Here’s a transcript of an interview I did for Bodhi Nest, a company founded by Anna Brouhard, a colleague in ecopsychology. The Bodhi Nest focuses on the intrinsic connection between mind, body, spirit, and earth. The Bodhi Nest seeks to guide individuals, families, and communities towards a holistic approach to reconnecting our lives and our world. You can find Bodhi Nest at bodhinest.com or read the blog here.
Bodhi Nest: What does Ecosychology mean to you?
Margaret: To me, ecopsychology means that we have lost our way as a civilization and culture and that we need a gentle reminder of who we are and where we belong in the web of life.
We have lost our way because, starting with the advent of agriculture five thousand years ago, we have convinced ourselves that we can conquer nature and control it for our personal enrichment and advantage. Of course, it hasn’t been since the industrial revolution that this delusional thinking has really gotten out of hand, and it’s become particularly insane in the last ten years of the Information Age. We are a culture that believes we can solve any problem through technology and that, in fact, we really don’t need nature in order to thrive. That all we need is a job, a car and a computer. Nothing could be further from the truth, as everything in this planet is interconnected: air, water, soil and climate. A healthy biosystem doesn’t just have economic value, it is necessary to our survival as a species. What ecopsychology tells us is that even more than mere physical survival, we need a connection with the natural world in order to feel emotionally and spiritually whole, as well.
When we spend all our time in front of one screen or another, and barely ever venture beyond the confines of a home, store, office or car, we may think we’re doing alright, but in fact we are slowly chipping away at what makes us human. We become depressed and anxious, we seek short-term gratification in the form of consumerism or passive entertainment, and we feel constantly that deep down, something is missing. We lose our compassion for other living things. We objectify nature. This is the result of not being part of the real environment around us, and not participating entirely in the world around us.
Bodhi Nest: What is the most radical environmental activity/process/ you have done?
Margaret: I don’t know if I would call it “radical”, but taking people on contemplative hikes has felt at times like a paradigm shift in my community. Hiking is a very popular outdoor activity in the Denver/Boulder area. What I see are individuals or groups of people with their dogs, either socializing on the trail or using the trail as their own personal stairmaster. Almost everyone is hiking briskly and has a destination in mind: the completion of a loop, the summit, or a personal record. I like to hike in that manner as well, but what I don’t see more of are people who are hiking to be present and to enjoy nature. What I don’t see are people considering their surroundings as something to appreciate and have a relationship with. I don’t see people journaling while sitting under a tree, or laying down in a meadow and enjoying the clouds floating past. On the trail, as in the city, it’s all go-go-go without a thought to what plants and animals are doing around you or how the woods change from week to week, year to year.
Taking people on hikes where the focus is not on socializing or achieving any kind of goal feels radical in that respect. It’s also radical to bring a group to a place where they can all sit silently in contemplation without chatter and without any kind of agenda other than stillness. The people who have been on several hikes with me say that they’ve experienced nature in a whole new way as a result. In other words, it’s not just something to use for entertainment and enjoyment, but something with its own intrinsic value.
Bodhi Nest: You wrote a book Contemplative Hiking Along the Colorado Front Range, can you tell me more about what Contemplative Hiking is, and how people living outside of Colorado can apply this in their life?
Margaret: I decided to write my book specifically focused on trails along the Front Range because I wanted to be bioregionalistic in my approach. I wanted people in the Denver/Boulder area to learn more about the land where they live as well as learning about themselves in the process. At the same time, however, I specifically set up my book to contain activities that can be done “anywhere”, as indicated by the letter “A” in the description of the trail. That means that even if one doesn’t live on the Front Range, one could take the activity described and do it in Wisconsin, in Florida or anywhere in the world in nature. For example, one of the activities described in the book is the autumn equinox or “letting go” ritual. This is a ritual celebration that can be done anywhere near a lake, stream or moving body of water. Using a marker, you write down things on leaves that you want to let go of, then cast the leaves into the moving water and watch them float away. This is an activity with no impact on the environment but with huge impact on your psyche. You are able to put into words those aspects of your life that no longer serve you, then watch them float away (or get stuck in currents, or wash ashore, or whatever).
The point of my book is that when you go on a hike or contemplative walk in nature, you not only learn a little more about where you live and about the plants and animals around you, but you also learn about yourself. How do you respond to the challenges you encounter while hiking? What’s your attitude about your surroundings or the weather? What most speaks to your heart? What do you most think about when you’re silent in nature?
One can do a contemplative hike anywhere. It is just about setting an intention and hiking silently, whether alone or with others, so the focus is on your own consciousness as it is in relationship to the outside world.
Bodhi Nest: What do you feel is the biggest environmental challenge we as humans face today?
Margaret: There are many environmental challenges. We are experiencing “peak everything” when it comes to natural resources: peak oil, peak water, peak healthy soils, peak coal, peak rare earth metals, peak biodiversity (or probably well past peak). Perhaps the root cause of all of this depletion of Earth’s vital resources is overpopulation. We have simply outgrown our britches. Therefore the biggest environmental challenge we face as humans is ourselves. There are too many of us and we are still operating mostly on self-gratification and personal survival mode.
Bodhi Nest: How do you face these environmental issues with a positive attitude?
Margaret: By cultivating a relationship with nature. I know that I can’t solve the world’s problems by myself or even convince enough people to change their way of thinking so that meaningful change can take place. However, thinking that I can or should go at it alone is just another way we perpetuate the individualistic, self-centered attitude of our culture that has been the cause of all these problems anyway. I can only hope to change the way I approach the world, and the way I conduct my life. I become the change I want to see in the world, as the saying goes. I share my love of nature with others. I try to show them another way. This keeps me positive in the face of deep despair.
Bodhi Nest: What makes you feel inspired?
Margaret: The mountains inspire me. I am most at home when I’m in the woods, looking out at a towering mountain face, listening to the birds and the wind, and smelling the life around me. It makes me feel that I’m part of something timeless, wordless and formless.