Author: Dennis Kiley

They Systems They Are A Changing

Bob Dylan produced a song, ‘The Times, They Are a Changing” in 1964. The song and its lyrics spoke to the changing dynamics that were taking place in the 60’s. If you pay attention to the world around us currently, you will similarly notice that times are changing. These indicators are at once subtle and obvious, easy to identify and hard to grasp. Regardless of your beliefs, most would probably agree we’re living in a time of transition. Old norms are falling away, whether it’s Trump’s unconventional presidency, the rise of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, Standing Rock, or cryptocurrencies. In fact, the very systems and norms that have underpinned our society are experiencing tectonic shifts.

When we take a step back from all the upheaval, there is a lot of reason to be hopeful. Yes, the catalysts and results of change can be painful. However, they also point to an underlying yearning to improve how we’re functioning. The rising up on all ends of the continuum is a dissatisfaction with patterns that have been in place for many decades. There is an opportunity here.

People are making their voices known that they want better. They demand new systems that meet the times we live in, that meet the needs people have for respect, equality, and authenticity. Most simply, we require a new story. There is a resistance to the top-down hierarchical models that have been entrenched since the founding of this country.

In this highly decentralized time, there is a lot of floundering. It’s important that we look around for models that speak to the interactive and interdependent nature of the world. We need a more systemic way of seeing things, ways of self-organizing and engaging that are more holistic. This is very different from the mechanized approaches we’ve been using since the Industrial Revolution.

Nature and its principles provide examples of systems that apply to these times. These models have stood the test of time; for all the degradation our planet has encountered, it continues to be resilient, sustainable, efficient and innovative. These are the very things our society needs. The EcoPsychology Initiative has developed 10 Principles that are inspired by natural ecosystems that are powerfully effective when applied to humans. Applying these principles to how we organize and engage will yield the very growth, leadership, healing and impact that we’re wanting for ourselves and the world.

One of these 10 Principles is Adaptation. Psychologically using nature’s principles to solve problems and realize potential-called biomimicry-will enable us as individuals, organizations and communities to adapt to the changing circumstances we face. This will be empowering, and provide the needs that are times are requiring.

Biomimicry is both a science and art. A peacock’s wings, a nautilus shell or the ability of a bird to fly is inspiring. These examples illustrate nature’s ability to very pragmatically evolve to meet its needs while also producing something beautiful. We need both of these in our human world; thriving human societies require art and beauty, and as well as purpose and value. We need systems in the world that enrich and solve problems. We believe that ecopsychology and adopting nature’s principles provides just this model to continually adapt to our changing needs.

“The times they are a changing”. Indeed, they are. A new story is being written as we speak by billions of people around the world rising up. As old systems and stories fall away, we are hopeful for a new narrative. We don’t know how this will look, but we do believe an ecopsychological lens is the greatest opportunity to adapt to these changing times and get what we want, for ourselves and the world.

Engagement and Social Media

Marketing and using social media are not our strengths at the EcoPsychology Initiative (EPI). It is challenging to navigate the ever-changing digital world; however, we recognize these platforms are essential for connecting with our community. You will not likely hear us say this often, but we fully support Facebook’s new algorithm. We are excited that social media sites are emphasizing engagement.

Increasing engagement is a real need for people and our society; it is also a path and result of ecopsychology. Ecopsychology fundamentally is about exploring our connections: with ourselves, others, the planet we’re a part of. It involves looking at how we interact with the world.

We believe that using nature’s principles and systems is essential for producing the engagement we want. The EcoPsychology Initiative’s 10 Principles can produce remarkable growth, healing, impact and leadership.

The timing for this is ripe. Look around and people are rising up and engaging the world. Whether it’s social campaigns, politics, environmental activism, people are getting involved. This is wonderful. We think this arises from both a deeper yearning and (both and) a deep dissatisfaction with how our society is currently engaging. People are no longer willing to accept inequality, objectification, and disrespect. They want something more than social media. The wonderful music video Scare Away the Dark speaks to this. Many of the struggles we are facing are a reflection of how we are engaging with the world. This applies on a collective scale, but also individually-the rise of anxiety, depression, substance usage, etc-speak to a struggle we have with engagement.

Though the ways people are expressing their dissatisfaction isn’t always productive or healthy, it speaks to a deeper need that we have.  A deeper engagement is a core need that people have. This is about finding value and purpose, to not accept less than a full and thriving life. We want to live in societies that relate in positive ways; we want to have lives that are fully engaged; we want to be engaged in our communities and relationships; we yearn for a sustainable relationship with the planet. This brings about a substance and meaning that everyone deeply wants.

So much of the unhappiness in the world arises because we haven’t found the engagement that we want and promise. As lovely a tool as Facebook is, we’re misguided and therefore disappointed when we think that this is sufficient engagement. How else do we engage: we spend lots of time with screens, in boxes, surrounded by artificial noise. This is the absence of real engagement and connection. No wonder people feel unfulfilled.  Real engagement is interactive and dynamic. It’s talking with friends and strangers alike, it’s getting out in the natural world breathing fresh air, touching the earth, feeling the water.

Ecopsychology, we believe holds the key. It offers a path forward and solution: connecting with the natural world, both literally but also symbolically. It’s about using nature’s principles, systems and processes to guide our engagement moving forward. A new way of engaging is also the outcome: we’re relating to other people, ourselves and the world in more meaningful ways. It’s tolerant and respectful, there’s abundance and prosperity, growth and healing, impact and leadership. This is the very type of engagement that people are wanting. It’s the very thing we hope the EcoPsychology Initiative can provide.


For all the incredible gifts of the English language, it also possesses real limitations.

It might be because of this that we often rely on poetry often to experiences like love, heartbreak, a baby’s smile, and morning sunshine on dewdrops. Our language and culture, unfortunately, lack words for some of the most profound experiences.

For example, what word would you use to describe the force that propels a mushroom out of the ground?  The Potawatomi Nation-a Native American tribe of the Great Plains, upper Mississippi River and Western Great Lakes region-do have a word for this: “Puhpowee”. It speaks to the “unseen energies that animate everything”.

In our western culture, our lack of words, our wonder and awe, are better testaments to the mysterious and magical of the natural world. Indigenous cultures are better able to capture and speak about many things, like the life force that leads a plant to flower, an acorn to become a tree, or the wisdom that enables salmon and birds to migrate thousands of miles and still return home.

The natural world has been thriving for thousands of years. It continually grows, heals, and innovates into more effective versions of itself. Organism and ecosystems are resilient, sustainable, and efficient. Are these not the very things we want for our society as well?

At the EcoPsychology Initiative, we believe that ‘Puhpowee’ is what enables this to happen. Imagine the possibilities if we were to align with this energy: businesses and organizations would be successful and impactful, communities healthy and vibrant, individuals thriving. This is what ecopsychology is capable of. We must tune into the wisdom of the natural world.

At its essence, ‘Puhpowee’ is what ecopsychology is all about. This word speaks to a power, intelligence, and flourishing that we’re all wanting, and occurs naturally in the world around us. We think the most ‘woke’ and transformative people and organizations are those who have aligned with ‘Puhpowee’. We can be our best selves-as individuals, communities, and society-if we align with the natural energy of the world that enlivens and animates. At the EcoPsychology Initiative, we want to empower all peoples, institutions, and businesses to live according to this life force.

We are grateful to the many peoples who are contributing to the field of ecopsychology. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a prime example. Her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants” is an inspiring book that speaks to some of the lessons we can gather from First Nations people. Kimmerer-a mother, scientist, professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation-intersects the scientific and indigenous, applying her experiences to enthrall the reader with possibilities for applying the lessons of nature to our life. Her sharing of her culture and wisdom-including language like ‘Puhpowee’-is a great contribution to ecopsychology.

The culture we live in is like a great ecosystem, comprised of many diverse peoples, cultures, histories and traditions. We are very lucky that Native American culture is a part of this. We have a great deal to learn from Indigenous Peoples. Immense opportunities for cultural healing and growth can occur if we both address the atrocities committed to Indigenous tribes in the past, and also draw inspiration from their values and ways of engaging the world. To be clear, we are not advocating for cultural appropriation but rather learning, respect and leadership from First Nations people.

Though not the same, there are similarities between ecopsychology and Indigenous culture. Native American tribes have been naturally epitomizing ecopsychology since before our country was even an idea. Their culture is one of respect, harmony and relationship with the natural world. They learn from the ecology around them and use its practical and symbolic lessons to live better. This is also the mission of ecopsychology. At a time when Indigenous people and tribes are asserting themselves, we offer our support and our gratitude.

How do we want to live?

What’s Important

Few of us like thinking about death. If anything, it might be the most avoided subject out there. This is unfortunate considering how pertinent it is. Billions of dollars are spent annually in hospitals and untold pain endured for patients and families because end of life wishes aren’t communicated. Furthermore, many spiritual and psychologies posit that, on the deepest level, fear of death causes most of our needless suffering.

Untold quantities of money and emotional suffering could be avoided by looking at death. Furthermore, we might learn how to live better..  The country Bhutan not only measures GDP but also its Gross Domestic Happiness Index. As part of promoting well-being it encourages citizens to think about death daily. Instead of avoiding looking at death, facing it puts much into perspective.

It isn’t just a country in the Himalayas that takes this approach. Frank Ostaseski, Buddhist teacher, lecturer and founder of Zen Hospice Project, has a wonderful article where he talks about how much we can learn from death.  Additionally, Atul Gawande-researcher, American surgeon and author-says it’s important we face death to inform what choices we make in our life.  In an interview with Krista Tippett on “On Being”, Gawande discusses how the heathcare industry’s emphasis on preventing death and keeping people alive has come at the expense of the quality of life.  He suggests that when we acknowledge limitations and the realities of our own mortality, we get clarity about what is important to us. This empowers us to live according to what we value and want.

To learn more how a satisfying life = time spent outdoors
Hopefully, most of us aren’t terminally ill and have a long life ahead of us. This shouldn’t preclude us from facing our limitations-death, time, resources, etc-to have more perspective on what is important to us. We think most of you want to be healthy and happy, living in vibrant communities and have meaningful relationships. Having a peaceful mind, less stress, more joy and love are probably more important than how many Facebook friends you have or whether you have the newest iPhone. If this is the case, then we are here to say: GET OUTSIDE!

There is increasing research coming from various scientific fields that attest to the psychological and physiological benefits of being in nature. Here are just a few highlights of what the studies have found about the impacts of nature: reduced stress, anxiety and depression, while also heightening innovation, attention, connection, emotional mood and mental well-being.

If we know time is short and we can’t do and have it all, and we’re clear that quality is more important than quantity in life, then spending more time outside should be obvious. Though many of us think we do this, it’s important to note the average person spends 93% of their life inside. Even if you’re above the average, you likely spend less time outside than you think. If you question this, do an experiment and keep track for a week.

We can’t spend too much time outdoors. The benefits are real and significant. That said, life doesn’t just stop so we can do this. We must make it a priority and reflect on what we’re willing to sacrifice. If this seems difficult, come back to death. Ask yourself, if I had six months to live what is most important to me, how do I want to spend my time. Instead of feeling morbid, we believe you’ll be inspired to live better. At the EcoPsychology Initiative, that’s what we’re all about.

Budding and Resilience

While many experienced the beauty of snowfall during the holidays, parts of New Hampshire where I was visiting my wife’s family encountered ice. I was struck by sights of tree buds covered in ice as we walked our dog Sutro in the woods. These buds, closed since the early onsets of cold, waited patiently for the right conditions to open. They clearly knew late December wasn’t that right time. The buds remained resilient and ready for circumstances to change.

As we venture into 2018, I’m interested in the balance between resilience and budding.

Is one needed more than the other? 

The circumstances facing our world today make this question pertinent. It might feel like we’re living in a dark time, given the social and economic inequalities, political rancor, and climate change we face. Such a perspective seems to ask us to be resilient like the buds of trees in the winter, waiting until conditions improve.

But also, it’s precisely because of the immense adversity and challenges we face that there may not be a better time than now to step forth and open up. Now more than ever we need to inspire people to be their biggest and best selves, to make this the world we want to live in.

We believe it’s time to be both resilient and rising up. 

The EcoPsychology Initiative is very interested in pertinent topics of resilience, leadership, healing and change. We aim to psychologically use nature to help individuals, organizations and communities realized success in these areas, solve problems and realize potential.

The belief that people can take care of themselves and adapt to circumstances while still being engaged and impactful is part of EPI’s 10 Principles.

It is our “Both And” principle and is at the root of our mission to promote doing good and doing well, benefiting ourselves and the people/planet around us.

Being mindful of our thinking in addition to the actions we do and don’t participate in is the key to success.

We encourage people to adopt a “both and” perspective instead of either-or, this or that, black or white thinking. Just as competition and cooperation exist in the natural world, so too can contradiction and paradox occur in our lives. Rather than thinking of this as a limitation, we believe it can be a strength.

Practice being compassionate and taking a stand for what you think is right, being engaged in your community and still taking care of yourself, willing to be flexible and also grounded in your truth, tending your emotional safety without giving into fear.

Unlike the tree blossoms, we believe that everyone has a chance to thrive even during cold, dark and harsh conditions. Not only can we do this, we think the world needs us to do this. It starts by freeing our mind, moving past limitations of black and white thinking and towards a new possibility.


At A Climate To Thrive’s recent Summit-in which Dennis presented on climate psychology-keynote speaker Josh Castonguay from Green Mountain Power spoke about the future of energy. His inspiring talk discussed current advances of alternative energy, electrification, and the changing ways we produce and deliver energy. In particular, Josh spoke a lot about distributed energy. The notion of this is that instead of having one centralized model of power creation and transmission (everything flowing from one primary source-think an inverted pyramid), we have a series of microgrids (power emerging and dispersing from many sources-think of a spider web). This system yields more independence, efficiency and resilience. Our traditional model of relying on a central source from which all power stems means that when power is lost, everyone suffers even if your area wasn’t affected (ie, if the tip of the pyramid falls. everything else falls as well).

In short, the idea of distributed energy is really about decentralization. This is one of the 10 Principles of the EcoPsychology Initiative (EPI). Whether it’s leadership (top-down), energy (centralized), or our food system (most of our food comes from a few locations), our culture has been very consolidated.  This has had its benefits, but has also yielded many of the power structures we need to change. And yet, things are changing and it’s not just about how we create and distribute energy. The roots of the internet are inherently about decentralization. Recent articles about the future of super computers and bitcoin suggest this trend is only continuing.  Current knowledge maintains that effective leadership involves empowering employees on all levels of an organization and not just the top; the rise of the local feed movement speaks to a yearning for a different model of food production. Decentralization for individuals involves listening to and acting on the intelligence of our hearts and intuition.

At EPI, we aim to offer programming that empowers all people and parts of ourselves. The very changes we need and want in society will come from the engagement of the masses and not a select few. We hope to do our part to offer strength, support and resilience as our part of being on the web.