Our entire evolutionary span is a result of our ability to work with and within natural systems and patterns. Until recently, humans have necessarily fostered an intimate relationship with other forms of life. So what happens to us as human beings when we remove an essential part of our relationship with existence? What happens to our ability to cope when we break away from nature?
Psychically, the human/nature relationship started to crack when Judeo-Christian stories overtook pagan creation myths. Instead of being created from nature, humans came to believe they alone were created in the image of God. This gave them the freedom to exploit nature without recognizing its value beyond human use. Nothing on Earth but humanity was sacred.
But, back then, humans still lived within nature, still tended the soil. The physical break is happening now as populations become more urbanized and rural communities continue to become obsolete. Now nature is something that is out there, something to go and see – a family vacation destination. Can our brains really handle this?
Another trend is happening, simultaneously: The worldwide rise of anxiety, despair, self-harm and general malaise. Children as young as three are diagnosed with depression. Could this have something to do with the loss of nature in our lives?
Ecopsychology is an expanding area of therapy where nature and a healthy mind are inseparable. Three years ago, Vivienne Grace was living in Vancouver when she found herself overwhelmed by the tragedies she saw happening in the world, and it was taking a toll on her mental health. But she found a new perspective on life when she started to reconnect to the seasons, to lunar cycles, to food systems.
She no longer shoulders the weight of the world's problems. "The world will be fine on its own," she said, "it's our own lives that we need to get back into balance." For Grace, balance means nurturing a spirituality that comes from honing a relationship with nature. For her, you can't have one without the other. "Nature is spirituality," she said.
Spirituality cannot be gleaned from countless hours in front of the TV and computer. A life spent indoors cannot create a completely healthy person. The World Health Organization predicts that mental illness will be the leading cause of death and disability by 2020, second only to heart disease. The world and all of its occupants need to heal.
The breakdown of our mental health is partly because of selective ingratitude. We are happy to gain material things while we ignore the fact that they are made from natural resources. And it's ignorant to continue blindly devouring the planet's systems without expecting consequences.
The world is not here because of us, we are here because of it. Life won't end if humanity does. But we have the capacity to thrive for a long time if we can respect the role nature plays in keeping our minds and bodies wholesome.