Solastalgia – Homesick for the wilderness

Over the weekend, the NY Times Magazine published a very poignant article by Daniel B. Smith titled “Is there an Ecological Unconscious?”  The article was circulated to all of those associated with WILD, not just because of its timely message but because of its resonance with the vision of WILD and the work of our founder, Dr. Ian Player.  The article delves into the human psyche’s need for wild-nature and our dependence on wild-ecosystems beyond the quantitative needs of clean air, fresh water and fertile soils.   In order to protect wilderness, we must first understand our multi-faceted connection to it.  We can’t be afraid of what we refer to at WILD as the “s” word (spirituality) and we have to broaden our conversation beyond hard scientific facts and figures and embrace psychology, sociology and straight human intuition.   Below I’ve extracted a few paragraphs that speak to the human connection to wild-nature, but I encourage you to take the time to read the whole article and contemplate your “solastalgia.”

Here are few excerpts from Daniel B. Smith’s “Is there an Ecological Unconscious?” (NY Times):

” “There’s a scholar who talks about ‘heart’s ease,’ ” Albrecht told me as we sat in his car on a cliff above the Newcastle shore, overlooking the Pacific. In the distance, just before the earth curved out of sight, 40 coal tankers were lined up single file. “People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.” Australian aborigines, Navajos and any number of indigenous peoples have reported this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced from their land. What Albrecht realized during his trip to the Upper Valley was that this “place pathology,” as one philosopher has called it, wasn’t limited to natives. Albrecht’s petitioners were anxious, unsettled, despairing, depressed — just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them.”

“In a 2004 essay, he [Albrecht] coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”  In the past five years, the word “solastalgia” has appeared in media outlets as disparate as Wired, The Daily News in Sri Lanka and Andrew Sullivan’s popular political blog, The Daily Dish. In September, the British trip-hop duo Zero 7 released an instrumental track titled “Solastalgia,” and in 2008 Jukeen, a Slovenian recording artist, used the word as an album title. “Solastalgia” has been used to describe the experiences of Canadian Inuit communities coping with the effects of rising temperatures; Ghanaian subsistence farmers faced with changes in rainfall patterns; and refugees returning to New Orleans after Katrina.”

“Albrecht’s philosophical attempt to trace a direct line between the health of the natural world and the health of the mind has a growing partner in a subfield of psychology. Last August, the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.” News-media coverage of the report concentrated on the habits of human behavior and the habits of thought that contribute to global warming.”

“….just as Freud believed that neuroses were the consequences of dismissing our deep-rooted sexual and aggressive instincts, ecopsychologists believe that grief, despair and anxiety are the consequences of dismissing equally deep-rooted ecological instincts.”

“Ecopsychologists are not the first to embrace a vital link between mind and nature. They themselves admit as much, emphasizing the field’s roots in traditions like Buddhism, Romanticism and Transcendentalism. They point to affinities with evolutionary psychology — to the idea that our responses to the environment are hard-wired because of how we evolved as a species.”

“Recently, a number of psychiatrically inflected coinages have sprung up to represent people’s growing unease over the state of the planet — “nature-deficit disorder,” “ecoanxiety,” “ecoparalysis.” The terms have multiplied so quickly that Albrecht has proposed instituting an entire class of “psycho­terratic syndromes”: mental-health issues attributable to the degraded state of one’s physical surroundings.”

“Support for ecopsychology’s premise that an imperiled environment creates an imperiled mind can be found in more established branches of psychology. In a recent study, Marc Berman, a researcher in cognitive psychology and industrial engineering at the University of Michigan, assigned 38 students to take a nearly three-mile walk — half in the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor and half along a busy street. His purpose was to validate attention-restoration theory (A.R.T.), a 20-year-old idea that posits a stark difference in the ability of natural and urban settings to improve cognition. Nature, A.R.T. holds, increases focus and memory because it is filled with “soft fascinations” (rustling trees, bubbling water) that give those high-level functions the leisure to replenish, whereas urban life is filled with harsh stimuli (car horns, billboards) that can cause a kind of cognitive overload. In Berman’s study, the nature-walkers showed a dramatic improvement while the city-walkers did not, demonstrating nature’s significant restorative effects on cognition.”

The article reference’s a few good reads on the subject, such as:

Peter Kahn’s blog on Psychology Today

Steps to an Ecology of Mind” by Gregory Bateson (1972)

Books & essays by Glenn Albrecht

2 Comments (Post Comment)
kathryn says:

Wonderful article! Thank you…

Chuck Adam says:

This is a fantastic article. It’s helping me give direction to my life, as I have been suffering a deep pain while watching the unbelievable destruction humanity is wreaking on our home, Spaceship Earth. In this article Daniel B. Smith helps me understand why the place I have most felt at home, at peace with myself, all of humanity, and the world, is when I am alone in the wild. Thank you!

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