Reconnecting with Nature
What is ecopsychology and how can planting things help us?
Tales from the Anthropocene by Jessica Kashdan-Brown
In our ‘modern’ lives in the global West, it has become increasingly easy to separate our daily lives from nature. We go outside to ‘take a break’, or ‘get some fresh air’, all the while not really noticing this divide we have created — as if we are not a part of that natural world and as if our daily lives are not governed by the wider ecosystem of our planet. This may not be a conscious step that you or I have made, but many Western cultures and their prevalent economic structures have promoted it nonetheless — and it’s about time we tried to rectify that.
Reconnecting with nature
I would like to start this blog post by talking about Ecopsychology. Ecopsychology is a term coined by academic Theodore Roszak, describing a way of thinking that hopes to bridge “our culture’s long-standing, historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological”, that is to say, the divide we have constructed between “inner” life and the “outer world”. Ecopsychology is, in essence, an encouragement to reconnect with nature; a recognition that the divide we have created between “human” and “nature” is not a physical one, but a psychological one and one that we must work to deconstruct. This is not a new kind of thinking — Roszak himself points out that many cultures, especially Indigenous cultures, have thought this way for centuries — but it is a way of thinking that we need to embrace on a large scale across all cultures, now more than ever.
David Attenborough is also a vocal advocate for this kind of thinking which does not place humanity apart from the natural world, but as a part of it. In this way, Ecopsychology asks us to recognize how much nature is a part of our lives and how much we need nature to live, but also what we can do for nature in return, to ensure the integrity and sustainability of our vital ecosystems, and to ensure our planet can continue to host our species; whether that’s picking up trash, eating less meat, getting involved in environmental organizations, fighting for the rights of nature, or rewilding, planting trees, and growing biodiversity.
Planting and growing
One of the very best ways I know of for connecting with and giving back to nature is to plant something or grow something. Whether it’s a forest, a tree, a vegetable, a houseplant, or sprinkling some wildflower seeds on a patch of earth, the act of planting something is an immersive, full body-and-mind way of connecting with nature.
Planting and taking care of something can help with overcoming feelings of self-absorption and provide you with a strong sense of purpose and worth. For anyone experiencing climate anxiety, where you can feel like your actions are meaningless and never enough, this sense of purpose and connection are invaluable benefits. It also gives us a positive sense of responsibility towards nature, allowing us to engage with — and actively feel part of — the natural world.
In Kat Anderson’s book, Tending the Wild, she interviews elders who say that “wilderness was not a positive concept in Native culture; it meant land that was not well-tended, land in which human beings were not exercising their duty to protect, enhance, and develop life.” Tending to land gives an understanding of the reciprocity that should govern our relationship with nature. The very plants, flowers, and trees we bring into existence and tend, tend to us in turn by bringing us happiness, biodiversity, and the oxygen we need to live. This reciprocity is sustainable, it is necessary, and it is beautiful.
My own tree planting journey
My family and I recently planted 290 trees at the bottom of our field in an effort to tackle climate change. It is a position of absolute privilege to have that land available to us to plant on and to have access to all of the green spaces that surround us. I know that others seeking connection to nature through planting might have to look instead towards community projects, allotments, or smaller-scale gardening or houseplant care, but I do have to say, our project has made a huge difference to me. In many ways, it’s made me feel more connected to my sense of home.
Our tree-planting project has not only given me a sense of purpose in tackling the current climate situation and a good means of exercise in the fresh air, but it’s also given me a sense of futurity — and hope. Looking out at the field now, I can imagine what it might one day be. I can see the swathes of hawthorn and crab apple blossom drifting in the wind and I can almost taste the wild plums and fresh pears from our miniature orchard. I can picture, too, the myriad of wildlife those trees will bring with them. It is already nurturing me — just the idea of it.
I feel, too, that I am helping to grow this place and that my own investment in living here and being present in my environment has grown too as a result. It has brought my family closer and has created a sense of community between us and the people who have helped us with this project and supported it throughout. The project has also involved a lot of walking around our local area to identify different native tree species, and we talked a lot about the different habitats the field presented. I have a better hold on this now and I no longer see the field just as the view beyond the window, but as a haven of life, a vastness of opportunity, and a part of me.
Need to re-examine your relationship with nature?
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