Get Connected to Nature
Guest Post by: Sharon Michelle, MSc Psychology
Connection for me is the key to understanding how I feel about the world, how we got to where we are right now, and where we go next.
In the UK, the start of the pandemic caused a collection of people to embark on a flurry of panic buying leaving the supermarket shelves almost bare. I bumped into my neighbour who is unemployed, and a single dad who has no family to lean on. Even in normal times, he struggles to manage day-to-day living. He’d just returned from the shops empty-handed as the only items left on the shelves were the expensive ones that he couldn’t afford. He had no savings to bulk buy anyway as his benefit money only covered the basics, which were no longer available. He felt powerless, hopeless, and said he was extremely worried for the future, especially how he was going to feed his little boy. This kind of behaviour is reflected in the worst of our societies, in the actions of the richer nations affecting poorer nations, and has left much of the natural world decimated.
A fundamental change in attitude is needed and is beginning to occur. Over 6 billion people live on Earth- all with the same needs to feed and house their families, to rid their home of waste, who require roads to travel to work, which carves up the landscape and natural habitats in it. I am sure the panic buying groups’ motives were to protect their families as well, but this individualistic mindset and ego-centric perspective is a significant contributing factor that has propelled us to arrive at this scary, new dawn of climate change.
Environmental Philosopher and Eco Psychologist Glen Albrecht writes about the state we are in – The Anthropocene age. Defined by the human race’s dominance over the planet which has lead to the mass destruction of the natural world. He created the term “solastalgia” (similar to nostalgia) which describes the pain a person suffers due to the loss of a place or an environment they were attached or connected to. This term gives a name to an emotion felt when a person is distressed and/or feels hopeless because of environmental destruction, and the loss of a home or habitat. Albrecht recognised that if solastalgia became a predominant feeling, the future is likely to be considered overwhelming and pessimistic, and the that worst outcome is inevitable. He then developed a term he named “symbiocene” which is a positive emotion that counters solastalgia.
How we feel about the loss and connection to the places we are attached to will determine our fate on Earth, and importantly there is a need to focus on the positives. Albrecht advises Humans to stop believing they are separate from nature, stop being isolated, and instead understand all life on Earth is interconnected. The symbiotic coexistence between species is the foundation for life and humanity needs to “re-join the diversity and unity among all living beings”. He says the age of “Generation Symbiocene” can and will work towards a future where human behaviour can be directed and positively changed when this mindset is incorporated into our social and technological systems. When we recognise we are connected to all other life and work towards more collective and inclusive societies and governments, we can then repair the harm done and live on a more healthy planet than we currently do.
In my need to connect with others committed to working towards a more positive future I came across GARN – The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is an organisation that featured in many media stories in December 2021. This alliance is working hard to ensure the rights of Nature are recognised and protected in law, just like human rights are in many Countries. GARN strongly advocates for a future that does not involve exploiting nature anymore because being human-centered is ultimately self-destructive. They believe Humans have a responsibility to enforce Natures rights, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples who live in harmony with Nature, because all life on Earth is inter-connected, and that protecting Natures rights will lead to a more sustainable future for all life on Earth.
This is possible if we are more connected- and is already happening. In 2008, Ecuador revised their constitution by including protecting the rights of Nature, deeming that Nature has the same rights as humans do. In December 2021 Ecuador’s High court ruled that a mining company was violating the rights of nature and had to stop (there are several articles about this, such as https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/02/plan-to-mine-in-ecuador-forest-violate-rights-of-nature-court-rules-aoe). Imagine our world if every country adopted this stance and were more in touch with the needs of Nature? If this had happened 50 years ago I am pretty sure we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves in. This win for Nature, and what GARN is advocating for is a perspective that gives me the most hope for the future.
Being aware of connection to the self is just as valuable an exercise. When I am inwardly disconnected I take on too much, become impatient and irritable, and get more and more out of touch with the natural rhythms of life and to what my body is telling me. Instead of doing what I really need in these moments which is stop, listen, and pay attention to how I am feeling, I hold my breath, carry on regardless ignoring all the warning signs where my body is telling me to stretch, to pay attention to where I am holding tension until my body is screaming at me. This is when I usually come down with a cold or the flu and am forced to rest and take care of myself which can only happen in the space where I allow myself to re-connect.
Being disconnected allows us to pretend issues don’t exist, and allows us to ignore them. Not addressing why we feel defensive, threatened, or not listening to the needs of others including nature, solves nothing. Problems like these will then most likely will grow, and there are fewer opportunities for resolution. Fear, anxiety, and unresolved tensions get in the way of being connected. When we are too busy or self-absorbed to take notice of tensions, be that in the body, society, the world, or nature, then they grow. The body shouts louder and these issues may develop into something more serious like disease (which means dis-ease), or on a larger scale, accelerating climate change.
I am not suggesting being connected to everything all the time, as this would probably lead to worse anxiety or even nervous breakdown. But if we acknowledge the benefits of being connected on a larger scale than our family units, if there was a focus on being connected more than we already are, to ourselves and to the world around us, then there will be more recognition of the situations that need attending to. Placing value on healthy connection and the experiences of others means being inclusive and more understanding. There is more strength in numbers when we have more inquisitive minds available to work together on common goals.
Many people don’t pay much attention to or know how they are feeling and/or why, and are disconnected from their bodies and life experience. They are no longer able to rely on their internal compass to guide them. I associate disconnection with not listening to the needs of the self and the needs of others, where toxic, unhealthy behaviours are more likely to flourish with a breakdown of communication.
Thinking about connection, to myself, to others, and to Nature, helps me envision a more optimistic future and helps maintain focus on identifying what barriers are preventing us in getting there. I spend some of my time researching online to try and figure out how we can move towards the future I want and that I feel the planet needs. I recently came across an organisation called the Resilient Activist who are another organisation that defines for me what positive connection is all about. Their mission is to support and provide community-building programmes that build resilience, optimism, and hope, and help people deal with and talk about eco-grief, designed to “nourish positive ecological change”. Their programmes are built around 5 essential principles; to encourage a re-connection with nature, respect all life, regreen the Planet, revamp spending, and replenish resources. Their goal is to live in a way that nurtures their own wellbeing and nature and helps lift others who have similar goals.
How can we deal with or resolve anything if we are disconnected from a problem? A change of mindset is desperately needed, one that has moved away from looking after numero uno, away from being switched off to others and to how we are affecting other life. Thinking about connection is a way to both look after ourselves AND others. It brings about a space to acknowledge, express, and have a conversation about needs that are not being met. Here lies the potential for more cooperation that is desperately needed to deal with the environmental problems we all face.
There are many perspectives I can access and connect to. I chose to nurture and focus on the connections I feel have the most potential to take us towards the healthiest planet for ALL life that is possible in the given circumstances.
What do you focus on that might get us to the same destination?