Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The ecologically mature society

Eco communityThis is an exercise in exploring what an ecologically mature society might look  like, based on Andy Fisher’s book Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. According to Fisher, the Four Tasks of ecopsychology are as follows:

The psychological task: to acknowledge and better understand the human-nature relationship as a relationship
The philosophical task: to place psyche (soul, anima, mind) back into the (natural) world
The practical task: to develop therapeutic and recollective practices towards an ecological society
The critical task: to engage in ecospychologically-based criticism

Reminiscent of Ecotopia, our ecologically mature society turned into a bit of a dictatorial utopia I’m afraid…


Community Programs
4 day work week + one day community service
Free community health care as part of community practice day
Invitation of outside visitors on community practice day
1 community practice day per month takes place outside of the community
Activist representatives in local, regional and national politics
1 year social service program post-high school
Transportation by feet or wheel when weather is good, biodiesel busses at other times
Legal system based on restorative justice and mediation
Monthly block parties and street fairs with barter system or local currency
Green innovation grants to improve community
Eco-home testing and remediation

Required Actions
30 min daily contemplative practice
Limit of 30 min of screen time per day
2 hours daily outdoor time
Minimum 10 indoor plants per home
Organic community gardens
All food consumed within 30 miles of where it was grown
Meals eaten with community or family
Training and practice groups in Nonviolent Communication
Extreme recycling, including composting toilets

Prohibited Actions
No cell phones, only land lines
No indoor classrooms, only nature based teaching
No lawns, only food crops or xeriscape
No agricultural herbicides, pesticides, or GMOs
No individual car ownership
No construction on land that hasn’t been previously built on
No large-scale commercially prepackage or prepared foods
No microwaves
No electric lights after 8pm
No use of potable water for non-consumption activities

Walking Meditation

This mindfulness walking meditation focuses on body sensations and also adds an element of concentration that helps to focus the mind. I learned this type of walking meditation on a silent retreat with Eric Kolvig. The majority of the retreat was sitting body scan meditation with periods of interspersed walking meditation. This was my first multi-day silent retreat and I noticed that I began to develop an aversion to people who I didn’t know and had never spoken to. This walking meditation served to redirect my mind and helped me come more completely into my present experience.

I have since used the practice during many difficult times including intense physical activity or while experiencing strong emotions. I did an 11 day trek in Bolivia that went over 16,000 foot mountain passes almost every day. The walking itself was very difficult on steep rocky terrain. It was also a solitary experience since I only went with one other person, the trails were too thin to walk side by side, and there was no extra breath for speaking. This walking meditation helped to keep my mind focused, my feet moving and helped me see the beauty of the experience.

The technique involves counting each step sequentially starting at 1 each time until reaching 10 and then counting back down to 1. So for example, the steps would be counted like this:

1, 2
1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This type of counting helps the mind to remain focused and can be very subtle if you are truly paying attention. For example you can notice which foot starts with 1 and how that alternates, and where different numbers fall within the pattern of the steps. At the same time, the meditator should feel the sensations of the legs and feet as well as noticing the surroundings.

This walking meditation technique fulfills all of the qualities of mindfulness practice in that it cultivates engaged attention to the present experience; it is based direct present moment sensory experience; it accepts the mind, emotions, body sensations and environment as they are without trying to change them; and it encourages direct investigation of the subtler aspects of the experience.

During practice, there are two main obstacles that can arise, the first is the mind wandering away and loosing track of the counting, in which case the meditator should gently bring it back. If the last number sequence can be remembered, the stepping and counting should resume where they left off. If the last number sequence cannot be remembered, walkers can start over with 1 or another number of their choosing. The other obstacle that can arise is an over-concentration on the counting to the exclusion of the direct sensory experience of walking or noticing the surroundings. When meditators notice that this has occurred, they can gently bring their attention back to their legs and feet or to the sights, sounds, scents or textures of their environment.

This practice is especially useful for people who are restless or have difficulty sitting still; are experiencing strong emotions, sensations or pain; or are having trouble slowing, calming or redirecting their thoughts. It can allow strong body sensations or thoughts to be experienced and accepted without allowing them to become overwhelming. It is also a nice way to vary sitting meditation, by providing time outdoors and a little bit of exercise.

Cartonera Yerba Mala publishes first trilingual book

The cartonera publishing houses started after the economic collapse in Argentina in 2001,  when many new social and economic models started to emerge. The cartonera (or cardboard recyclers) movement started when garbage recyclers began to coordinate with writers and artists to publish books with individually decorated recycled cardboard covers at a price everyone could afford. These cardboard books address the need for higher wages for informal garbage collectors, improving literacy rates, and the ability for a wide variety of voices to be published. I started writing this story about Ekeko the Aymara god of abundance, the first time I visited Bolivia in 1997. The final version of this creative anthropological book was published in a trilingual English, Spanish and Aymara edition through Cartonera Yerba Mala in 2010.

Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

An article by Daniel B. Smith in the New York Times Magazine.

About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-square-mile region in southeastern Australia. For generations the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” — an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent. “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June. “They said: ‘Can you help us? We’ve tried everyone else. Is there anything you can do about this?’ ”

Residents were distraught over the spread of coal mining in the Upper Hunter. Coal was discovered in eastern Australia more than 200 years ago, but only in the last two decades did the industry begin its exponential rise. Today, more than 100 million tons of black coal are extracted from the valley each year, primarily by open-pit mining, which uses chemical explosives to blast away soil, sediment and rock. The blasts occur several times a day, sending plumes of gray dust over ridges to settle thickly onto roofs, crops and the hides of livestock. Klieg lights provide a constant illumination. Trucks, draglines and idling coal trains emit a constant low-frequency rumble. Rivers and streams have been polluted.

Albrecht, a dark, ebullient man with a crooked aquiline nose, was known locally for his activism. He participated in blockades of ships entering Newcastle (near the Upper Hunter), the largest coal-exporting port in the world, and published opinion articles excoriating the Australian fossil-fuel industries. But Albrecht didn’t see what he could offer besides a sympathetic ear and some tactical advice. Then, in late 2002, he decided to see the transformation of the Upper Hunter firsthand.

“There’s a scholar who talks about ‘heart’s ease,’ ” Albrecht told me as we sat in his car on a cliff above the Newcastle shore, overlooking the Pacific. In the distance, just before the earth curved out of sight, 40 coal tankers were lined up single file. “People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.” Australian aborigines, Navajos and any number of indigenous peoples have reported this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced from their land. What Albrecht realized during his trip to the Upper Valley was that this “place pathology,” as one philosopher has called it, wasn’t limited to natives. Albrecht’s petitioners were anxious, unsettled, despairing, depressed — just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them.

In Albrecht’s view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition. In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ” A neologism wasn’t destined to stop the mines; they continued to spread. But so did Albrecht’s idea. In the past five years, the word “solastalgia” has appeared in media outlets as disparate as Wired, The Daily News in Sri Lanka and Andrew Sullivan’s popular political blog, The Daily Dish. In September, the British trip-hop duo Zero 7 released an instrumental track titled “Solastalgia,” and in 2008 Jukeen, a Slovenian recording artist, used the word as an album title. “Solastalgia” has been used to describe the experiences of Canadian Inuit communities coping with the effects of rising temperatures; Ghanaian subsistence farmers faced with changes in rainfall patterns; and refugees returning to New Orleans after Katrina.

The broad appeal of solastalgia pleases Albrecht; it has helped earn him hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants as well as his position at Murdoch. But he is not particularly surprised that it has caught on. “Take a look out there,” he said, gesturing to the line of coal ships. “What you’re looking at is climate change queued up. You can’t get away from it. Not in the Upper Hunter, not in Newcastle, not anywhere. And that’s exactly the point of solastalgia.” Just as the loss of “heart’s ease” is not limited to displaced native populations, solastalgia is not limited to those living beside quarries — or oil spills or power plants or Superfund sites. Solastalgia, in Albrecht’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return?

Albrecht’s philosophical attempt to trace a direct line between the health of the natural world and the health of the mind has a growing partner in a subfield of psychology. Last August, the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.” News-media coverage of the report concentrated on the habits of human behavior and the habits of thought that contribute to global warming. This emphasis reflected the intellectual dispositions of the task-force members who wrote the document — seven out of eight were scientists who specialize in decision research and environmental-risk management — as well as the document’s stated purpose. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting,” Janet Swim, a Penn State psychologist and the chairwoman of the task force, said, “in order to understand how to get people to act.”

Yet all the attention paid to the behavioral and cognitive barriers to safeguarding the environment — topics of acute interest to policy makers and activists — disguised the fact that a significant portion of the document addressed the supposed emotional costs of ecological decline: anxiety, despair, numbness, “a sense of being overwhelmed or powerless,” grief. It also disguised the unusual background of the eighth member of the task force, Thomas Doherty, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore. Doherty runs a private therapeutic practice called Sustainable Self and is the most prominent American advocate of a growing discipline known as “ecopsychology.”

Continue reading Is There an Ecological Unconscious? here.