Teamwork

“We a team!”, Gwinna exclaims. My 2-year-old daughter loves when I talk about who is on our ‘team’. It always varies depending on who is around, but today it’s Momma, Dada, Dobo (our dog) and Gwinna. When her grandparents were visiting, the team expanded to include Gamma and Papa. And later when my mother comes over, Nana will be absorbed into our team.

As my daughter embraces the concept of team, I’m reminded of my own love of teams. Especially sports teams. Despite being a sports lover from youth through college, I’ve distanced myself from owning this part of myself in recent years. The more I became a professional and ventured into psychology, ecology, spirituality, and conscious living, I hid my love of sports. Both to myself and others. Amongst other reasons, this might reflect my ambivalence about jock culture or the shadows of sports these days-from children being pushed to participate through the exploitation of college students for billions of dollars to the ways that professional athletes are criticized for commenting on social issues. Nonetheless, I cannot deny my love of sports.

I try to make time to play occasional tennis and rugby and find that I am better able to follow the headlines and my favorite teams this way. There is something about rooting for my favorite teams-Detroit and Michigan teams for those who’re interested-that brings up a very primal and innate part of me. It’s the same part that loved playing any sport I could when I was younger. Yes, I loved competition, winning, challenging myself and the physical engagement of sports. Just as importantly, however, I think I loved being a part of a team.

Team sports enable a shared participation in an activity to achieve a common goal. This is a powerful experience. There is something beautiful in this that speaks to what people need and what our culture is lacking. I love how sports can bring different people together-race, gender, beliefs, etc. Whether you’re playing or cheering on a team, for a moment it doesn’t matter if you like Trump or are a tree hugger. You’re aligned in something that feels bigger and larger.

When playing sports, you’re willing to contribute in whatever ways you can, to sacrifice and struggle, along with your fellow comrades towards a shared purpose. This type of unity seems increasingly rare in the world-from communities to workplaces. There are such competition and divisiveness in our culture that we continue to isolate ourselves. If you specify your community that tightly, you’ll never find the very belonging you seek.

And yet so many people do this. Our society is focused on defining ourselves: us vs them, good vs bad, right vs wrong. In the process of doing this, we are limiting, isolating and disconnecting ourselves from others. Instead of connection, we’re left with the bitter tastes of judgment and upset. Teamwork-bringing people together-is the antidote to this and is the very thing we’re needing more of.

Being on a team, you’re not as worried whether your teammate goes to church or what he eats. You care that they have your back, that they’re willing to give all of themselves with effort and sacrifice. In the name of something bigger than any one person, you’re willing to give of yourself. The purpose is playing and working together; for this cause, you sacrifice your ego and agenda. How many other places does this happen in the world?

It’s for reasons like these and many others that Teamwork is one of the EcoPsychology Initiative’s 10 Principles.

In a time of great division, we need to remember the benefits of being a part of a team, of belonging to something larger than ourselves. What we have in common is so much more significant than what divides us: our humanity and planet are two notable examples, though there are many others. How much then does it really matter what religion you belong to, the color of your skin, or whom you choose to love? It shouldn’t matter that much. We are part of this great ecosystem that is the planet, and that is the most important team to be on and cheer for. It should take precedence over all other things.

I want to remind Gwinna of a few things, as she and I share our love of teams. Yes, she should root for the same teams I like. 🙂 More importantly, I want her to know that though her family is a team that will always love her more than anyone, she belongs to a team that is so much bigger.

Communication

If I listen, I can hear it. Though, I’m usually not quiet enough or paying sufficient attention.

But when I get into my senses, put away my technology and just be present I can definitely hear it. I can hear nature talking and communicating. This music is better than anything on my phone: the sound of the ice groaning as it expands, the ancient spruce trees creaking in the wind, the squirrel warning its neighbors that Sutro, my dog, is nearing, or the birds celebrating the arrival of warming temperatures. If we’re listening, we hear that the natural world is always talking. Communication, one of the EcoPsychology Initiative’s 10 Principles, is always happening and isn’t just limited to humans.

Information is power. Communication is the exchange of information; therefore, communication is power.

Considering how important communication is, it is remarkable that we are so poorly educated about how best to communicate. Few of us had classes on how to effectively share our thoughts and feelings in school, let alone learning how to really listen. For the few of you fortunate enough to have had such advanced schooling, I bet most of this was communication was using words. How much training did you get in nonverbal dialogue? And to think that over 50% of communication is nonverbal! We are unprepared. No wonder we are struggling.

You needn’t look around you very far or follow politics, religion and social issues, to realize that our world is deeply struggling with how to communicate. This is also present in families and personal relationships. It is the one of the biggest sources of suffering on all levels. Communication is foundational to all relationships and interactions. It can single-handedly determine whether a relationship is constructive, respectful and warm or distant, cold and unproductive. Often, it is the key difference between success and disappointment.

Communities, movements, and organizations are continually looking at how best to share their message. This is the key to any success you want to have. Success can be directly tied to the culture of communication and relationships. Ineffective communication in any human ecosystem will create endless problems. It may be hard to share our hopes, love and gratitude; but it is especially difficult to share our needs, disagreements or vulnerabilities. Too often the message is ineffective, filled with judgment, shame, confusion or disregard of the other.

People must learn how to share their message of yes or no, yearnings or fears, solutions or goals. Knowing this is essential to improving organizational cultures and the fabric of our world.

The EcoPsychology Initiative is committed to improving the way our culture communicates. This entails helping how communities, institutions and people speak with each other. We want to empower our planet with effective ways to share our experiences, needs and truth. As part of this mission, we offer communication programming for groups, organizations and individuals. Look for some additional public programming on communication, including online opportunities we will be offering in the coming months. We are excited to share with you what we know about effective strategies and techniques for communicating. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn from the natural world.

Most simply, effective communication involves being quiet, focused and present. These are the very things you experience when you go outdoors, put down your phone and feel into your body and heart. You learn to listen. This is probably more important than any speaking ability. Though easier said than done, you can start by going outside and paying attention. Look and listen, feel and be present. Listen to water lapping, wind blowing, and animals communicating. Like a zen koan (find google link), when you understand what trees creaking and ice groaning means, then you will have the foundation for communicating with humans.

The Nature Of Who We Are

I was 16 when two formative experiences happened. The first was during my sophomore year of high school, when I was accepted into my school’s Peer Counseling program. The second was when my father gave me a tape of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh talking about eating an orange. Two bulbs of passion and interest lit up inside of me. Despite their apparent differences, I intuitively knew these two fields had much in common.

My subsequent forays into psychology and spirituality took me on very divergent paths, from starting a daily meditation practice and becoming a yoga teacher, to going to graduate school for counseling psychology and becoming a psychotherapist. These 20 plus years of study and experience confirmed what I knew at 16: psychology and spirituality have a great deal in common. While the traditions might be two different lights, they are both linked by the same current.

At their essence, I believe both spirituality and psychology are about interconnectedness. This is affirmed in the roots of each word. Psyche is Greek, originating from the word ‘psuche’. Spirit derives from Latin. Though separated by language and culture, they each share the same meaning: “breath, life force and consciousness”. Upon learning this in graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), the same light bulb from high school went off again.

On the deepest level, the etymology of these words speaks to who we are. We are a part of the great circle and ecosystem that is life, whether you call this the ‘big breath’, consciousness, or energy and life force. Despite differences in genetics, experiences, cultures and beliefs, we are all part of the great web that is this planet. We are each our own little ecosystem, comprised of relationships, and part of much larger threads of connections. This is our true nature, and it is likely for these reasons and others that, when asked what it meant to be awake, the Buddha held up a flower.

The avoidable sufferings of life (not the pure and unavoidable heartbreaks of things like loss or grief, but rather the self-inflicted pains of the ego) arise when I forget just how interconnected I am. My struggles are usually directly related to how connected I feel: to my mind, body, heart, and soul, as well as other people and the world around me. This aligns with spiritual traditions’ view of suffering as occurring when we are caught in the illusion of separateness, the I, me and my. Most simply, the more attached I am to my little world, the more I struggle and experience hardship. The solution to this, how best to live, is to remember our interconnectedness, our innate “inter-being” (to use a term from Thich Nhat Hanh, my first spiritual teacher at 16).

Our planet continually offers me mirrorings of these lessons from psychology and spirituality. Nature provides very real examples of our interconnection, offering embodied experiences and reminders of just how inseparate I am from all things. Additionally, in seeing the effects of something such as climate change, I see the undeniable manifestation of our individual and collective suffering. We have treated the planet as though it is apart from us, exploiting and disregarding its wellbeing for our own selfish pursuits. I believe returning back to nature, to treat all on this earth with the respect we would afford a family member, is how we move forward. Nature is invaluable for understanding our struggles as well as who we are and how best to live.

Psychology and spirituality, though grounded in real practices like therapy and meditation, can become very heady and abstract. I believe insight is invaluable but without embodiment and experience, a part of the actualization process is missing. We need something to link the two. Nature does this.

Taking walks in the woods with my family as a child, my father would talk about trees. He shared that to understand a tree you had to understand the whole forest, and vice versa. The same is true for each of us. To know who we really are, we must not only know our genetics, but also the experiences that shaped us. Whether you grew up hunting animals or hunting for green space, staying indoors all the time or staying outside until it was supper, we are a product of our experiences and environments. Positive and negative, they weave together to help comprise the fabric of what makes us… us.

I know the natural world was involved in many of my most pivotal experiences: the sunrise when my daughter was born, an osprey by the ocean when I got married, a long walk outside upon learning of my father’s sudden death, a stormy mountaintop in New Zealand, a kayaking accident, a chance encounter with a deer. Nature has profoundly shaped who I am, and I believe this is true for most people whether we realize it or not. The natural environment is a catalyst and backdrop for transformative life experiences that affect our psyche. Whether it was the chemical processing plant in our community or the open expanse of fields out our door, the climate we lived in, the parents who took us to the park or cautioned against nature’s danger, dirt and mess. We are all a product of these encounters and relationships. They shape not only how we are in relationship with other people and the planet, but the very lens for how we see ourselves and the world.

Tragically, many people think of themselves as separate. In our western world, this is all too prevalent. We are a society of rugged individualists, a culture formed by the mechanized technologies and mentalities of disconnection. This owes roots to many causes, but some I believe are the product of these early experiences with the natural world. Many people learned that nature is a place to fear, a resource to capitalize on, or something to overcome. All of this fosters an attitude of objectification and separation. No wonder then that we have treated the Earth so callously, exploiting and disregarding it for our pursuits of pleasure and material gain. Herein we see the roots of our individual and collective suffering: we have lost sight fundamentally of who we are. We come back to the core lessons of psychology and spirituality: the world is interconnected and we suffer when we forget this. We need an eco-centric view of life, not ego-centered.

When I have my moments of forgetting and losing my way (which I, like everyone, have) the solution is always to get outdoors. It is then that I remember and return to myself, to inter-being and inseparateness with myself and the world around me. I remember that my true nature is both part of the natural world, just as nature is a part of me.

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.

Puhpowee

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.