Ecopsychology’s outlook on Spirituality

The purpose of Ecopsychology is to integrate the Ego (that is our conscious mind) with the Eco (the human and non-human environment that surrounds us) as an integral part of the Self, our complete mind both conscious and unconscious, an integration that will be reflected in positive behaviours, values and communication with others and with ourselves. For a renewed human ecology. 

Spirituality is an integral part of this approach, and let us not jump to conclusion, before exploring the connections and psychological benefits of spiritual practice and approaches to life, it is important to take a few steps back and explore how we humans have practiced and understood spirituality, from ancient times until today, in the Shortest History of Spirituality… Ever! 

At the dawn of time, early humans need to develop the concept of “spirit” its purpose of bridging human life to something greater, though mysterious and powerful, and through classical times and the sense-making efforts of its scholars and thinkers. Spirit became an essential part of who we are, one of the core elements of identity along with mind and body, home to our core identity, purpose and calling and through the spirit’s connection to the greater wholeness humans were channeled great inspiration, intuition and ideas coming from that otherworldly existence. 

In many parts of the world monotheism starts to gain popularity and the faith of many, and Spirit and Soul become merged into one, becoming a fragment of divinity, that essential part of ourselves is immortal and is what truly matters, as the divinity bestowed it onto us, and through the divinity provides us inspiration, genius, intuition as we are mere tools of the Divine Providence 

Modern age comes with the Industrial Revolution and the mindset is once again changed, there is no spirit, all the inspiration, ideas, intuitions are mechanisms of the mind, genius becomes a personality feature rather than something descending from a higher divinity and mind and body are deprived of the Spirit as it get recollocated into the brain and mind. 

Today? We are still in the modern age of rationality , and yet seems something is changing, today’s mindset appears to be moving towards a concept that the three stages above are actually not mutually excluding, and that the search for belonging to something greater is actually happening, just this time that “something” greater is adopting different forms, some call it God or Gods, but can also be a sense of belonging to humanity, or to the greater spectrum of life in the biosphere, or even the universe, as long as there is a feeling of belonging towards something greater than just our life as individual humans. 

There is actually really interesting study in the field of theology, after all for millennia they were the experts in spirituality, and this study focuses on understanding how did faith evolve in human societies and its purpose. The first humans developed faith practices and rituals in order to make sense of natural phenomena they did not have the science to understand, such as fire, thunders and droughts, and this gave way to the first spiritual practices, for example animism, shamanism, spiritism etc  As knowledge progressed, faith changed shape and its purpose became one of explaining the relations between human societies and the divinity as that divine world takes a clearer shape and form, hierarchy, social order and forms of justice and societies start to shape pantheism, paganism, spiritism etc. 

Naturally the next stage is for faith to explain the community’s identity as part of the  relation to the divinity and therefore social role, as moral and ethical norms become more strict into a reward-punishment mechanism, such as monotheistic organised religion. From this point onwards rather than progressing the evolution of faith starts to move laterally, and as alternative to the organised faith, comes individual faith as explanation of one’s purpose and identity in relation to the divinity, protestants, Alevi, gnostics etc.  Another parallel dimension which is gaining ground in our present days is faith and spirituality are sense-making practices and attitudes to understand ourselves and our relation with our psyche and through that discover the greater purpose and belonging, such as self-growth, transcendence, self care, experience the “connection” and with an integral view on all described above, as not mutually exclusive. 

Today’s mental health professionals, especially those who are working in large urban, dynamic and hectic centres agree that a common symptom found among their patients is – feeling disconnected, as if detached from something they rightfully believe is their’s and feel now is lost, and resolve to therapy to rediscover what it is. In our opinion, the answer is spirituality, that element which we willingly severed from ourselves in recent decades and centuries. 

Spirituality is a concept which has many perspectives and each includes elements of feeling connected to something which is greater than our single and individual mortal life, and key element is that of searching the meaning of life, and that is a universal experience shared by all humanity, whether aware of it or not. Spirituality demands that feeling, sense, belief that something greater than each one of us exists, something that goes beyond the sensory experience, an indescribable desire and craving to be a part of that cosmic or divine nature. 

And beware that there are many ways to experience and develop spiritual practices and attitudes, and joining  faith or religion and attending their rituals an observe their moral and ethical code is just one of the ways to cultivate your own spirituality. Alternatively you can also develop your own personal practice not necessarily associated to a divine faith and belief, or even just become a better person and improve the quality of your life by re-linking yourself to nature, or meditate, just as an example. All of these, and more, are spiritual practices that will provide that sense of recognition. 

Now something that for some can be quite shocking, the majority of humans believe that there is actually something beyond our sensorial experience of the world, known under different names and practices according to personality and cultural background, and another innate need is for every individual to grow as a person and be the happiest possible in all aspects of life, and these two elements are very connected. 

Psychologically speaking, people who have higher level of spirituality have a stronger understanding of the meaning of life and experience stronger mental and emotional stability and wellbeing. As if the belief in something “greater” such as us God, Gods, Spirits, Collective Consciousness, the Universe, actually delivers a sense of wholeness to the psyche and actually makes these people seem happier and healthier. People are motivated to find meaning to their lives and therefore to find value and transform themselves into the person they wish to become and achieve their true potential. 

To this end, an empirical and rather rational area of scientific research, psychology started to investigate into spirituality and spiritual practices, until a whole branch was developed, and the psychology of spirituality came to be known as Transpersonal Psychology, which tackles three areas: 

  1. Beyond Ego Psychology – which implies the expansion of the sense of self and completeness beyond the personal concept of Self, by developing compassion and altruism as tools to accomplish our full human and personal potential . 
  2. Wholistic and Integrative Psychology – Where wellbeing and health are balance and self-care implies taking care of body, mind, heart and…spirit. 
  3. Psychology of Transformation – Spiritual and personal growth require a transformation of the self, aiming towards higher ways of perceiving, experiencing and living in the world. 

Transpersonal psychology is a practice and field that supports us to cultivate our values and leads us to deep psychological transformations, expansion of consciousness of the self beyond our individual psyche and find a connection with all that lives, and practitioners also research spiritual and psychological transformation and awareness concerning expanded states of awareness of the self. 

What are the benefits of introducing a spiritual practice in your life?

Less concerns for material possessions, fame or wealth 
Less sense of unhealthy ethnic, national or group identity 
Less dualism (separation from all people, life and matter 
Less fear of death
Less psychological emotional turbulence
More concern for global and universal values 
More sense of union with all people, life and matter
More compassion and altruism towards others 
More calm and well-being 
More appreciation, gratitude, for all life.

Spiritual development is an important, if not essential element of ecopsychology’s approach to healing at the same time ourselves, our communities and our planet, because a core ingredient ecopsychology is the awareness of mutual benefit and interconnectedness 

Just keep in mind that spirituality is not a practice that necessarily has to involve a deep belief in the divine, rather spirituality is a state of mind and lifestyle grounded on purpose-finding, feeling belonging to beyond our immediate sensory experience, and aims at personal growth and ecological actions (meaning those actions the are good for you, your community and the biosphere). Regardless of one’s beliefs, whether religious, spiritual, atheist of gnostic everyone has right to be fully themselves. 

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner