Ancient Answers for Contemporary Concerns: Shamanism and Eco-Psychology
"My purpose tonight in speaking
is to suggest that the re-inclusion of the ancient world view
expressed in the American Indian statement "all my relations"
is precisely our greatest hope for the future, ecologically and
psychologically. I'll say a little bit about the situation we
are in. I would describe it as nothing less than imminent global
catastrophe. Ecocide if you will. As a species we are destroying
our life support systems. The air is becoming increasingly unbreathable.
The hole in the ozone grows larger. Water becomes undrinkable, the oceans are
dying, the soil is eroded and turning non-arable. Toxic nuclear
waste is leaking into all three elements just mentioned from unthinking,
short sighted attempts to harness the fourth element, fire.
No one escapes the daily recitation
of the facts of planetary destruction in the media. They are voluminous.
But whether it is the loss of a hundred species to our ecosystem
a day or the destruction of old growth forests equal to the area
of Pennsylvania each year or even the information that due to
pesticides sperm counts of American males today are 50% that of
their grandfathers, we seem to respondto these facts with denial,
repression or despair rather than conscious action. Although planetary
restoration is still possible, no one expects modern science or
conventional state religions to turn this situation around. Indeed,
many leading edge thinkers are coming to the conclusion that it
is only through the formation of an empathic relationship with
the Earth that we will survive. This is what eco-psychologists
This points to the main
problem of the ecology movement. Ecologists don't know much about
changing human behavior. They have been relying primarily on fear
and guilt tactics for almost thirty years now And they don't work.
We're all scared to death. But the tactics haven't worked. I actually
saw in a recent advertisement that I think was meant to encourage
you to join the Sierra Club a large black and white picture of
the face of an owl with piercing yellow eyes and underneath it
said in bold letters, "Make my day." I found myself
saying what's the image here? The natural world as Clint Eastwood?
Intimidation doesn't work either.
Psychologists know that
reality is dependent on our perception of it. Therefore we must
appeal to peo compassionately and positively or they won't change.
But the field of psychology has its own tragic flaw. It has remained
exclusively focused on human beings and their relations with one
another. Regardless of theoretical orientation, psychoanalytic,
behaviorist, humanist, or transpersonal the focus has been on
human beings. The consequences of this anthropomorphism for psychology
have been at the very least that it seems to have made itself
irrelevant to the central question of our time, whether life itself
will remain sustainable. Another consequence is that there is
no model of mental health which includes the natural world.
If visitors from another
planet came here and were to read the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual Four, the one that has the diagnostic categories
required, where you pick the particular flavor of disturbance
that you diagnose someone with if you are a psychologist (and
which is required by all insurance companies, even if you are
going for just a couple of visits), they would possibly conclude
that you could raise a human being in a broom closet as long as
there was a mother and a father inside there. The DSM-IV has exactly two references
to the natural world, seasonal-affective disorder and the
other is bestiality.
I really see both these
problems of ecology and of psychology as world-view problems.
Both fields are acting as if they are not related to each other.
Indeed the slogan of the eco-psychology movement has become ecology
needs psychology and psychology needs ecology. I think at its
best, eco-psychology says that you can't have sanity without a
sane relationship with the natural world. Eco-psychology proposes
a shift of consciousness from the atomistic to the synergistic.
For example, Theodore Roszak says in his book, Voices of the Earth,
"Eco-psychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay
between planetary and personal well-being. The term synergy is
chosen deliberately. The contemporary ecological translation of
the term might be that the needs of the planet are the needs of
the person, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet."
And I say that's a good start, Doctor Roszak, but what's missing
from this picture? Spirituality. And that I should say right away
is my greatest fear about the eco-psychology movement, that it
will become merely the combination of environmentalism with academic
psychology. Right now the field is so nascent that whether or
not that happens hasn't been determined. There are many people
introducing ideas of Earth-based spirituality into eco-psychology
and there are many who say there is no place for spirituality
Eco-psychology can be
described as an attempt to bring the rest of the social sciences
into line with the insights of modern physics about interconnectedness.
These insights are often described as a new paradigm. A new paradigm?
It seems to me that this paradigm is the paradigm of the oldest
psycho-spiritual cosmological system there is, shamanism.
The shamanic world view is perennial. It has been acknowledged
continuously for forty thousand years and continues to be so by
the more than three hundred million indigenous peoples in the
world today. This perennial indigenous world view is powerfully
stated in the Chuckchee saying, "Everything that is, is alive."
In a universe of living things intimately related the biosphere
is our family. In this family are ourselves, the two-legged, the
four-legged, the creepers, crawlers, rock people, the plant people,
the tall-straight people, the rolling hills, the grasses, the
cloud people, planets, starry nation, galaxies, all my relations.
And this family has values, family values. Let's just look at
the traditional family values of this land, Turtle Island. The
traditional family values of America have been held for thousands
of years. They are respect for life, harmony with nature's cycles, gratitude,
balance, and above all, reciprocity. Don't take anything without
giving something back. The spiritual tradition of Native America
is one of reciprocal relations with the Earth. I have no doubt
that the failure to honor this American tradition will result
in our destruction. Just as the re-inclusion of our Earth-based
spiritual tradition is the key to restoring our land and our sanity.
I would say dominate the Earth or treat the Earth as sacred.
This is the central spiritual question of our time."
--Dr. Leslie Gray Oneida/Seminole adopted
by the Gumatj Clan of NE Arnhem Land--