Dunn, M., 2002. A CAT Approach to Gaia and The Psyche. Reformulation, Autumn, pp.20-22.
Diagram Figures for this article are in preparation.
A few years ago I spent a holiday in the Gascon region of France, in a house bought by an English friend. His plan is to retire to the house. It is a 300-year-old farmhouse, and it is romantic and beautiful. I found myself fantasising about how it might be to live permanently there, as many people are now doing. I had a sudden revelation that such a move could not be done by superficially sliding across the landscape like a passer-by or a tourist - carrying an indeterminate hybrid culture, against the landscape as a gorgeous backdrop. It could only be done by engaging with the land, getting to know its moods, its geology, its flora and fauna, seasons, abundances and shortages, pests and diseases - in short, by cultivating it. At the time (the mid 90's) I was a lifelong urban-dweller with no background in gardening or farming, but beginning to be deeply drawn to the way the psyche engages with and is affected by the land. I had run workshops in which we examined the archetypal role of Mountain, Rock and Water, and I am fascinated by the myths and rituals associated with Caves. But this was the first time I had felt such a strong sense that I must engage with the fertility of the land in order to be present to the landscape and to have a sense of place.
The eco-psychology literature takes as its starting point that we, as a culture, are alienated from the land. There are several theories to either explain or describe this alienation, but the assumption is based on three premises:
we pollute the land;
we are dissociated from food production;
in many cases, our urbanised lives barely touch the soil or vegetation.
So, in CAT terms, we relate to the land as abuser/abused, or as needy/absent, or as detached/invisible.
I have found it helpful to express the person/land relationship in dialogic terms. By approaching our alienation from the land in a dialogic and goal -oriented way, and by using a CAT formulation, I think it is possible to say more than the eco-psychological descriptors or explanatory theories. These tend to propose reasons for alienation which go back to the transition from hunter-gatherer to cultivation, or to the invention of the alphabet - neither of which can I do anything about! The various papers and workshops I have worked on have all emphasised that any general movement towards sustainable living will require a change of attitude - a change of mind. This is why I am attracted to the psychology of the environmental movement. Andrew Samuels has said:
"We are embarking on nothing less than an exploration of the psychology of the earth...How does the very ground on which you stand, on which you grew up, contribute to who you are?"
The Political Psyche. p 120
The change of mind will be a transition from the dominator-exploiter role, to that of intersubjective-participator, and the question for me is to explore the procedural loops which can lead from one to the other. In a sense one could say, how did I become open to receive my little revelation in Gascony?
The two states might look like this:
I think there is a third state, into which we enter when we're on holiday. It is something like:
Here is a suggested SDR to show how negative patterns might be maintained:
I cannot make any
difference to global
warming or pollution,
& my energy-guzzling
lifestyle must be
I avoid thinking I feel more ineffectual
about it. and guilty.
I feel deadened &
drained by my
I want to change
my eating patterns
& exercise regime,
but it seems I must
EITHER OR So, I am
opt out of become fussy paralysed,
the rat-race & anti-social and feel deadened
& become about food and drained
I guess the Target Problems might be:
Valuing the body, so that we take care about food production and optimum nourishment.
Feeling empowered to develop a sustainable lifestyle - having the space and energy to become visionary.
Feeling energized by involvement with living systems. Having a sense of one's own creativity and fertility in partnership with the land.
When we are on holiday, we are by definition, displaced and disoriented. Many of us choose an extreme climate or a challenging landscape. We put ourselves in a situation as unlike home as possible. Often it is an 'edge-place', such as the seashore or ridges of mountains, a kind of no-man's land in which we can experience a fertility of imagination and a re-energizing. Typically we take our clothes off or pamper ourselves or wear alternative clothing, but in all cases we are 'in our bodies' in contrast to being 'in our heads' in our ordinary lives. So I suggest that that it is on holiday that the target problems become available to us.
For our purposes, as CAT therapists, the utopian state of valued-land/participating-person is only of interest if it enables sustainable living and contributes something to psychological well-being. This is where Andrew Samuels' question begs all sorts of other questions -
How does the very ground on which you stand, on which you grew up, contribute to who you are?
How does your homeland mirror or reflect something about your state of mind?
Is the psyche substantially changed or at least positively affected by involvement with living systems?
Might our urban environments in some way contribute to our neuroses - psychologically as well as by means of toxins?
I suggest that we are beginning of exploring these and many other related questions. In his extraordinary book 'The Spell of the Sensuous', David Abram says that for oral cultures:
"...A particular place in the land is never just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there. It is an active participant in these occurrences." (p.162)
But Andy Fisher cautions that our place in the land could be polarized between the terror of being alone in the cosmos - and the desire for fusion. He adds:
"...the spiritual conditions of human existence, based on our distanced relation to nature, while they may be a-voided, can never be escaped"
Radical Ecopsychology (p.98)
I propose that our engagement with the land is not just for the benefit of the planet but also for our own psychological well-being. What might be the cost of a psychology that ignores the importance of place and of the geographical psyche?
"We could live under the wild rose wild as weasels, mute and uncomprehending. I could very calmly go wild. I could live two days in the den, curled, leaning on mouse fur, sniffing bird bones, blinking, licking, breathing musk, my hair tangled in the roots of grasses...Could two live that way? Could two live under the wild rose, and explore by the pond, so that the smooth mind of each is everywhere present to the other, and as received and as unchallenged, as falling snow? We could, you know. We can live any way we want."
Annie Dillard. Living Like Weasels.
Abram, David The Spell of the Sensuous. Vintage. 1997
Dillard, Annie An Annie Dillard Reader. Living Like Weasels. Harper Collins. 1994
Fisher, Andy Radical Ecopsychology. Suny. 2002
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