Feeling upset, even traumatised, by our eco-crisis (and your role in it)? You should talk to the Climate Shrink
Here’s an experiment we’d like to try with you.
A welcome dimension to much of our current political crises - particularly around climate - is the admission that our emotions are deeply determining of our surface rational responses (our archive on this is pretty deep at A/UK).
How the news about the damage already done to the planet, and the damage to come, makes us feel (and how deeply) is of crucial importance. If we reckon with the challenge properly, does it energise or enervate us? How do we work through the realisation that our seemingly normal lives have driven us to the environmental precipice?
The integral psychologist Zhiwa Woodbury has suggested that there might be a psychotherapeutic practice which could help us - rooted in the tradition of ecopsychology. But more than that, he wants to literally invite us into the consulting room, and start to do the self-work.
His first session is below. Please be seated, or recline, as you wish. Zhiwa will commence momentarily:
So… tell me about your relationship with your mother. Mother Earth, that is.
At this crucial juncture in the history of our civilization, when the decisions we make on a daily basis are determining whether or not our children and their children will have a viable future to look forward to (one that happens to include lions and tigers and elephants) we could all use a good shrink.
Someone who we can turn to, without fear of judgment or shaming, who will appreciate the conflicts we are facing in this crazy, mixed up world of distractions, who will appreciate the depths of our fears and anxieties, and will even give us permission to grieve the things we are losing.
But in these times, for these purposes, not any old Freudian shrink will do. In fact, one can easily make the case that it was Freud - through his American nephew Edward Bernays - who got us into this mess of managed unhappiness and manipulated desires.
No, let’s put aside all that clinically-depressed, brain-obsessed, pathological mainstream psychology, and focus instead on the revolution in psycho-spiritual thinking that the official psychological associations are working so hard to repress.
It’s called ecopsychology. This is psychology in the service of life, which begins with the idea that mainstream psychology in the West is part of the problem, not the solution, because it has consistently left natureout of its equation of human nature, and in so doing has perpetuated (enabled?) a culture that is killing our home planet.
Mary Gomes probably put forth the best description of this new field of inquiry in 1998:
Ecopsychology has emerged over the past several years as an intellectual and social movement that seeks to understand and heal our relationship with the Earth. It examines the psychological processes that bond us to the natural world or that alienate us from it....
We need to uncover ways to heal the culture as well as the individuals who live in it. Ecopsychology is essentially about becoming cultural healers.
Theodore Roszak, in his pioneering book The Voice of the Earth, said: “ecopsychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being.” The implications of this symbiosis are staggering. This means that the climate crisis is not a technological problem or a political issue. It’s not even an environmental problem. We in the West confuse symptoms with diseases.
Instead, climate mayhem is a natural result of our own collective psychology. Because we have become so split from nature - objectifying, then commodifying it - everything is out of balance in the world.
The climate crisis is the natural world’s way of calling our attention to this imbalance that is rooted in our own psyche. It is the voice of our Mother calling us home. Will we heed her call?
That would be the point of an ‘advice’ column like this. To engage in the kind of Earth-centered, culturally driven therapy that Pope Francis and so many others are trying to foster - in order for a future to be possible.
In his message to humanity, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has issued an “urgent appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” It has to begin right there, with how you and I think and feelabout our climate in crisis, because our terms of engagement are not going to change from the suicidal path we are on until we begin to speak skillfully from the heart.
And the way to our heart is through our psyche, not through science, intellect, or our opinions.
So please - lay down on the chaise lounge there by the window, don’t mind the storms blowing outside, just relax and we’ll begin our first session when you’re ready.
(sound of pipe-chewing)
Now tell me, how long have you had this obsession with zombies? What - you think that’s a strange place to begin our therapy?
You think it is just a coincidencethat the first generation of humans ever to grow up wondering if they will have a future worth inhabiting are borderline obsessed with the walking dead and, to a lesser extent, vampires that look like you and me, but suck the life out of living beings?
Please. This is how our myths live us when we are not living them. Our subconscious fears rise up and are projected into suitable cultural memes. Like the old Godzilla movies that came to us from the first generation of Japanese spawned by our nuclear harvest.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein introduced the zombie prototype. Shelley included an alternate title in the original: The Modern Prometheus. Her fable is a precautionary tale about humans wresting power from the gods.
In the ancient Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire from the gods and brings it to humans, ushering in the age of civilization. The gods get even by sending a special sealed jar as a wedding present on the occasion of the betrothal of Prometheus’ brother to a fair maiden named Pandora.
Curious about the urn’s contents, she inadvertently lets loose all the plagues of civilization. In Shelley’s novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein usurps the creative power of the gods, bringing the dead back to life, then watches the unintended results in horror until he is ultimately felled by his own creation.
What can we learn from this fable? Arewethe walking dead? We, too, stole the fire of heaven, bringing it down to Earth in the form of a hellfire rain in the Land of the Rising Sun. One of our Promethean American leaders, President Harry Truman, informed us in his atomic hubris that we now controlled “the basic power of the universe,” echoing Dr. Frankenstein’s obsession with discovering “the secrets of heaven and earth.”
Pandora, played by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, knew in his Trinitarian moment of triumph that nothing would ever be the same, that we had become death - destroyer of worlds. Indeed, in reporting Truman’s boast to the American people, at least one newscasteradded: “For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein!”
How does that make you feel?
I see our time is over. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground. Let’s pick it up next time…
CBS Radio’s H.V. Kaltenborn
So… Would you come back for another session, here at Alternative Towers? If you would, let us know (or comment below) and we’ll see if we can extend Zhiwa’s stay. Indeed, if you have any particular climate traumas you’d like to work through, mention them in your message too.
Note: if you are interested in some of the deeper research and methodology behind Zhiwa’s approach, see his 2019 paper, “Climate Trauma: Towards a New Taxonomy of Traumatology” (PDF download).