Recent research gives strong support to something we know from our own experience: contact with the natural environment can be powerfully restorative to our well-being. Prisoners who can look out of their cells get sick less often, and patients in hospitals recover more quickly when their view is of greenery rather than concrete. In developing a context that supports us in working for our world, we need to include contact with nature.
There is something more fundamental here than the feel-good factor of pleasant scenery. Particularly for those living in cities, it is easy to lose touch with the biological reality that we arise out of nature and are part of it. While indigenous peoples recognize that our very survival depends on the healthy functioning of the natural world, it is only recently that we’ve gained a scientific understanding of how true this really is.
Business As Usual Is Taking Us Over the Edge of the Cliff
We wouldn’t have the oxygen we breathe if it weren’t for plant life and plankton. We wouldn’t have the food we eat if it weren’t for the rich living matrix of soil, plants, pollinating insects, and other forms of life. When we carry within us a deep appreciation of how our life is sustained by other living beings, we strengthen our desire to give back.
Each of us has an inner map marking the realms we regard as supremely important or sacred, purposes we deem worth following, and sources we trust for renewal and guidance. In the map of reality that accompanies the Business as Usual story, money is what matters most; anything that gets in the way of short-term profiteering becomes an unfortunate casualty. On this map, the route to gaining support is through acquiring the money needed to pay for it. This map is taking us over the edge of a cliff.
Placing the Healing of Our World at the Center of Things
The Great Turning involves a shift in consciousness. We can think of this shift as changing our map to one that puts the healing of our world at the very center of things. On this map, our community is all of life. So we know the trees, the insects, and birds as our kith and kin, as our extended family, as parts of our larger, ecological self.
With this map of reality, our ecospiritual context is populated with allies. The desire that life continue is larger than we are, and when our actions are guided by this desire, we can imagine around us the cheering of all those sharing our aims: the ancestors, the future beings, the natural world itself. When we’re feeling alone, discouraged, or desperate, we can turn to any of these for support.
Remembering Our Special Places in Nature
If we’re not accustomed to seeking solace from the natural world, a good place to start is by casting our mind back to our fondest memories of times spent in nature. Were there any special places where we felt especially at peace or that we particularly loved to visit?
Drawing on our memories and imagination, we can mentally return to these places and recall the feeling of receiving from nature; in reliving this experience, we receive again. Even better is to find a special place in nature where we can go and make contact. We can think of this as similar to visiting an old friend or mentor. But can a place really speak to us? Try the following exercise and see what happens.
Try This: Finding a Listening Post in Nature
Is there a place where you feel more connected to the web of life? It can be either somewhere you go physically or somewhere in your imagination.
Each time you go there, make yourself comfortable. Think of yourself plugging in to a root system that can draw up insights and inspiration as well as other nutrients. To receive guidance, all you need to do is ask for it, and then listen.
Copyright ©2012 by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy
by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.
The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.
About the Authors
Ecophilosopher Joanna Macy, PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and the environment, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. The author of a dozen books, Joanna travels widely, giving lectures, workshops, and trainings in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Visit her website at www.joannamacy.net.
Chris Johnstone is a medical doctor, author, and coach who worked for nearly twenty years as an addictions specialist in the UK National Health Service. He trains health professionals in behavioral medicine and runs courses exploring the psychological dimensions of planetary crisis. He is author of Find Your Power: A Toolkit for Resilience and Positive Change and co-presenter of The Happiness Training Plan CD. Chris has been working with Joanna Macy and running facilitator trainings in the UK for more than two decades. Visit his website at www.chrisjohnstone.info