eras, peoples, and places. Concepts that are archetypal in nature may be recognized without need for definition or explanation. Recognizing and understanding the archetypal aspect of home, then, enables us to see how leaving or losing home can set one askew, rendering us vulnerable, tentative, frightened, and ungrounded—in both a literal and figurative sense.

What is Culture Collapse Disorder? Ecopsychopathy and the End of Culture as We Know It

Ecocide: Industrial waste

Industrial waste

Earth’s inhabitants are in peril largely of our own making. We are, consciously or unconsciously, systematically destroying our home places, habitats, ecosystems, and above all, the only home we collectively know: earth. Reports are emerging daily about the implications of human impact on our environment, presenting dire warnings about pollution, urban development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, natural disasters, and displacement. The tally of global losses grows daily as we perpetrate ecological destruction through our relentless consumption of the earth’s dwindling resources; through rampant use of toxins, chemicals, and pesticides; and through deforestation, erosion, and devastation of natural ecosystems, wetlands, rivers, and oceans.

The unchecked demands of a burgeoning human population on the planet are initiating conditions that are simply not sustainable. Combined with what might be called our cultural “modern mindset,” an ongoing belief (perhaps primarily at an unconscious level) by a large part of the earth’s population that resources are unlimited, that the way we live is the only way, and that everything will work out somehow, we are, as humans, at a precarious tipping point.

Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1957/1970) foresaw severe consequences propelling our civilization toward collapse even from his vantage point of the mid-twentieth century, saying:

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

Plastic trash collects on a beautiful lakeshore

[This] nihilistic trend towards disintegration must be understood as the symptom and symbol of a mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark on our age . . . . This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. (p. 304)

More than thirty years ago, ecopsychologist, Buddhist, and activist Joanna Macy (1979) also noted that for the first time in recorded history we are deluged with data that suggest our own culture, species, and planet may not survive, and that we are all deeply affected by that knowledge.

bees building honeycomb

Bees building honeycomb

If we turn to nature for insight, the way our ancestors have done for millennia, it’s hard to miss the growing number of extinctions of so many species; one of the most notably, perhaps, the mass die-off of honeybees that are abandoning their hives to certain death, a phenomenon termed “Colony Collapse Disorder” (Cox-Foster & van Engelsdorp, 2009; Stipp, 2007). A unique and perplexing feature of Colony Collapse Disorder finds that virtually all of the bees simply vanish almost overnight, leaving behind only the queen, a handful of her attendants, and the unhatched brood. The tens of thousands of worker bees that keep their given hive alive by gathering nectar and pollen to make honey to feed the community appear to be unable or unwilling to return the hive. Their connection to their home place, the hub of their existence, has seemingly been severed, preventing their ancient instinctual ritual of serving out their individual but critical role in the whole. When individual bees don’t reconnect with the hive after a foray into the wild, the system fails. In this way, both the population and the physical hive that serves as home to the bees collapse in quick succession.

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Book: A Spring without Bees by Michael Schacker

Some scientists suggest that honeybees may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, foreshadowing the imminent demise of the human race as we plummet toward a colony collapse of our own. The loss of connectivity to the hive, the home place, results in the loss of the community itself. In A Spring Without Bees, Michael Schacker (2008) muses on the mythical as well as biological implications of Colony Collapse Disorder, referring to it as a potential Civilization Collapse Disorder. I have simultaneously considered it as Culture Collapse Disorder, an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which humans, too, because of our heavy focus on, inundation by, and even possession by our current culture and some of its corresponding negative values, have lost our vital connection to home: physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and archetypally.

In coming weeks, I will write more about Culture Collapse Disorder in relation to Colony Collapse Disorder, the meaning of home and our relationship to it, and I will delve into some of the major symptoms we are seeing as a result of the imbalance in our relationship to earth and corresponding earth community. Ecocide, climate change, and forced displacement are just a few of the devastating events that are already changing life as we know it. Ultimately, if we are unable to delve into and address some of the underlying issues of our ecopsycopathy, we may indeed face the collapse of our culture. Actually, collapse of our collective consumer mindset and its ensuing destructive practices may be the only thing that saves us in the end, allowing a restoration of a more balanced and healthy relationship with the greater hive that sustains and supports us all.

 

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