I've lived in eight different states in all four corners of the country. I've lived in big cities, small towns, and in tents in the woods. There have been places that I loved and places that I've hated. They are probably totally different than the places you love and hate. Why is that? I think of places like people: friends, enemies, and lovers. They have an energy that draws us or repels us based on our own energy. Sometimes we're meant to settle down with a place for the long run and sometimes it is just a brief but passionate affair.
In addition, I've always been curious about "sense of place". All places have a character all their own, but some places seem to have more character than others. Memphis, Tennessee for example has a deep complex "soul", like the rock and blues it produces, dark and gritty, self-destructive yet creatively fertile like the flood waters of the Mississippi, tainted with a darkness reminiscent of malaria and slavery, but beautiful it its own right. It gives me chills just to describe it. Los Alamos, New Mexico on the other hand with its crisp blue skies, pines, and clifftop views has a clean, bright, physically active, high-tech airiness combined with a creepy, powerful, defended, mysteriousness exhibited both by the National Laboratory and the cliff dwellings and kivas of Bandolier National Monument.
Studying such topics falls under the realm of ecopychology. I've been studying ecopsych since my undergrad days, but most people don't know what it means. That's understandable because ecopsychology can be kind of confusing. As the study of the intersection of psychology and ecology, the mind and the environment, it has two basic branches:
- how the environment affects our psyche
- and how our psyche affects the environment
How the environment affects our psyche includes topics like:
- the healing and consciousness altering effects of sacred places (my pet topic, what I'm writing my dissertation on!)
- wilderness therapy
- conventional talk therapy that takes place in public parks or greenspaces
- spending time in nature as a prescription for ailments like depression
- therapeutic landscapes
- incorporating plants, animals, water, nature photos into doctors offices and hospitals
- conventional talk therapy for "ecogrief" (problems dealing with environmental destruction)
How our psyche affects the environment includes topics like:
- looking at environmental destruction as a reflection of insanity
- what motivates people to make green choices?
- who/what makes for an effective activist?
- the ecological self, does one view themselves as part of or separate from nature?
- can we manipulate or capture the energy of place with specific kinds of architecture?
- do environments carry imprints of notable events (like massacres) that took place there?
- can self-development can solve environmental problems? (I'll argue that it can).
As you can see those lists have a lot to do with the natural environment. The natural environment seems to have particularly beneficial effects on our health. Scientists suspect that is because of our genetic and evolutionary heritage, and that is where most of the academic focus is. But I would apply the basic principles of ecopsychology to all environments. I maintain that we, as living, breathing, beings are are not solid and isolated physical entities, but more like focal points of energy with fuzzy boundaries. So the energy or essence of a place can affect the psyche/energy of a person, and the psyche/energy of a person or groups of people can bleed out into and shape all environments. If you doubt this step into a old chapel that still holds services and then the food stamp office when no one is around and compare how you feel.
One of the primary ways I keep my life on track is to create little "vortices of energy" all around me. My home, my yard, my car...each space is designed to authentically reflect me and hold my vibration. I detest cleaning, so it is the ultimate battle, but I consider it almost as important for my well-being as eating healthy, and as with buying healthy food I won't hesitate to spend money on creating a beautiful space because beautiful spaces create beautiful people and beautiful people make more money.
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