Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
– Rachel Carson
What Is Ecopsychology?
Ecopsychology bridges the gap between ecology and psychology, between humanity and the earth. It appreciates that human needs and the needs of the planet are interrelated and interdependent. Ecopsychology integrates psychological and ecological principles and processes synergistically, enhancing relationships between humans and the non-human world. There is a focus on the interconnectedness of life.
Ecopsychology is about psychologists using wilderness therapeutically- finding healing in Nature. The healing qualities of Nature are not, however, to be taken for granted. Nature is not necessarily comfortable or welcoming. It is for the Ecopsychologist to acquire an understanding and insight into ecological processes, and an understanding of the transpersonal, the spiritual aspects of wilderness, and to integrate this understanding in providing participants with a meaningful, healing interaction with nature. This understanding of ecological processes enables the therapist to find symbols and metaphors in wilderness that are relevant to his client’s personality and circumstances. Benefits of this experience are dependent on the psychologist then facilitating healing through the sensitive integration of ecology and psychology.
Consciousness and altering consciousness in a natural way, is emphasised on an EcopsychologyAfrica retreat – wilderness entered in a respectful way aids in altering consciousness, allowing new insights into awareness. When consciousness alters, brain waves change, information is processed differently, new insights about oneself and the issues one is dealing with are gained. Training provided in meditation facilitates and enhances this process. Wilderness is used on the Ecopsychology retreats as a metaphor for an internal journey. The goal is to utilise wilderness as a medium to integrate body, mind and soul in a therapeutic way.
EcopsychologyAfrica retreats, by their very nature, are rustic. They are “down to earth,” unprocessed experiences for participants. An ‘unprocessed’ experience though, just like food that is ‘unprocessed’ is healthy and provides food for thought (and thought for food!) long after the retreat has ended. It takes time to digest, integrate and absorb the ‘varied nutrition’ obtained while on a retreat. It can indeed be a significant wake up call, a call to health. There is however, always room to process and discuss emerging issues and experiences while on retreat- with the group or with a facilitator. It becomes an adventure in discovering oneself.
EcopsychologyAfrica retreats are ‘down-to-earth experiences’ allowing participants to ‘root’ themselves and connect to ‘Mother Earth.’ The retreats are about meaningful personal transformational experiences – technology and material comforts are limited and participants have a rustic experience. Participants get in touch with Wilderness and become aware of their significance (or lack thereof!) in the world. The interconnectedness of life becomes apparent- all living organisms are connected- people too are a part of nature- not apart from nature. The word ‘nature’ comes from the Latin word ‘natus,’ which means ‘to be born.’ Some participants may indeed experience a ‘rebirth.’ The words of Dr Ian Player, a prominent South African conservationist, have been particularly inspiring:
“Everything I have achieved in my own life, I owe to the wilderness experience. I have seen countless other lives moulded and changed by encounters with wilderness; in most cases, only a few days in the wilderness has been enough to change a life of despair to a life of hope.”
Socially, wilderness is a great leveller: regardless of one’s status in society, participants relate to their common humanity. People in the bush, out of their comfort zone, and perhaps feeling quite vulnerable, tend to ‘open up’ more easily to others, and a spontaneous sharing of experiences occurs, be they personal or experiential.
Local communities are incorporated in the process to expand and enhance the experience. Traditional rituals (traditional healers/shamans, drumming, traditional dancing, storytelling) all play a part in the experience. Two community projects have been initiated because of these retreats.
“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.”
– George Kimble.
Wilderness therapy trails are complex- so much happens- it’s the integration of many variables that lead to healing. The trails have a deep intent, yet there is adventure, and a sense of being in the moment, and living life to the full. Humour also plays a part – spontaneous, and group specific – often leading to cathartic outbursts of laughter and a release of tension. These retreats, by their very nature, are ‘mindful’ experiences.
Retreats take place in Wild places: off the tourist map. Participants are expected to be participants! in an unfolding adventure into wilderness and psyche. This is a rich, multi-layered experience incorporating body, mind and soul. A spirit of openminded receptiveness will lead to a rewarding, personally enriching experience.
Wilderness creates the context in which people can engage in a transformative process. By synthesising psychological and ecological principles, we assist participants in this quest.