The Symbolic Life by Steve Galipeau, Coldwater Counseling Center President
The world is heating up in such a way that it is surprising if someone hasn’t noticed. Our relationship to the Earth, or rather our lack of respect for Her, has been brought to our attention for decades. As a society though we keep on doing what we are doing, which is not in our own, or the natural world’s best interest.
Many have spoken over the years of the sacred side of Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples have never really lost this connection, despite our efforts to force them into our cultural ways. There is a profound psychological irony in this. Be like us, not who you are. Yet to restore the balance in nature, being more like them is exactly what we need to learn.
One profound example is the issue of controlled burning. Indigenous people here and in other continents did this naturally. Burn the underbrush now, so you don’t burn the whole forest later. But we suppressed all fires so that now our warming planet has produced so much underbrush that our forests are burning at an unprecedented rate. Even some seemingly indestructible Giant Sequoias are being consumed. Ironically, their ability to withstand fires that other trees could not is what allowed their cones to fall to the ground and reproduce. (The heat of the fire opens the cones so the seeds fall to the forest floor where other vegetation has been burned away.) We are seriously messing with the earth’s ability to renew itself.
Losing touch with how the earth restores and rebalances itself also reflects that we are losing connection as to how we as people renew ourselves, both individually and culturally. C. G. Jung observed this throughout his life and spoke often to our disregard for a healthy relationship with the earth. He did this so often that psychologist Merdith Sabini brought all Jung’s writings in the area together in a book she edited, The Earth Has a Soul: C. G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern life (2008).
Reflecting on his early years in his memoirs Memories, Dreams, Reflections he wrote, “The earthly manifestations of “God’s work” began with the realm of plants, as a kind of direct communication from it. . . . Plants were bound for good or ill to their places. They expressed not only beauty but also the thoughts of God’s world, with an intent of their own and without deviation. Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the places where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.”
An example of this personal connection to nature expressing itself in his work is captured by these remarks in a 1947 letter in which he comments on a dream the correspondent shared. “You must go in quest of yourself, and you will find yourself again only in the simple and forgotten things. Why not go into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books.”
This profound need to find our way back to nature was what Jung sensed in the development that our culture had created. We were not at home there, and had to relearn how to do that. Current research shows that Jung was steering in the right directions as contact with nature helps both our physical and spiritual wellbeing. Toward the end of his memoirs Jung wrote: “It is difficult to determine whether these questions are more of personal or more of a general (collective) nature. It seems to me that the latter is the case. A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem, and in individual cases may give the impression that something is out of order in the realm of the personal psyche. The personal sphere is indeed disturbed, but such disturbance need not be primary; they may well be secondary, the consequence of an insupportable change in the social atmosphere. The cause of the disturbance is, therefore, not to be sought in the personal surroundings, but rather in the collective situation. Psychotherapy has hitherto taken this matter far too little into account.” (MDR, pp 233-234)
Personally I have always felt this pull to get back to nature as a deep longing in my soul.. My wife and I have been drawn to several wilderness areas over the years, but we always come back longing to be with the Giant Sequoias in our California National Parks and National Monuments. Near the end of my training to become an Jungian Analyst I had this dream, which seemed to give a profound overview of what being an analyst for me was about.
I am in a park setting in a suburban area. The lawns and plants are well manicured. I then begin walking away from the park into the nearby forest and hike deep within until I come to a Giant Sequoia tree on a site that is sacred to Native Americans. When I look up I see that one large branch is formed into the figure of the pope, and then realize that this Sequoia is the Shekinah Sequoia wherein dwells the living presence of God. My job would be to lead tours to this sacred place. (The Shekinah is the feminine side of God in Hebrew tradition that brings the presence of the divinity close to us.)
More writers of various backgrounds are calling out in similar ways about connecting in a healthy way to the natural world. The crisis around Her affects us all; it’s a personal wound and a societal one with global consequences. How can each of us listen to Her call? For it is not only the call of our own souls, but what Jung called the “Anima Mundi,” the World Soul.