Conversations with a World Ensouled
I belong to the land now
crawling along its story lines
recovering pieces of my lineage…
let it shiver you
let it loose all of the remembering
let it open up a space again
Catherine Baumgartner, p. 275
The field of Terrapsychology first budded with Craig Chalquist’s ground-blessing book Terrapsychology: Re-engaging the Soul of Place (2007). The field has come to first flower with thirty terrapsychological explorations in a compendium just published called Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled (2010).
Terrapsychology is a field that gives new depth to the idea of soul searching, “how the search for the soul can be understood as a deep longing for a healthy reconnection with nature” (Villaseñor-Galarza, p. 277). However, this study of the psyche of the planet goes further than relationship and connection, studying instead how the Earth (Terra) itself inter-permeates humans and “possess[es] a primal intelligence, sensitivity, and reactivity” (Chalquist, p. 2). “By uncovering their underlying forms, images, and reconnective motifs” (p. 5), “Terrapsychology closes the circle of inquiry by looking still deeper for place, creature, world, or thing that hosts the archetypal figure” (p. 7).
I first became aware of Terrapsychology in my desire as a qualitative researcher to interview the Earth as part of my research. I was pleased to discover this growing body of Terrapsychology literature from a wide intersection of geography, ecology, and place; poetry and dream; art and the imaginal; ethnography and geology; permaculture and sociology. As Chalquist encourages us, the terrapsychological movement of connections between self and world relieves pathologies along parallel dimensions of personhood and place. It is balm for the separation of industrial usury and colonization: “when we realize how deeply we belong to this lively world and to the cosmos glittering all around it” (p. 8).
Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled is an Earth-wise treasure. The book answers the question, “What is Terrapsychology?” with examples across five domains and explorations of methods and ethics.
Wound and Root
Sometimes, the pathologizing influence of Western psychology can threaten to foreshorten the research findings within the field of Terrapsychology. George Kohn explains, “From the psychotherapeutic view used in Chalquist’s dissertation, the place often takes the role of the traumatized victim, with the original European colonizers and developers seen as narcissistic abusers” (p. 306). Several pieces in the Rebearths anthology round out the picture, surfacing the underlying resourcefulness and wisdom of different place energies, which, though they might become distorted in response/relationship with the last millennium’s place invasions and the violence of modern industry, still have essential, effective, generative capacity at their root.
Marna Hauk is a doctoral student in Sustainability Education at Prescott College, and founding director of the Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies (www.earthregenerative.org), designing and offering graduate programs at the intersection of creativity and innovation, permaculture and ecological restoration, and earth wisdom. She conducts Terrapsychological research in the Pacific Northwest. Marna serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Sustainability Education (http://www.jsedimensions.org/) and helps with the nonprofit Moonifest (www.moonifest.org), providing micro-grants for women, arts, and earth regeneration.
As the place expresses, does its energy diminish? Or, is it that the pressures and distortions of the industrial utilization and domination need to be released in order for the underlying place strengths and wisdom to be able to be accessed? For example, can the defended-ness of San Diego at its heart be understood to have assets of enwombing and safety-creation when not distorted by modern humans’ assault on the Earth and the Earth’s defendedness in response to it?
Terrapsychology started out as “a pilot methodology for detecting and working with ecological complexes” and syndromes (p. 317) with terms such as ecotransference and ecoreactivity, assuming and focusing on trauma. It clarifies “the direct connection between environmental degradation and other forms of oppression: the qualities of our culture that damage the Earth are also those destructive to the human soul” (Möllers, p. 84), while also supporting healing these relationships:
What would a psychology of homecoming look like? How can I be present to the trauma embodied both in me and in this place? How can I continue to tend the sources of trauma in ways that transform them from scary to remorseful? What skills and resources do I have to enable this deep healing to begin? (Möllers, p. 87).
This inquiry brings clarity as well as hope, because at other times it is revealed to its depth, “as the central methodology of choice for studying deep interactions with the soul of things, beings, place, and nature” (Chalquist and Rankin, p. 318).
Earth Healing in Terrapsychology
Some of the Rebearths research stretches back to the fertile, generative earth wisdom underlying place fields. Janet Bubar Rich’s research on dew suggests “a reverence for natural events as animated conscious forces: living beings analogous to people but with more power” and connecting with them, nourishing our ability to “imagine a life lived in harmony with nature” (pp. 28-29). Bubar Rich draws on a mixture of personal experience, myth, and culture to understand how noticing earth-renewing dew and the sanctity of exquisite wildflowers can connect us with a capacity for close attention and caring, can awaken our imagination, restoring our capacity to “live together on earth, our organic home” (p. 29).
Laura Vogel explores presence and earth intimacy in her piece on dirt. She explores how to connect meaningfully and respectfully to place, the connections between the unique signature and taste—terroir—of each place, and the unique opportunity of presence available in each moment; intimacy with earth opens in us a capacity for deep presence:
And I come to a new place, even while embracing my whole history and lineages, and take its soil in my hand, smell it, breathe it, and know that a universal and shared terroir is also here, in this soil, and here, within my body, and this is the most authentic intimacy available to me—this piece of earth at this piece of time in this piece of space—something utterly unrepeatable. The terroir of the present moment. (p. 24)
Soul of Place
Expressions from places themselves are the genesis of Terrapsychology, and its methods continue to deepen in the place realms. Möllers affirms, “the terrapsychological approach recognizes such a resonance of the indwelling spirit of place and its intimate connection with its inhabitants” (p. 85). She conducts Terrapsychological inquiry (TI) in Flint, Michigan, for “this place birthed me, has dreamed itself into me and lives in me” (p. 87). She includes dreaming in her work, finding that the integrative power of dreaming helped her understand the intertwined battered-woman abusive-husband archetype writ large in the city’s excesses, and how “through openness and active participation in the inquiry, the heart and soul of Flint unfolded richly” in her. “Hardened prejudices regarding the city [melted…allowing] hidden dimensions of both [her]self and the city to emerge” (p. 84), to become an active and empowered collaborator for ecological solutions and personal empowerment: “as one of its chosen ambassadors…to summon the courage and the strength to act on her behalf” (pp. 87-88).
Rebearths also offers three inquiries into San Francisco. Michael Steiner connects the themes of transience and displacement in the Mission (p. 90), informed by race and class dynamics and a long history of cultural dislocation. He found the place itself provided a “profusion of energy which gives rise to the creative act of remembering,” with the “remembering of cultural roots…a step…taken toward healing this displacement, pain, and suffering” (p. 96). Another Bay area researcher, Corey Hale learned through collaboration with a photographer and by deep “skin listening” how the Golden Gate Bridge, “with no barrier to protect…from the seductive appeal of the womb of the Bay,” also acts as Hecate’s Gate into the underworld (p. 103). Jane Tanner explores how Bay Area earthquakes provide an awakening to the inherent instability of our modern dependence on technological lines and bridge spans.
Landscapes speak to us in feelings, sensations, emotions, images, sounds, scents, with all of our senses. Communication between us and the land where we work and live is alive with meaning. This dialogue may be deeply healing and nurturing, or it may alert us to disturbances in the land and in our psyche. This way of perceiving the world is available to anyone who will take the time to be aware, to communicate with the land with openness and a sense of adventure. (pp. 117-118)
Further afield, Aviva Joseph finds in Jerusalem, a city shaped like a heart, a chance to rebuild communities in places of devastation and contested homelands. She feels the potential for wholeness. Regarding the warring factions within the city, “They no longer seem like ‘sides,’ but more like cells of a magnificent organ in confusion” (p. 138).
Stephanie Paidas-Dukharm learns how bears in the King of the Crown continental divide region allowed visiting humans to grieve their own displacement from wilderness, even when they were unable to see the impacts of colonization on indigenous peoples also occurring:
We’d watch the bears pass as though royalty crossed before us. It was then that our discussions could turn to displacement, habitat destruction, and sheer will to survive and desire to thrive in places where encroachment is a dangerous, ever-present threat. …. It was as if the bears seemed to know, seemed to appear when we most needed them, as if they sensed, as I did, that they could really teach us what it means to roam a territory, cooperate, and build a culture firmly grounded in a sense of place. (p. 76)
The bears and the place, a collision of mountains and culture, can transform into a moment of coyote-bear-human contact, demonstrating how
a potentially catastrophic situation had morphed into heartfelt connection on the road that links west with east, White with Red, humanity with the natural world. And like the land, the animal, the people, and the spirit of this place, the three of us had been transformed (p. 78).
Catastrophe and Transformation
Like the conflicting, the catastrophic can also offer terrapsychological wisdom for inner and outer transformation. Katrina Martin Davenport explores the power of the storm and hurricane and the pattern of cycles, circles, and spirals as intense bringers of change and renewal (pp. 40, 44). Danielle Neuhauser considers, “Can we mimic the landscape and its cyclical processes by integrating the outer eruption of wildfire with an inner dynamic of transformation?…[to] begin to cultivate diversity in psychic life by allowing new parts of the self to emerge and old patterns to subside?” (p. 54) His research suggests the disturbance of inner psychic fires may clear out a weedy or overgrown inner life, while the California landscape may be requesting a different response to fire disaster, “one of community, of relatedness, and compassion and respect” rather than an attitude of battle and heroic intervention (p. 54).
Even the radioactive can bring insight into how to connect with planet and place. Matthew Cochran’s brilliant exploration of uranium, elementally and by the landscapes of its genesis and distillation, surfaces “geologic soul … that permeable border or breathing boundary that fuses psyche and landscape” (p. 231). He finds indicators in ancient petroglyphs, “a fighting neikos, a vibrating restlessness, a fury of sold out activity” (p. 238). Moab fatigues his body; “the body’s extensive nuances relate the presence of place and can speak its subtleties” (p. 238). Methodologically, Cochran contrasts environmentalism and green technologies’ “appropriation by the mainstream business and global economic machine [which] perpetuates a separate consciousness and a consciousness of separation” with the larger terrapsychological question: “What if we come to terms with the hidden wounds of place? What is the character beneath the wound and what transformation occurs in reconnection?” (p. 239). He says, “a geo-desire to be led by the land, to be fused with its consciousness, is the longing that leads” (p. 239). He finds uranium to be an intense tearing and refining of a part of ourselves “so complete that we’ve isolated the deadliest part of ourselves and made it into a weapon of geologic destruction” (p. 240). He finds the dynamics of “destruction and subsequent abandonment—the dark unrealized aspects of amplified disconnection: destroying the Earth in order to leave it” (p. 242). Even at the heart of the radioactive fire, and this intense displacement, throbs an intense and highly polished capacity, “a way through destruction to the creation nested within” (p. 245). He argues that uranium and its places direct us to connect with our own transmutative capacities, within the elemental energy and subtle orbits of the body, “where creative restoration catalyzes” (p. 246). He also shares other rich resources for addressing our nuclear inheritance, including Joanna Macy’s Nuclear Guardianship Project, in which former detonation sites could “become well-tended shrines, verdant temples, places of prayer and contemplation, sanctuaries of awakening, and sites of a geologic ethic honoring both an outer and an inner condition” (p. 246). This is Terrapsychology at its strongest, combining autoethnographic, felt contact with place, mythological, and cultural resonances and liberation historical insight to surface and transform the torsions and possibilities of particular place-fields. [this sentence needs fixing – too many nouns in the highlighted phrasing}.
Terrapsychology also happens in human bodies and offers liberating ways of inhabiting limb and land. Laura Mitchell’s nomadic awareness wakes up the senses as it follows the “’songlines’ (the interlocked network of ways through the land),” deterritorializing our presence and offering a “new form of collective interrelatedness” (p. 151). Nomadic awareness includes both direct contact with place and diffuse contact with region in what she calls “nonlimited locality”; it offers “an acute sense of emplacement without appropriation” (p. 151).
Rather than wandering, Rebecca Wyse returns to her family home place to understand the terrapsychological dynamics of exile from homeland and body. She cites Jung’s insight that it is the loss of contact between the body and the soil that drives loss of connection to homeland, exile, and resultant hunger to conquer other lands (p. 153). She chronicles parallels between an eating disordered relationship with the body and the loss of farming communities and old ways of land-tending and storytelling. Embodied Terrapsychology focuses on connection. Wyse’s advocacy of
Having a love affair with the earth, of being in a mutually satisfying relationship where we share quality time, feel joy in each other’s company, feel a sense of being protected and nurtured by each other, feel heard and fed deep in our souls (p. 160)
…prefigures Kevin Filocamo’s cultivation of erotic relationship with the natural world. Pam Greenslate advocates a return to living in a circular society rather than in boxes and grids, in order to increase connection and communication with each other and the living world: “The body of the place of our world is intricately connected to our human bodies and we back to that world” (p. 171). Greenslate makes a connection between circles, cycles, and spirals and being able to see more options and opening to unlimited possibilities (p. 170). She concludes, “The healthier our physical landscape…the more healthy grow our mindful bodies. They are forever connected” (p. 171).
Dispelling the illusion of separateness, our dreams pull back the veil, revealing the hidden fields of energies into which our lives are cast. We are intimately part of the living splendor that spreads out continuously in every direction; dreams transport us into this seamless fabric of being (Jaenke, p. 188).
Dreaming and other messages from the imaginal realm are critical data points in terrapsychological inquiry. Karen Jaenke eloquently describes how “intimately interwoven” people and place become within the dreaming landscape (p. 189). Her essay identifies three kinds of dreams: earth-communing, earth-destruction, and earth-healing dreams. “Earth communing dreams bathe the dreamer in the same bath of animating energy that washes over the planet. Experiences in this participatory field serve to reawaken psychic kinship between dreamer and planet” (p. 197). Jaenke explains how dreams of earth destruction assist us psychologically to metabolize terror and catastrophic collective events, inviting us to presence and grounding (pp. 198-199). While they may be shocking, they also provide clues to earth healing, including healing the human-Earth relationship (p. 199). The earth healing revealed in dreams entails balancing opposites, which aligns with ancient indigenous wisdom regarding balance as a state of embodied aliveness and connection, embedded in the natural world. She expresses the promise for healing in terrapsychological dreaming: “our psychic kinship with the earth body can heal our planetary wounds” (p. 196).
Maturations and Extensions
The field of Terrapsychology is maturing, its practices expanding as dozens of researchers extend and respond to the calls of the land, including with places, dreams, and elements, as well as through bodies and things. In Rebearths, Terrapsychological research extends from homes and hives to rocks and corn.
Researcher Kathryn Quick found in her ancestral home an experience of reciprocal care. Plumbing challenges led to insights about having to dig deep to the roots for clear understanding (p. 272). Bonnie Bright engages with honey, bees, and nature to avoid the collapse of civilizations as well as bee colonies:
By facing ecological anguish and reflecting on it, we begin to address the parts of ourselves that have been left arid, deforested, scattered, and alone. In fully engaging, we discover a song in the silence, the hum of longing to cross-pollinate a reciprocal relationship between bees and bodies, people and plants, humans and humus. We find ourselves opening, like a flower, to the wild (p. 215).
Ryan Hurd conducts his research on an ancient stone site in Nicaragua, loosening his Western perceptual habits to immerse himself in a sacred space and the spirit of place. He practices nature observation, lucid dreaming, and acoustic archaeology to connect with the stone wisdom of Ometepe, to cross the boundary markers from this world and the imaginal, to “walk into the sensing and intuitive realms” to access the “multidimensional language” of ancient peoples’ place collaborations (pp. 260-261).
Chalquist’s explorations of corn also reframe the heavy feeder plant to a point similarly expressed in Pollan’s Botany of Desire: what if we look at it from the point of view of the corn plant? Chalquist argues corn’s generosity and adaptability cannot be blamed for human farming excesses. Rather, Terrapsychologists trust the larger Earth system:
Terrapsychology assumes an Earth that knows what it’s doing. Just how it does it remains mysterious—manifestations of its latent animation? Emergent properties of natural systems?—but it is now clear that life here evolves into ever higher and deeper levels of complexity. Research in ethology, ecology, and other fields has made relegating sentience only to humans highly problematic, suggesting that living qualities like purpose and intentionality do not reside solely with big-brained naked apes (p. 224).
In the final section of the book, researchers further extend Terrapsychology into related fields, such as land ethics, permaculture design, animal kinship, and Earth Keeping. The pieces model and explicate the methods, quilting an eloquent case for earth connection and showing the means of its surfacing.
Inquiry, Rigor, Methodology
Whereas most of Rebearths serves as a series of case studies, Chalquist kindly includes a section on methods and validation, which will enable Terrapsychology wider adoption in diverse communities of practice. In terms of methods, researcher Sarah Rankin supports the use of walking, sitting meditation, altar-building, and ceremonial work for Terrapsychological inquiry, all of which enable “deep listening…feeling more deeply in [the] body the crossing over to a different means of perception” (p. 290). She coaches humble participation rather than “intimidating grandness”: “To know yourself as a listener to the land means that your ears must be attached to a great being, a being spacious enough to comprehend the voices of the forest” (p. 290).
In another essay, Kohn traces the intellectual family tree of Terrapsychology, seeing in it a fertile blending of geography and psychology, a confirmation of Jung’s collective “background resonance of all humanity” with Sheldrake’s morphogenetic field memory (p. 301). He identifies a triple weaving of Casey’s intersubjectivity, Ellis’s autoethnography, and Romanyshyn’s imperative “that dreams, synchronicities, and other imaginal activities inform the research” (p. 311). Kohn finds lineage with David Abram’s phenomenological hermeneutics, Roszak’s ecopsychological continuum of planet and person, and Hillman’s Anima Mundi (the soul of the world) in Terrapsychology: interbeing with “that wild otherness with which human life has always been entwined” (Abram, Spell of the Sensuous, quoted in Rebearths, p. 289).
One missing trunk in this family tree of Terrapsychology would be the thousands of indigenous wisdom traditions that have explicitly and continuously valued and integrated place-sourced connection and insight, generally avoiding the Western split between the planetary and personal, honoring sensorial embedment and information sharing in the emergent living presences of which humans are a part. Gregory Cajete’s scholarship provides missing context for the indigenous roots of Terrapsychology. He articulates the indigenous wisdom of mutual experiencing: “the continual orientation of Native thought and perception toward active participation, active imagination, and active engagement with all that makes up natural reality… a part of the Earth mind” (pp. 27, 30). In reference to indigenous peoples, he writes:
They experienced nature as part of themselves and themselves as part of nature. They were born of the earth of their place…This is the ultimate definition of being ‘indigenous’ and forms the basis for a fully internalized bonding with that place (2000, pp. 186-187).
Citing traditions spanning more than 70,000 years, Gregory Cajete calls this Native “ensoulment of nature… a geopsyche,…the inner archetypes in a place…that interaction between the inner and outer realities” (2000, pp. 186-187). Other pieces in Rebearths better acknowledge this more ancient lineage of the work.
What about rigor and validity in TI (Terrapsychological inquiry)? Chalquist and Rankin offer great suggestions in “Enriching the Inquiry,” including mixed methods approaches, validity, and reliability as Terrapsychology comes of age. Honoring TI’s “flexibly transdisciplinary framework for organizing observations and impressions” (p. 317), the authors suggest its use in mixed methods approaches with consciousness and context-sensitivity to produce coherence, to avoid an unconscious extension of the fragmentation evidenced in the field of many place traumas in which the researchers will find themselves. The section on research validity for Terrapsychology is one of the most important sections in the entire tome. The authors review approaches for construct validity, internal validity, and external validity: “For TI, validity and reliability remain important criteria capable of being reimagined and reapplied from within its perspective” (p. 319). Adapting strategies from four Inquiries—Depth, Intuitive, Collaborative, and Liberation Psychology—TI does indeed offer a rigorous set of tools for deepening the research.
The descriptions of Rosemary Anderson’s Intuitive Inquiry reminded me of my experience with Terrapsychology generally, that it speaks exactly to my actual deep and felt experience, without strange linear twists that Western academic approaches often involve. It is validating, therefore, to see academic research language placed on actual things of meaning and value in Rebearths in the form of eight types of validity that can be used in Terrapsychological research.
Resonance validity (from Intuitive Inquiry) involves the use of resonance panels of peers evaluating the research in progress from across multiple domains of experience, “’in a manner akin to poetry in its capacity for immediate apprehension and recognition of an experience spoken by another and yet be true to oneself, as well’”(Anderson quoted in Chalquist & Rankin, p. 320). Efficacy validity “has to do with whether research fosters creative jumps and insights and ‘inspires, delights, and prods us into insight and action’” (Anderson in Chalquist & Rankin, p. 320). Together, in this qualitative frame, “both types of validity provide a qualitative measure of whether a study adds value to human life and promotes beneficial transformations in the participant’s consciousness.
Additionally, Liberation Psychology offers contextual validity (fruitfulness of research frames and results for those involved in the research), interpretive validity (discussions across strata of meanings), and catalytic validity to the TI methodological rigor (p. 321). This last item, catalytic validity, involves a TI twist, not only “whether the research leads to creative, liberatory transformations in individuals who participate and in the world at large” but also “research that leads to transformations in the relationships of local residents to where they live” (p. 321).
Cycles of reflection and action are verified in Collaborative Inquiry. Unique to TI, ecoreactivity –”the felt sense of impingement or invasion by the terrain under study”—can serve as both construct validity and to demonstrate the researcher is avoiding projection (pp. 322-325). Projection is a key danger in Terrapsychological Inquiry. Transformation validity and intragroup validity can also offer validation of TI research, the depth of the perceived transformation between researched and researcher, and the confirmation of results with the use of multiple researchers (p. 322).
Finally, TI adds community response validity which involves both “How consistently do the people who live at the research site resonate to or recognize the findings, and to what degree does the study contribute to the aliveness, sustainability, and ecological integrity of the research site?” (p. 322). Finally, the authors suggest the main focus in reliability in TI is generative reliability, “the degree to which the study’s clarity, resonance, and attention to detail allow other researchers to use it as a point of departure” (p. 323). This penultimate section of Rebearths, with its useful methodological guidance, including best practices regarding validation and rigor, will prove to be a bridge to future adoption of Terrapsychology by wider circles of researchers.
Concluding with the Earth
Terrapsychological work can hone a talent for using personal wounds to learn more about our surroundings, especially when they suffer ecological trauma. Properly tended, our ‘inner’ places of scarring, pollution, or barrenness can open doors into understanding and healing similar states in the terrain (p. 325, Chalquist & Rankin).
In order to avoid “forgetting, marveling at the landscape we overran, overlooking the fragmentation of our unearthed souls,” Terrapsychology offers us “the openings to enter back into quiet contract with the Earth” (Cochran, p. 239). Terrapsychology teaches us “how imagination can be an organ of perception” (Villaseñor-Galarza, p. 281). The world soul comes alive in particular places, its strengths and resilience being freed from torsion and distortion by the empathic presence and process of the Terrapsychologist. We become more fully alive by opening to the spirit of place. “At the very least we must walk out under the open sky and let the beauty we encounter break our hearts and break us open to the work we are each called to do” (Wendy Sarno, p. 349). Terrapsychology offers a deeper path, to avoid being “mind-blinded to what is readily evident through emotional and intuitive lenses” (Karen Diane Knowles, p. 371). It answers the question, “How do we fire the forgotten synapse, live from the vitality of the senses, acting from common sense?” (Cochran, p. 230). Across panoplies of place, body, element, and thing, the Earth is living in us and we in the Earth, “not wholly inner or outer. It is both. By staying thoughtfully and heartfully within the overlap of the two, a realm of soulful interconnection and relationship emerges….despite corrosive criticism hurled by defenders of a dying paradigm” (p. 325, Chalquist & Rankin).
I have come to believe that the genius loci speaks directly to my psychological, spiritual, and physical state of being. The felt essence of a place and its natural features, whether conveyed by ancient geological faults and movements or more recent human accomplishments or catastrophes, finds its way through me, often by such a gracious path that I am unable to detect a solid boundary between it and me… (Villaseñor-Galarza, p. 284)
Terrapsychology shares specific methods and techniques for living and healing inside the larger body of the Earth. As David Abram so eloquently affirms in Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology:
The world we inhabit…is our larger flesh, a densely intertwined and improvisational tissue of experience. It is a sensitive sphere sustained by a solar wind, a round field of sentience sustained by the relationships between the myriad lives and sensibilities that compose it. We come to know more of this sphere not by detaching ourselves from our felt experience, but by inhabiting our bodily experience all the more richly and wakefully, feeling our way into deeper contact with other experiencing bodies, and hence with the wild, intercorporeal life of the earth itself. (2010, pp. 143-144)