There is one place in all the universe that has been made especially for you and that is inside your own feet. - Stephen Harrod Buhner
I finally figured out my Elevator Speech. You know, that speck of dust in the center of the entrepreneurial snowflake, around which your entire business shtick crystalizes. It's your 15 seconds of fame, when you are riding up to the fifth floor with someone and they turn to you and say "So, just what is it that you do, anyway?"
And you tell them that you're an Ecopscyhologist, and they have no idea what that means, and honestly... on somedays, neither do you. From there the conversation rarely goes any further. As a pioneer in a burgeoning field that has been primarily theoretical until fairly recently, how do you describe the frontier you are only just beginning to map out for yourself? Picking a point out of the kalediscope to explain your work leaves you tongue tied. To be honest, probably the only people who read this post will be other Ecopsychologists (and I know all three of you).
It's true I could tell you to Google it and wikipedia does a pretty good job. Maybe I should just memorize it, but development of the professional self, and all that.
Ecopsychology studies the relationship between human beings and the natural world through ecological and psychological principles. The field seeks to develop and understand ways of expanding the emotional connection between individuals and the natural world, thereby assisting individuals with developing sustainable lifestyles and remedying alienation from nature. Theodore Roszak is credited with coining the term in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth. -Wikipedia
Before I give you my pitch, there are several basic truths that I hold to be self evident as an ecopsychologist:
- Interdependence, not independence, is the name of the game for all life on earth. Everything functions in this way and is demonstrated in our knowledge of ecology, chemistry, astrophysics, neurology, etc. Because of this interdependence, the human psyche cannot be truly understood separate from the environment from which it evolved. This includes the culture and emotional health of the family of origin, but on a macro scale also means the natural world.
- Not only can we not separate the human psyche from the environment, but our physical separation due to the demands of civilization and culture, the western way of life, creates a fundamental wounding that starts in childhood. The modern form of our species has been on earth for 200,000 years, but civilization is only 6,000 years old. That's 3% of our time on earth. The industrial era started just 200 years ago. Our separation from the natural world is something that, when looked at through the lens of Deep Time, has only been occurring for a few seconds. 5 minutes to midnight on the doomsday clock etc., etc.
- While an incredible amount of the suffering of humankind is due to injustice, oppression and scarcity of resources, there is a basic level of suffering linked to the disconnect not only from the ground upon which we stand, but also the ground of our own being. Simply, this means peace and ease in our body. Not only does industrialized society disdain nature, but it also looks down its nose at our animal nature. We've been ingrained from childhood to disown our bodies and "lower" animal selves. When I remind client's of their true human nature in session (whether it be by normalizing exhaustion in the Autumn as a signal from their body to follow the season and slow down, or by noting that with the dawning of Spring they are finding themselves more flirtatious and open to contact) the response is always the same. Relief. Finally permission to just be an animal. As M. Oliver says "You only have to let the small animal of your body love what it loves.". Peace and ease in our heart and mind immediately follows. It is not idealistically Utopian to wonder what it would look like to live in a society where most people felt at ease in themselves.
As a theoretical framework, there are juicy ideas about the interbreeding of our relationship with the earth and trauma, violence, depression, anxiety and I could fill out those bullet points up there with So Many Ideas. But as a practicing therapist, applying ecopsychology in the moment is not a lofty technique. In sitting with another, I don't make a distinction between whether or not their experience is somehow interlinked with what is happening on, and to, our Earth. I hold the basic assumption that it IS. In fact, considering the pretty pickle we all find ourselves in due to climate change, I think we can no longer call a separation between eco or not. Ecopsychology IS pscyhology. There's nowhere to hide and from here on out.
What does that look like in session? Well, it can have many different faces, but in my office it commonly looks like Finding Love, or Everything I needed to know I learned from Sitting Outside. Low self-esteem is met with self-compassion. Depression is met with spacious patience. Anxiety is met by coming home to the heart. Nature deficit disorder is met by falling head over heels for one's own little patch of dirt. Rage and violence is met with mindfulness. Grief is met by active allowance. It's making contact with one's own body and feelings, extending kindness and noticing what a nourishing act this is. That contact is then extended out into the world, with the surprising result of finding connection, belonging and kinship within our human relationships, with the place where we live and with the non-human others that share our space...the roly poly crossing the sidewalk, the dandelion greeting the sun or the Robin standing still in the backyard, head cocked, listening. Not surprisingly, both of you find satisfaction when he plucks the worm out of the soft earth.
So since we're almost to the fifth floor, can I give you my elevator* speech?
"What do I do? I'm an Ecopsychologist. It does sound interesting doesn't it? What is it? Well, to put it as simply as I can, Ecopsychology is the practice of re-embeding the human animal back into nature using holistic psychotherapy. How does that work? Honestly, it works best when I can take my clients outside. Yes, for real! Well, this is my floor and I have to get out now, but here's my card. I'm guiding a hike next weekend for folks who want to increase their nature awareness using mindfulness. Why don't you come?"
*To clarify...I would probably never have this speech in an elevator, since this isn't Mad Men. But it could totally happen in a cafe, or while picking up my daughter from school, or while sitting in a theater waiting for "This Changes Everything" to start, or while peering under forest duff on a mushroom hunt. True story.