The developing field of Environmental Psychology (aka. Ecopsychology) posits that there is a post-industrial alienation between human beings and the natural world; that part of being truly sane is having the consciousness that each of us is but a part of a much larger Whole.
Common language recognizes the importance of being at home in the natural world: a person who is relaxed, focused and aware is said to be “grounded” (i.e., connected to the Earth); a person who is upset, off balance, or overwhelmed is said to be “floored” (i.e., knocked down, not to the ground, but only to a part of the built environment).
Throughout millions of years of our evolution, humans have been part of the natural world. It is only since the Industrial Revolution that it has become possible to insulate ourselves from Nature and the Earth. We live in rectilinear dwellings, drive and walk on artificially flat and featureless surfaces; we live in environments which are artificially heated and cooled, protected from the wind and the rain. We have no need to modify our plans due to night or inclement weather.
As a consequence we’ve learned to breathe stale air and eat processed food with artificial flavoring and coloring. We learn, work, travel, worship and die in constructed environments that are removed from the natural world.
Light Pollution from Space (NASA Photo)
These developments confer great advantages, yet there are subtle and powerful losses that accrue from this removal from the natural world. It becomes possible to believe there are few limits to what one can own or consume. The senses become dulled.
We forget what a fresh cold breeze feels like on ruddy cheeks; how a crisp, juicy fresh-picked apple tastes; the shock of pleasure upon seeing the hulking orange moon rising over the horizon, or the silvery Milky Way soaring overhead. We have but faint memory of the tang of salt air and wood smoke, or the sweet perfume of night-blooming flowers.
How long has it been since you listened to the symphony of birdsong on a spring morning as our feathered friends are busy about their chores? Do you remember the joy your body felt as a child when you ran or climbed over rough terrain – the rush of beating heart and excited breath?
Our bodies yearn to be reconnected to Nature, to our green and watery World that bursts with life and beauty. Ecopsychology affirms this human need, prescribes it; and it encourages the wakeful accountability of living as part of the fragile web of life.
Bill Plotkin, in his new book Nature and the Human Soul, emphasizes the impossibility of divorcing oneself from the natural world; in fact, the internal representation of Nature is human nature - or the soul. He sees the process of psychosocial maturation as comprising both cultural and natural components. Growing up to the wisdom of elderhood necessitates being at home in the natural world.
For guidance on this vital life task, we suggest the books recommended in the Environmental Education section. They focus on the experience of connecting with Nature and show how Nature learning can be integrated within the educational process, so our children are at home in Nature and prepared to live in their natural inheritance – the Earth.
The books recommended in the Environmental Psychology - Ecopsychology section celebrate the wonder of the natural world, and call us to awaken our consciousness to act as responsible citizens of the planet. They explore the intimate connection between the human spirit and Nature and show how the health and vitality of the human spirit is related to one's connection with the Earth.