What Is Buddhist Ecopsychology? 8 Correcting Our View of Nature __ Jonathan Barfield

Correcting Our
View of Nature
Jonathan Barfield | Ecopsychologist
▲ Illustration by Jeong Jin-ung
When I stop to feel the space around me, it seems quite improbable that I exist as a self in this tiny, finite body with walls of skin to separate me from the earth, the water, the air, and other things. The improbability increases as I expand my perception of space to include stars, galaxies, and the whole of the universe. In all of this space we would be quite lucky to occupy this little self amid the ocean of other beings and forms.
Likewise, when I stop to feel the time around me, it also seems quite improbable that I exist only in this brief and fleeting moment. Again, the improbability increases as I imagine all the time that has come before my birth and all the time that will come after my death. It seems I am impossibly lucky to attain this precious human life in this flickering moment of the entire life of the universe.
Perhaps something much different is happening here. Perhaps there is something more likely, something more reasonable. Perhaps there is something that we share ― something not bound by space and time, birth and death, and being and not being. Maybe there is something that doesn’t end with you or me, or even the rocks, trees, sun and moon. What is this Nature that runs through all things?
Looking closely, the Earth itself is embedded in this Nature, as is a fly. Some practitioners even say that a speck of dust is embedded in this Nature. Others even say these thoughts, images, and sensations are embedded in this Nature. This Nature is not something to be attained, and nor is it something that can exist in one thing and not another thing. Nature transcends things─it is a transpersonal phenomenon.
With even a limited knowledge of systems theory, it is theoretically obvious that the Earth is embedded in Nature. The Earth is part of a continuous system that we observe both through microscopes and telescopes. Though we perceive distinct forms, we can not make clean cuts. This is part of holding a correct view. However, theory is merely conceptual. Establishing this deep, experiential view of Nature is a different experience. The visceral understanding changes our feelings, our perceptions, our concepts, and even our sense of self. It deeply changes a fundamental quality in the way we relate. At first this may seem like a radical transformation, but it is really just the way the ordinary mind operates when corrected from its delusion.
We carry an illusion that life is not interdependent. We live with the delusion that a cup is a cup, paper is paper, and a car is a car, or rather, my car. As dharma practitioners, “Our practice is really correction ― to correct this illusion, or delusion.” i The task at hand is to correct nothing less than the deep delusion that this living Earth and our very own selves are separate and distinct objects. Through the correction of view, we experience Nature…Dharma…this interdependent movement.
As an ecologist in the youth of my studies, one day it occurred to me that this sense of separation between our selves and Nature will surely be the ruin of this precious Earth and these perfect conditions for thriving life. In the meantime, I thought, as the ecosystems begin to fail we will increase suffering along the way with such intensity that it will be as if the future generations live in an animal realm, or a hell realm ― tormented by a “fight or flight” existence from youth till death, or burning up in a fast-paced world with no chance to catch a moment of fresh, spacious air amidst the constant, grinding effort to establish and maintain oneself.
Perhaps it was a little extreme of a thought in my passionate days in college. I try to laugh a little more now. Yet, according to many scientists, the world is now beginning to spiral towards a difficult situation. Some even recognize that we are currently experiencing a mass extinction.ii
As an antidote for this condition of ecological depletion (that is, the human consumption of ecological niches), my instructors taught (often with deep emotion) that we needed new ethics and philosophies that respected the intrinsic value of Nature. This is ultimately true; however, I knew that practically this was not enough. Philosophies and ethics are often idealistic, superficial, and waver when confronted with the slightest conflicting addictions and attitudes. I knew there needed to be a fundamental shift in our very personal and habitual ways of experiencing our selves, this world, and navigating the complexities of our mind. This was my original draw to ecopsychology.
Ecopsychology touched the exact heart of the issue, however, even in the ecopsychology teachings, I could not find a systematic method for reuniting mind and Nature. I could only find the broad intention and the call for this union ― often presented through highly philosophical arguments that left my conceptual mind spinning. It was not until I had the great fortune of being introduced to Buddhist practice that I sensed a practical antidote to this deep, habitual separation from myself with Nature. Even Buddhist practices that seemed religious, metaphysical, or ones that used strange imaginary techniques (which I had initially developed aversions to), I have come to understand through a psychological lens as incredibly skillful means to sever the fixation of the self, and subsequently, to open up the ordinary, natural mind. Of course, it is not my intention to reduce the religious and metaphysical to the psychological, rather, I just began to experience a more expansive exploration of my own psychology…a transpersonal psychology.
Essentially, and in my limited understanding, I have learned that Buddhist practice is the practice of reducing self-fixation. As the hyper-individuation of the self is relaxed, the concept of “other” also fades away. Buddhism offers a corrective path for our minds and this world. Wherever we are on the path, the practice works. This is because when we turn our attention toward our very own mind, no matter which mind it is or at which time, no separate essence can be found between the movements of the content of mind and the one who is aware. No separate essence can be found between Nature and our own selves. We may constantly turn toward phenomena, but never can we find a lasting thing. All is flowing. This Nature is flowing. Understanding this through our practice, the pure heart of emptiness is bursting with compassion.

   Lama Tsultrim Allione, personal communication, September, 10th, 2012
ii   The theory of a current mass extinction is developed from data on biodiversity and habitat. We can measure habitat loss and infer loss of biodiversity.

To be continued
Jonathan A. Barfield received PhD from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. He is an
ecopsychologist and psychotherapist in the mountain and desert communities of the American Southwest. He works for a number of non-profits that facilitate therapeutic wilderness adventures. His research focus is on radical transformations of consciousness-exploring the experience of individuals who have found peace and freedom of mind amidst great conflict. He is a professional musician, organic gardener, and teaches meditation in small mountain towns. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 1 =