In The Overstory, this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece of fiction exploring the complex connection between people and trees, author Richard Powers refers to humankind as being “chosen by nature to know.”
If we are to believe James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, which posits nature as a single body of which we are a single part, it is only fitting that we would be the brain, the most obvious reason being that we are the most intelligent creatures on the planet. But there is another layer that makes this comparison even more apt: the mind loves to self-sabotage.
We knowingly pollute our bodies with substances that bring us closer to death. We overcommit in our daily lives and work ourselves to a point of exhaustion, damaging our overall health. We admit ourselves to experiences that we know will have a painful outcome. We are the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and yet we destroy our only own home.
Psychology Today recently published an article called “Coming to Terms with Ecoanxiety” in which the author asserts that “We emotionally disassociate from the suffering we inflict on the environment, meaning we separate psychic cluster of feelings related to global warming and create an amnesia barrier in order to alleviate mental distress. To disassociate is to split consciousness.” We cannot fathom the harm we our doing to nature—and by extension, ourselves—so we dissociate. We fracture.
Is it a coincidence then, the ascension of the health and wellness industry, at the same time that the climate crisis is coming to the forefront? More people are coming forward saying that they are experiencing emotional stress and anxiety due to climate change, at the same time that more people people are turning to therapy, meditation, and mindfulness practices to find peace. But anyone engaged in these practices knows the power that comes with reshaping our conscious awareness.
To reconcile cognitive dissonance, we must align our actions with our beliefs, and behave in a way that reflects our higher intelligence—which thankfully, it seems we are starting to do. From Amazon employees walking out of their jobs to demands for an “ecological democracy” to worldwide protests, the world is waking up to the understanding that we can no longer continue as we have been.
If the capacity for self-destruction is built into our psychology, then so too is the capacity for healing and regeneration, examples of which we see in every aspect of ecology. It might be human nature to break down, but it is also our nature to rebuild—once we set our mind to it.