Separation, or individualisation is the most painful experience. In its extreme, it is madness. To define one self as “I” and separated from even a few others is very painful.
The three most separating feelings are anger, hate and fear. Hence, if one says “I hate that person, but love that other person” it cannot be true. We cannot hate one and love another. It is impossible. The idea that we can be repelled from one person, say a parent who abused us, and attracted to another person is understandable. Like a ball bouncing off one wall onto another one can feel that there is a separation between the walls, that none of the qualities of one wall exist in the other. This compartmentalisation is common but we have demonstrated that it is not real.
The atoms, molecules and subatomic particles that make up one wall exist in the other. They form bonds and create structures like concrete or wood and those structures appear different. One might say “that wall (person) is made of concrete while that other wall (person) is made of pure mahogany.” So, we can say the personality of this person is different to that other person and in this way, differentiate between who we hate and who we love based on personality or appearance.
But for all the things a person might hate about concrete walls, there is a perfect balance of opposites. Concrete is hard and rough … that might be hated, but concrete will withstand the storm and protect those inside whereas mahogany looks and feels great it will not have structural integrity nor stand the torment of a sunburnt nature. What we hate in one person also has its benefit and that benefit is usually what we are attracted to in another. Little do we realise that there is a balance in each, that what we are attracted to in one person has its exact opposite within them and what we hate in another person has its exact opposite in them. Hence by hating one we can only half love another.
Nature as a Reconnecter
Focusing on ‘‘I’’ and therefore separation also leads people to feel less connected to nature. Heightened Objective Self-awareness (OSA) has been shown to increase a person’s self-focus as well as increasing the negative impact of individuals’ attitudes and personality characteristics. In other words when a person becomes separated from others through anger, fear or hate, they also become disenfranchised within themselves, separating their inner from their outer and when an individual is lacking a kinship with nature they would not only show a decreased connection to nature in response to stress, but would be more stressed because of that separation.
That human activity has harmed the natural world has been well documented. Deforestation, desertification of large areas of land and oceans, burgeoning landfills, reductions in biodiversity, and the ill effects associated with increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have all been linked to human action. Many reasons have been presented for why humans have engaged in this destructive behaviour. One perennial theme that has gained recent attention links these environmental problems to the way that modern individuals perceive their relationship to themselves and therefore, nature.
Problems arise when people view themselves as being separate and distinct from the world around them, or, stated differently, when the individual no longer feels a sense of ‘‘resonance’’ or connectedness to the natural world. This can be understood in evolutionary terms as when there is danger, or perceived danger, we shrink our focus to solve that problem. Hence, under stress many people grow the value of “I” and disconnect from nature. It is, in reality, the opposite of what would be the best resolution.
The problem with the modern conception of self “my soul, I’m right, My job, my life” is that we no longer view ourselves as a ‘‘plain and simple member’’ of the broader natural world. It’s like a snake eating its tail. The disconnection from nature drives us to seek “self” and the more that separates us from “plain and simple connectedness to nature” the more we seek self and the more separation we feel.
The seeking of the self has become incredibly overcomplicated and fashionable. Yoga, meditation and feel good brands have magnified even the more grounded practices of reconnecting to nature into “I” development. Solutions to misalignment of feelings become sophisticated and the individual no longer perceives themselves capable of sitting down under a tree and “sorting things out.” A therapist or job psychologist soon becomes involved often with a commercial need or ethical constraint.
Reconnecting through Nature
A sense of connectedness to nature is an important component of resolving both personal and environmental problems. Connectedness is not simply a love of nature, although it often leads to such a feeling; nor does it require an individual to subsume the natural world into a broader sense of personal identity, although this too may often happen. Instead, he or she focuses on a feeling of ‘‘resonance’’ to the natural world, and experiencing this sense of relatedness not as an organism that is somehow superior, but equal. In fact, inseparable.
The modern sense of individuality is that of a ‘‘bounded, coherent, stable, autonomous, ‘free’ entity’’ that is disconnected from its surroundings. We are encouraged to “be engaged” to “be productive” to “balance work life” and to value the superiority of humans to other life forms. This idea is well entrenched within our worldview particularly in the far east (China). Based on these arguments, then, I view this modern sense of self, which is object-like, separate from, and above the rest of the natural world, as problematic: this manifestation of the object self makes it easier for people to harm nature without feeling the distress that a sense of connectedness with nature would potentially create. But the issues are far more terrible than just the abuse of the environment.
Religions can encourage fundamentalism which, in essence is the complete separation of the individual from nature and a vast number of humans and animals justified by a humanised God figure.
We need to reverse this individualised concept of the self and the psychology of separation from nature. How do we do this?