"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, December 13, 2021

Nature Is Overrated–Far Overrated Actually, And Hardly Worth The Effort

The Ecotherapy Movement, a sidebar to environmentalism, a reversion to the idealism of Thoreau and the 19th century Romantics, a nod to wholistic health, and an appeal to a higher spiritual order, one which recognizes the mystical nature of the Earth, has taken hold In America, especially among the young. 

Image result for images gaia movement

“Ecotherapy” refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth…Ecopsychology, the study of our psychological relations with the rest of nature, provides a solid theoretical, cultural, and critical foundation for eco-therapeutic practice.This perspective reveals the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact deeply shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the currently dysfunctional and even lethal human-nature relationship.

A return to nature  is the perfect solution to the urban angst affecting the world, ecotherapists say. It is organic, pure, and inspirational.  An old-growth forest of 2000 year-old redwoods is as close as one can get to the Garden of Eden. Southern swamps are primeval and spiritually fundamental. Midwestern prairies simulate the inspirational wilderness of the Holy Land.

In marketing terms, the movement has found a vacant consumer niche; created a strong brand image which signifies commitment, idealism, and purpose; and developed a sales strategy which includes products, services, and technical support. The commercial opportunities are endless. In addition to the hundreds of ‘clinics’ which are springing up around the country, books, skincare products, and ecological gifts are big revenue-producers.

A young follower of Ecotherapy from San Francisco left the city to live in Mendocino County, was trained in Ecotherapy, and was working as a therapist at a local Nature Wellness Center. She was enthusiastic and committed, and although she made less than the minimum wage, she felt that the rewards of her mission were enough.  

Her trajectory from San Francisco office worker to ecotherapist was familiar. She had moved to California from Chicago to escape the winters and the prairie, and soon became an enthusiastic biker.  She spent as much time as possible on the beach or in the mountains.

She quickly became active in the Environmental Movement, contributing and then volunteering in campaigns to protect the redwoods, estuaries, sea lions, and the deserts.  Perhaps because of her traditional religious upbringing which she never fully dismissed, she subscribed to the spiritual side of the Movement.  She became a Gaian, and her secular purpose (advocacy, political activism, and demonstrations) was strengthened by devotional energy.   

When she first heard of Ecotherapy, she knew it was for her.  She was particularly taken with the ideas of a particularly well-known advocate who said:

I am a flower person, a water nymph, a sprite, and a butterfly. I caress and embrace trees.  I taste the waters of springs and brooks. I smell the perfumed scent of meadows and forests. I was once reticent – ashamed in fact – about my desire to express my feeling of intimacy with the natural world; but Ecotherapy changed my life.  Practicing the profession has allowed me to share my experience with others – to guide fellow travellers along the path which for so long was hidden from me. I have become one with nature.

Not only did the Movement extend its reach and influence through canny publicity and media use, but through the evangelism of  its growing staff of engaged and committed therapists. They set the style and tone, and were so convincing in their appeal to both environmentalism and spiritual evolution that the clientele grew by leaps and bounds.

“Nonsense”, said Harold Ickes, an urbanist, urban historian, and champion of cities. If he needed environmental therapy it was urban diversity. The bazaars of Calcutta, the markets of Old Delhi, the outer-ring neighborhoods of Paris, the New York City High Line was enough renewal for him. The air of the congested city was just fine. Trees were a distraction. He preferred the East River to the Yellowstone.  Brooklyn to Montana. Skyscrapers to cabins. Bars to campfires.

Image result for images indian markets

Cities at the greatest risk from the effects of a warmer climate and in particular those with extensive coastal zones are rethinking the urban landscape to include Venetian-style canals and waterways, extensive wetlands, new high-water architecture, and radically new traffic patterns.  These cities will not only continue to be livable, they will be excitingly so.

Image result for images nyc with venetian canals and wetlands climate change

Cities have always been the centers of art, commerce, industry, and learning.  They are the crucibles for innovation and creativity, the nexus of culture, language and philosophy.  They are kaleidoscopic, visually and intellectually stimulating, offering the best and the most.  They are arenas for competition and winnowers of the weak. Only the best can compete and win.

They are infinitely diverse.  There is no status quo.  No received wisdom on the street.  There is in- and out-migration.  Neighborhoods change, character and personality vary, time is calculated in month not years. 

Yet, despite the attraction of cities, the lure of the countryside persists; and without it environmentalism would be a lost cause.  Trees can never be just lumber.  They must have meaning.  

The movie Avatar tapped into this New Age belief in the oneness of nature – all trees on Pandora were psychically linked.  What happened to one happened to all.  All living things were part of the same spiritual ecosystem.  

So it is with advocates for environmental protection.  Preserving and protecting the wild is more than just economics – oxygen, land stability, bio-diversity – but something ethereal. The destruction of the rainforest not only affects the atmosphere and the survival of unknown species of medical value but it is psychically wrong.  The Amazon is transcendent.  A Holy Land.  A spiritual home which must not be destroyed.

“Nonsense”, repeated Harold Ickes who saw the jungle as one massive, undifferentiated, common, native place of no particular relevance.  Hours spent on the African veldt waiting for lions held no interest.  Virtual reality had long replaced the ‘real thing’, and it could be fast forwarded, clipped and edited for personal preference – chase scenes, slaughter, and graceful loping.  

While the city demanded analysis, and unsettling probing of ideas and behavior, ‘nature’ did no such thing.  If one feels insignificant in so vast a creation and turns to God, it is not ‘nature’ which has done this but one’s own desperation and inability to see through clutter. 

To be honest, Harold loved the cafes, the bars, and the street life of cities best of all.  He could choose his venue and pick a neighborhood on how he felt that morning, elegant, sophisticated, or ragged and ethnic.  On the river or sea or downtown. In a courtyard or a park.  Looking up or looking out and over. 

Of course cities have their down sides – delays, traffic, incivility, disorientation – but these are only temporary, minor inconveniences – like nature’s bugs and mosquitoes – to be put up with.  There are idylls but no ideals.

Ickes was expectedly harassed for his views.  He was called a climate denier, anti-spiritualist, gross capitalist, and politically ignorant – water off a duck’s back as far as he was concerned.  He knew what he knew he thought as he took his table at the Plaza.

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