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.