Over the past couple of months I’ve seen a flurry of articles surface about the extensive health benefits associated with being outdoors. From "forest bathing", to walks in the woods, to visiting "urban green spaces", there has been a frenzy of press reporting on something that we all innately know: being outdoors is good for us. While there is a part of me that feels thrilled to have this connection celebrated and ‘validated by science’ I also notice a wild roar from the depths of my soul when I read these articles, as they locate this intimate, relational human-earth interaction within a shallow version of ecology.
Language is important. It is the building block of culture, and provides a frame for the way(s) that we both understand and interact with the world. The majority of the research exploring the nature therapy movement reflects just one side of the story, that being, the voice (and benefits) to humans. In these articles, the Earth is implicitly objectified as a mere ‘tool’ or ‘intervention’ at the disposal of the human species. When we approach the planet from this perspective, we fail to recognize that she too, is a living, breathing organism. When we ‘use her’ and deny her the space to speak, we also deny the dance that we are always a part of. While the scientific method offers ‘empiric validation’, it also has the potential to further distance us from the Earth herself and distort our place within ‘the family of things’.
An Ecopsychological worldview acknowledges that the relationship between humans and the Earth is reciprocal. What does this mean? When our planet is unwell… so are we. And, when we are unwell and disconnected from our beloved Earth, we are more likely to harm her. It is a toxic cycle. It is also no mystery that our beloved planet is hurting right now: from deforestation to toxic over-pollution, to soil degradation, extinction of species (both plant and animal), and an abundance of stressors from urbanization and urban sprawl... the list goes on. So, how can we show up to support the Earth in her healing as well?
Whether we make it explicit or not, we are always connected to place. And while the towering heights of a high rise might feel incredibly far from the vast expanses of moss amongst the forest floor, the Earth is always holding us... no matter how distant we may seem. So, how can we make the space to listen to her whispers and honour the life force that moves through both her and us? When we slow down, ground to place, and make this connection explicit, we can begin to make space for reciprocal healing…. true healing…. deep healing… for our planet and for ourselves.
Over the past few years, an important dialogue has unfolded. Through a number of social movements, we have witnessed women coming out of the proverbial woodwork in mass proportions, reclaiming their voices and challenging the patriarchy. From the Me Too movement, to the Women’s Marches, to Black Lives Matter and Time’s Up... there has been an ongoing feminist uproar about power, equality and what constitutes consent. While there is certainly still work to do, these conversations are becoming more commonplace. And, I’d like to propose that we extend these dialogues to include the Earth as well.
This isn’t a new concept. In fact, most Indigenous cultures are infused with the core belief that our Great Mother is a living entity. It’s also not abnormal to embody the principle of consent by asking for permission to enter wild spaces. As my friend, Thomas George, a man from the Halalt First Nation, shared with me, “we would never walk through someone’s front door and into their living room without knocking... and the same should apply to our natural spaces.” Thomas was taught by his elders to ask for permission, state his intentions, and offer a gift... each time that he would go onto the land. And, over the past three years, I have begun integrating this practice into my life, both personally and professionally.
Relating to the earth in this way requires intention, mindfulness, and recognition of the systemic interactional process that is always unfolding within and between all living beings. So, on this glorious Earth Day I ask you, how might you bring this notion of reciprocity and consent into your life? And, in what ways would you like to begin ‘showing up’ in your relationship with the Earth… if you aren’t already doing so. How might you move from an egocentric existence to one that is more eco-centric, because the health of our planet AND future is depending on it!
Courtenay Crucil is a psychotherapist, nature-based therapist and herbalist in private practice on the unceded territory of the Tsimshian People (Terrace, BC). She offers psychotherapy online, in-person, and in the wild spaces of the Northwest. To learn more about her practice, or to work with Courtenay please visit her website at Courtenaycrucil.com