Sunday, January 23, 2011
Once upon a time people lived in a different kind of harmony with nature. Except for the aristocracy who lived in castles and lords who collected taxes on land, most people all over the world prayed for rain and sun in the summer in order to grow a bounty of crops.
There were no grocery stores and local farmers markets and in the winter, we can imagine, people learned how to stave off colds and bulk up fat reserves to make it through to the next spring.
Chances are, if you were born any time before the industrial revolution, most of your energy was spent on survival. Imagine... if you weren't busy collecting, growing or storing your food, time was probably used for finding firewood, maintaining your home or shelter and doing tedious chores to maintain life.
In the last hundred years or so, it seems as though we have made our lives a whole lot better by inventing machines that can do our dirty work, allowing us to focus on matters more spiritual in nature (or so we think.) We have dishwashers, cars, computers and communication and bank machines - our society has given birth to a whole new generation of people who don't even need to ever leave the house.
Relying on the tools of computers, digital farmers like me, can even work from the comfort of our living rooms, ordering food and supplies through the phone or Internet. When our food arrives in boxes and packaging, we can nuke it in the microwave and wash it down with an energy drink fortified with all the vitamins we will ever need.
With so many possibilities, and free time for creativity and introspection (we don't even have to cook,) why is it that there is so much unrest and dissatisfaction among people today? And worse, researchers find as a nation becomes more westernized, the incidences of mental illness and other diseases skyrocket.
Was sickness always there and people didn't notice it, or is it possible that disease is related to the earth, nature and the condition of the world in general? These are the kind of questions ecotherapists ask.
In the realm of mental health practitioners, most believe that sickness comes about when a person 'disconnects' between how they act and how they process the impact of their actions. As the person spirals out of connection between what they do and how their actions affect those around them – long-term harm and a serious pathological illness can ensue.
Some proponents of ecotherapy suggest that instead of taking anti-depressants and other pills, we might do ourselves good by going outdoors in nature. This approach acknowledges that people in industrialized and western cultures, are trapped in a cycle of abuse - disconnected from and damaging nature.
The abuse is everywhere: glaciers melting from global warming are harming animals and their habitat; pesticides in produce and on our lawns are causing cancer; factory pollutants are giving people asthma. This list goes on and on.
Taking a down-to-earth approach for teaching the tenets of ecotherapy is ecopsychologist Craig Chalquist from the Sonoma State and John F. Kennedy Universities. He has started a website to collect ecotherapy 'best practices' to help our future survival on the planet.
He says, "With all the urgent talk about peak oil and a post-carbon future, we hear very little addressing the social or psychological implications of living in such a world. And yet what point is survival if we don't survive whole?
"My thought is that rather than waiting around for the empire to fall, or spending a fortune stockpiling bullets and dried apricots, why not see all this as an opportunity to experiment with practices that have been used the world over by people in peaceful communities: conflict resolution, the practice of council, clear communications skills, indigenous ways of knowing, town hall democracy, practical psychology and restorative justice."
Getting out in nature
There are two approaches to ecotherapy: one is earth-centered and teaches that being in wild nature will help remind us that we are a part of the world and not its dominators.
When one can actually feel as though the earth is part of oneself, it becomes easier for us to do things that can sustain and heal the earth.
A second path in ecotherapy is a person-centered approach where the ecotherapist recognizes that first the individual needs to be treated.
Using wild nature as a means for reflection, the individual is encouraged to reconnect spiritually, with sustaining earth to be the next step in the healing process.
The proof is in the research
Recent research published in Britain confirms what we might have known all along: country walks can bring startling reductions in depression and raise self-esteem. The University of Essex compared how a 30-minute walk in the country compared to a walk in an indoor shopping centre.
After the country walk, 71 percent of the people reported a decreased feeling of depression and said they felt less tense. This finding was in contrast to 45 percent of the people who felt a decrease in depression after the shopping centre walk, with 22 percent of the people of the shopping center group saying they felt more depressed after the walk.
Cheaper than anti-depressant drugs, walking in the countryside has no side effects and is readily available on most everyone's doorstep.
Some countries in Europe have taken the ecotherapy approach to heart and have started using it in farms to treat mental distress. In Holland, they send mentally ill patients to be 'prescribed' workers on one of 600 nation-wide farms as a bona fide component of the healing process.
The center Mind that helped publish this study describes ecotherapy as "getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental well-being." Although some of the ideas taught by ecotherapy seem obvious, some deeper philosophical aspects deserve reflection.
Paul Farmer, head of the center Mind, says ecotherapy will be an important part of the treatment used by mental health professionals in the future: "It is a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than anti-depressants is extremely limited." courtesy of ecoseed