Psychology deals with interactions as they are meaningly felt from the inside, whereas scientific ecology has traditionally dealt with external events. If we give our relationship to nature psychological status, then we may study the inner sense of our interactions with, and participation to, the natural world. Part of my strategy toward this goal is to build up in the reader an experiential sense for the interactive or dialogical nature of reality. For having a sense for how all phenomena mirror each other, intertwine, and arise only in contact with one another, radically undoes our more usual dualistic, isolated-in-the-head, feel for the world.
Perhaps what is most radical about an experiential approach is that it gives authority to our experience, all the more so we learn to listen to and focus it. As discussed above, social movements do not always attend well to what people are experiencing, and it is not uncommon to hear of activist organizations that are themselves oppresively run. An experiential approach to politics makes the open sharing of experience and the active supporting of personal healing central to its agenda. At a time when many of us are struggling just to make it through the day, such an approach may have much to contribute the kind of problems identified above. Experiential approaches avoid being dogmatic about what people must or ought to do.
They do, however, maintain that our bodily experience of the world implies certain social changes, and encourage us to take actions that move in the direction of those changes. It concentrates as much, though, on taking life-forwarding steps that emerge from making honest contact with presently felt reality. To the extent that it adopts this kind of approach, ecopsychology may avoid fitting itself into ready-made forms, and seek new ones instead. More generally, by acknowledging the uniqueness or particularity of people’s life situations, an experiential approach allows for a high degree of flexibility and a wide variety of options. It may, then, help us to live radical lives in whatever ways make sense from within the context of our own life experience and interests.
Here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that Jon Kabat-Zinn, an accomplished scientist, meditation instructor, and teacher who has dedicated his life to bringing mindfulness to the mainstream of medicine and society, often uses to illustrate the inner strife and turmoil that the mind goes through:
Me from Myself—to banish—
Had I Art –
Impregnable my Fortress
Unto All Heart –
But since Myself — assault Me –
How have I peace
Except by subjugating
And since We’re mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication –
Me — of Me?
In one talk he followed up this poem with these questions:
If you just instantaneously scan back over your life with huge open-heartedness and compassion, do any moments come to mind where you abdicated something deep within yourself?
Are there any times during your day that you feel fragmented, wanting this and that?
Fearing this or that? And getting caught on the horns of a dualism, a dilemma?