Shamanism & ecopsychology? At first glance you might wonder what ecopsychology has in common with shamanism. It’s a fair question. Surely it belongs in a folder, on a dusty shelf, with the rest of psychology? Let’s take a deep dive into what ecopsychology is, how it offers a radical perspective for change, and, more importantly, why it’s a natural ally to shamanic practice.
What is ecopsychology?
Ecopsychology is a hybrid of ecological and psychological theory. Chiefly, what makes it unusual, and different to conventional psychology, is how it adopts a transpersonal (spiritual) approach. For example, ecopsychology recognises the reciprocal relationship between humans and the planet that they live on. It also focuses on a deceptively simple truth. Our health as a species is inseparable from the health of our environment. We’re inextricably part of a greater whole. As we destroy our own habitat, we’re simultaneously experiencing the emotional fallout of that destruction. Put bluntly, when we mess with nature, we’re inadvertently messing with our own heads (as you may have noticed).
It’s a paradox that, as a species, we’re more connected globally in terms of communication and commerce than ever before. Yet we remain profoundly disconnected from the natural world. Our survival depends on moving away from that separation, towards unity with the earth and each other. Ecopsychology looks for ways to do that. To deepen our capacity, to create a meaningful connection with the world that surrounds us. Going within, can, and often does, act as a catalyst for action. All change, by necessity, begins with ourselves.
The very origin of ecopsychology can be traced back to shamanism. Ecopsychologist John Davis, describes “Nature as self” recognising that we are indivisible from the natural world. To be truly effective, ecopsychology needs to go beyond merging the principles of ecology, science and psychology. It needs to embrace what already exists. Shamanic practice. A tradition that has endured across cultures for millennia. Sustainable climate solutions desperately depend upon this insight.
It’s no coincidence that there has been a global explosion of interest in indigenous traditions. More and more of us are recognising the urgency to heal the planet. That can’t happen without profound personal transformation and a collective energetic shift. Embracing shamanic practice as a practical model of transformation poses an important question. As nonnative practitioners, how do we learn from earth honouring, ancient wisdom traditions without commodifying, abusing or disrespecting them?
Shamanism as a Successful Model
Native American ecopsychologist Leslie Gray answers that “It would be redundant for ecopsychology to generate models of a sustainable future without learning from the way of life of the more than 300 million indigenous people living in the world today”. She suggests we need only look to shamanism to discover a successful model of applied ecopsychology.
But how do we respond to those who believe wisdom traditions are unscientific, woo woo, incompatible with orthodox science? Apela Colorado, PhD and founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network (WISN) has been doing incredible work, reframing indigenous wisdom as indigenous “science”. Of Oneida-Gaul ancestry, she works internationally to promote understanding, bringing Western scientists and Indigenous practitioners of traditional knowledge together. It’s a paradigm that requires an ideological shift for many, but one that may offer the key to our survival as a species in return.
Shamanism & Ecopsychology – Climate Action
Organisations such as World Wildlife Fund, activists like Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greta Thunberg, Greenpeace and Earth Justice, amongst others. All herald a powerful counter cultural force driven by lack of government action and corporate greed. Environmental sybils, they point towards our disconnection with nature. We may already have reached critical mass. Already be in the midst of an energetic transformation, one where our consciousness as a species is evolving. For many, the current state of the world is a sign of a Patchakuti. The great shaking up and breaking down of old systems and hierarchies prophesied by the Qero, Toltec and Hopi. We’re learning the hard way.
An Ancient Solution
For decades ecopsychology has explored our relationship with the earth. It emphasises that to be healthy and happy, we need to be in balance. To be in right relationship with the land. That requires reciprocity between us and the ecosystem that we live in. If you’ve been immersed in Shamanism for years, that sounds kind of obvious.
Most importantly, the growing interest in shamanism reveals a painful truth, that the dominant culture in the West has stripped us of our spiritual connection to the earth. We’ve become alienated from our indigenosity. Our ancestral connections to the environment have all but been eradicated. When we decimate the environment, we destroy ourselves creating sterile urban landscape divorced from nature, one that devalues the natural world. Is there a way to reconnect?
A Collective Memory
Moreover, in unbroken traditions there may remain a collective memory, what renegade biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, controversially refers to as a morphic resonance, an inherent memory shaped by the influences of previous generations. For many indigenous peoples, that memory still exists in practices that have been passed down orally, remaining active today. Is there a distant, collective ancestral memory, transmitting fractals of that larger energy field to us? Are we being called back to our indigenous nature, to reconnect with the earth?
Consequently, if we are looking for a practical blueprint for change, Shamanism, the most ancient form of healing on the planet, offers an ancient solution to our contemporary crisis. A shamanic worldview embraces the sacred power of plants, honours natural cycles, practices gratitude, acknowledges the alchemy of ceremony and fosters a deep, direct relationship with nature. When it takes something, it gives something back without exploitation. It’s sustainable and universal.
Seven generations to come
Shamanic practice recognises that the connection needed for healing to take place goes beyond the individual. It acknowledges the responsibility to connect: with each other, with spirit and, ultimately, with the cosmos. We cannot separate ourselves from our environment.
Additionally, it respects the symbiosis between the earth, the universe and the spirit world. Also, the principles of shamanism provide a sustainable framework for policies and systems. Importantly, it reminds us to contemplate and respect “the seven generations to come.” Could a collaboration between shamanism and ecopsychology provide a conduit to the lost origins of our past and a roadmap for our future?
Ecopsychology and shamanism are natural allies in this journey towards global healing. Indigenous wisdom traditions have been practicing reciprocity for centuries. Furthermore, their deeper connection with, and understanding of the earth recognises our innate interdependence and the necessity for respect. The growing interest in and devotion to the earth is a platform from which we can begin to nurture global healing. Together, ecopsychology and shamanism present a profound pathway of sustainable solutions.
Ecopsychology and Transpersonal Psychology John V. Davis and Jeanine M. Canty Accessed May 2022 from http://www.johnvdavis.com/Ecopsychology.html
Gray, L. (1995). “Shamanic counseling and ecopsychology”, in T. Roszak, M. Gomes & A. Kanner (eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp.172-182). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Want to discover more? this article was originally published in brilliant Indie Shaman Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about shamanic journeying, take a look at our free shamanism resources or check out our online shamanism courses page to discover more.