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Radical Ecopsychology

By Andy Fisher, Ph.D., Trainer, Canada

Radical Ecopsychology is a systematic world view. From within the organism Fisher reaches outward to animals, and to the whole of nature and society, anthropology, child development, spirituality, politics, economics, and other dimensions. Fisher is not looking for a nature without language, but he knows that the power of language far exceeds the usual meanings. The following are brief excerpts from his book, Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life, which can be purchased at Amazon.com. (Editor)

Author Andy Fisher, who acknowledges “the many other-than-human beings, from icicles to cormorants, who keep me writing.”

Defining Ecopsychology

…I became an ecological thinker because of my disquiet over the violation of nonhuman life, because of the tearing in my heart over the wasting of the earth. I later became a psychotherapist for a similar reason, as a response to the routine violation or wasting of human life. …Ecopsychology is for me an effort to understand the social links between these two areas of violence, between the violation we recognize as the ecological crisis and the violation we recognize in human suffering…[T]he broad practical task is to develop psychologically informed practices or interventions aimed at creating a life-celebrating society…

New Approach to the Field

The commitment I am introducing here—to the notion that all meaning is grounded in the life process and that we feel in our bodies what is for or against this process—is not currently in favor. The ruling assumption is that “there is no nature, no human nature, no truth, and no rightness, other than whatever variant has been programmed into us by culture.”…Our postmodern culture…must assume…that human life has no significant organic basis, that nature makes no felt claims on us. …[T]he “postmodern body” has been described as a “de-natured” body or a “dis-embodied” body. To the extent that postmodernists “resist incarnation,” however, they are still very much in line with modern thought. They continue to side against nature, in favor of a free-floating language and all-ruling culture… What these thinkers …do not recognize is an organic, bodily felt, responding moment within [human] experiencing. In other words, they do not allow for how symbolic forms and experiencing interact in a life process.

...While the life process never stops making its demands, the shape our experiencing actually takes obviously does have much to do with the specific social practices and cultural forms...that wind up “occurring into” these demands. Our feelings, to be sure, are “always already culturally patterned.” … I am not therefore making an appeal for some “pure” realm of experiencing entirely unaffected by the symbol systems we publicly share. As Gendlin remarks, “experience is always organized by the evolutionary history of the body, and also by culture and situations partly organized by language.” …For no matter the situation, we simply could not understand the world as we do without all those background meanings that have been formed in words. … On the other hand, our experience is also thicker, more “intricate,” than any words, concepts, theories, or existing forms…

I am dwelling on the topic of language because it is so crucial for ecopsychology. Without … an opening beyond our previous symbolizations, the meanings we find in relation to nature can never be other than what our existing language-forms already say. When a person like [the naturalist] John Livingston remarks that his feelings [for the natural world] “cannot be force-fitted into convenient categories of common . . . experience,” he is communicating that he feels something more or other than what these existing categories mean, even if a better language has yet to arrive. The latter may well come, however, if we are able to locate what Merleau-Ponty referred to as that “primordial silence” or “mute presence” which exists “beneath the chatter of words”—the Gendlin-ian bodily felt sense from which original intentions and creative expressions arise. Conversely, to “tell people that any saying must inevitably fail, that it cannot help but fall into the old dead forms, is just another mode of silencing that [which] in them . . . needs to speak.”

A final point that the practice of focusing demonstrates is the unity of body and world. … The body is the site of intersection of inside and outside, self and world; it belongs to both realms and mediates their relations.

Communities of Practice:

...[Two communities, Re-evaluation Counseling and the worldwide “focusing” community,]…provide contexts within which we can re-emerge as human beings and turn our attention toward the larger world.

… [T]hey offer training in recovering our ability to work from our own bodily experience, to hear our own inner voice. If the violence of the modern world alienates us from this voice, then reconnecting with it is a counterpractice of historical significance… There is an astonishing difference between going through life on the basis of stuck patterns, old ideas, introjected beliefs, habitual reactions, other people’s opinions, superego warnings, expert advice, and archaic fantasies versus being aware of what we are bodily sensing in any given situation and listening for … needs, insights, fresh symbols, creative resolutions, and dialogical responses…. The goal of the focusing community is to make a space for all those bodies who are interested in working in this latter way, on the assumption that a society full of people capable of doing so will bear very little resemblance to the society of today. Meeting regularly with a “focusing partner” is one of the main forms of practice that comes out of this community. In helping people to revitalize the concrete, experiential side of life, the focusing community is in its own way thus endeavoring to generate a populace of more capable social agents.

…[T]hese efforts contribute to the making of a life-oriented society [because] they locate social change work within the life process….

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