When Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to reflect and find his moorings in nature, he was practicing what is now known as eco-psychology. The term identifies the profound human need for connection with the natural world and the dis-ease that erupts when we are dis-connected or when the world around us is toxic.
Psychologist Bill Cahalan writes, "There is a deep, genetically-based need in all people for an ecological sense of place or groundedness. Our very nervous system seems to require an intimate, face-to-face, balanced giving-and-taking interchange with both the local human and non-human natural communities. This inborn set of needs evolved especially during our species' evolution for several million years within a village-centered, hunter-gatherer way of life. There was a utilitarian and emotional relationship with a wide diversity of local plants and animals which included their importance as food, medicine, fiber, fuel, and instructive spiritual context.
Ecological groundedness can be described as a dynamic state in which a person experiences a sense of confidence, belonging, pleasure and wonder as the result of a progressively deepening, whole-bodied communion with the wild and domesticated natural world… As a person cultivates an intimate sense of belonging in the natural world, there is a discovery of the seasonal turning of one's own life within this larger life: the urge to grow and mature, to ripen and leave seed to the community, and to anticipate death as the final giving back to the elements."
Eco-psychology seeks to recover this sense of groundedness through traditional healing, nature mysticism as expressed in spirituality and art, and the experience of wilderness. Very few places are available where individuals can live more closely aligned with the natural world. Because the Cuyamungue Institute is rooted deeply in the soil of our land in northern New Mexico, experiences in workshops at the Institute are inevitably eco-psychological whatever the topic might be.
For those who spend time at the Institute, the land comes alive and is perceived as a powerful force. The Pueblo people who are our neighbors have a long tradition of honoring the earth and that tradition informs many of our rituals.
For more exploration into Eco-psychology, readers might begin with Thomas Berry's Dream of the Earth or Eco-psychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, by Theodore Roszak, Mar