July: Returning to my Trees
Being Welsh, you might think I’d have a better hold on the Welsh language. But despite completing GCSE level Welsh, which was compulsory at the time, my knowledge remains unchanged since high school. Living in Essex now, I do occasionally come across some welsh folk here, which inevitably leads to some sharing (and giggling) regarding our favourite or most comical known welsh phrases. But beyond that, I haven’t really engaged with the language for some time. So it came as a surprise to me when reading the newly published book ‘Towards an Ecopsychotherapy’ to find such a lovely and thought provoking welsh phrase amongst the pages.
‘...Dod Yn Ôl At Fy Nghoed’ (pronounce at your own peril!) is the phrase that caught my interest. It means ‘to return to a balanced state of mind’, but the literal translation is actually ‘to return to my trees’. I love how the combined literal and general meaning of this phrase suggest that the pursuit of balance is somehow inseparable from nature. The emphasis on ‘returning’ to balance and to nature also suggests that, at our core, we already know what it is to be balanced and with nature. It’s just that the way we relate to what’s happening in our lives often removes us, to some extent, from what we already know on a deep and intuitive level. When I think about returning to my trees, I picture myself in the Brecon Beacons, on a long walk with family or friends, en route to the waterfalls. It really is a lovely image that brings me comfort, and I’ve felt glad for this reminder at a time when my visits there have been limited.
Returning to the book instead, ‘Towards an Ecopsychotherapy’ was written by Mary-Jayne Rust, a Jungian Analyst and Art Therapist. I’ve been keen to read the authors perspective on the history and development of Ecopsychotherapy, which is of particular interest to me in my private practice and beyond. From what I’ve read so far, it seems the welsh phrase sums up nicely the aims of Ecotherapy in general - which are to achieve balanced states of mind by returning or restoring a connection with nature. The aims of Ecopsychotherapy however, are to address the relationship between our inner psychological and outer environmental world in a more psychodynamic way. This entails looking beyond the known psychological and physical benefits of spending time outdoors, and focusing on the relationships we develop, between self, others, and the environment. The emphasis on taking a reciprocal approach to nature, rather than using nature to purely meet ones own needs, are important here - as central to Ecopsychotherapy, is the sense that healing the earth and healing the individual are indivisible. However this can be difficult to balance with the ‘dominion psyche’ in which the human species has historically marked its success through mystery, domination and control of nature (in economic terms at least). This is of course at odds with the more ancient intuitive aspects of the human psyche which aim to work and live in harmony with nature. With this in mind, there is the sense that simply suggesting we reconnect with nature, will not be enough to omit or prevent further destruction to the planet. And I’m left questioning whether our aims are sincere enough to really re-establish deep and meaningful connections with the Earth, or are we still driven by selfish desires? I think it’s important to really question our motives here, especially as eco-minded practices are on the rise, in addition to the growing eco-related anxiety and unease among the population.
So how can we open ourselves to reciprocity and work in harmony with land and other species? One suggestion from the book is to bring both the ‘reciprocity psyche’ and ‘dominion psyche’ into relationship, and this is where the Ecopsychotherapy focus on relationships can really come into play. This thought led me to review an article I’d read earlier in the year about an Artist called Tomas Saraceno. His recent artwork, exhibited in Florence earlier in year, aimed to inspire his audience to live within the environment as spiders do... in tune with their senses and adaptive in spirit. He looked at spider webs in particular as more than a metaphor for interconnectedness, believing they provide us with a model for how we could or should live, alert to, and in symbiosis with the environment. Perhaps there is something in this, considering spiders have roamed the planet for some 300 million years, in comparison to humans at approx. 300,000 years.
But hey, I’ve not finished the book yet, so I might just return to my treehouse to read a little longer...