Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal Psychology and the Ecological Conscience

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal Psychology and the Ecological Conscience

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: In an effort to save the environment, many existing education methods concentrate on pumping out factual information and a continual stream of pressing crises that ultimately create a feeling of ''well-informed futility,'' rather than cultivating what Aldo Leopold called ''the Ecological Conscience'' rooted in emotional-bonding with nature. While over 90% of the general public agrees with the goals of the environmental movement, just how to educate and motivate people to live and act in accord with ecological balance, is unclear. Suggested here are five pathways to developing an ecological conscience, concluding that the most effective path is through having powerful exceptional experiences with nature that evoke strong emotional bonding - ''Significant Life Experiences,'' ''Exceptional Human Experiences,'' or Jung's concept of ''synchronicity.'' A variety of exceptional nature-bonding experiences are described, many of which have transpersonal qualities. Often such experiences occur associated with visiting special sacred places.

On a foggy February morning in l905, Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester in the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, slowly rode his horse, ''Jim,'' through Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Pinchot was depressed and perplexed, for his close friend President Roosevelt had asked him to come up with a single unitive policy directive that could be used to guide resource management for a wide variety of issues including fisheries, wildlife, forestry, public grazing lands, mining and mineral leasing, oil drilling, park lands, and so on. Pinchot found the magnitude and complexity of the assignment overwhelming, despite years of training at Yale and in Europe.

As he rode, in as much of a fog inside as in the world around him, suddenly Pinchot found his mind descending into what he later called ''a long dark tunnel.'' Arriving at the end of the tunnel, he saw a wild landscape in India where he recalled there were large natural areas called ''conservancies'' that were managed for the good of everyone. The words ''the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time'' came to mind.

Pinchot raced back to the White House and rushed into the Oval Office to relate his experience. Roosevelt became so excited that he called a special cabinet meeting that evening. During that session Secretary McGee coined the word conservation to describe the new comprehensive resource policy of the Roosevelt Administration which was defined as: ''The wise use of natural resources for the greatest number of people for the longest time'' (Pinchot, 1947, p. 40).

Pinchot's experience is what is called an ''adamic ecstasy'' (Beer, 2000; Laski, 1961): a sudden realization of unity emerging from depression created by a sense of chaos and confusion. Such an experience might seem like an anomaly, but actually such exceptional experiences in nature like Pinchot's are not uncommon.

Sixty-four years later, in 1969, inspired by the international movement building toward Earth Day in 1970, a group of faculty and students at the University of Michigan met in a seminar to envision a new direction for shaping educational policy about the environment. The name for this new educational thrust became ''Environmental Education,'' which they defined as follows: ''The purpose of environmental education is to develop a citizenry which is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help resolve these problems, and motivated to do so'' (Stapp et al., 1970, p. 30).

In contrast to earlier educational methods called ''Outdoor Education,'' which taught outdoor recreation skills, ''Nature Study Education'' that focused on field biology and identification, and ''Conservation Education'' that provided people with resource conservation information about soil conservation and forestry, Environmental Education's focus would be on developing concern for the quality of the entire biophysical environment-natural and man-made-and motivating people to preserve environmental quality as well as being betterinformed (Swan, 1969). …

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