For decades I have given considerable thought to the interplay and interconnection between environment and wellbeing. I believe wellness may be correlated with the value and connection accruing in the ways we locate and situate our being within communities of others’. Gregory Bateson, amid a forest in B.C. listening to Bach, wrote to his daughter Catherine: “But it’s also true that since we’re all mammals, whatever word games we play we are talking about relationship”.
The origins of psychosocial dilemmas are to be located within socioeconomic contexts, relational contexts, and experiences impacted and influenced by social class, gender, sexuality amongst other factors. Multiple factors will always be at play in comprehending the context of a person’s struggles and dilemmas. As such, psychosocial suffering is embedded within particular socio-logical webs, tapestries, rhizomes. Individual happiness is much overrated, and patience and acceptance of what is comes with practice and compassion. The Western world’s focus on feeling as distinct from thinking is overrated. Henry Miller’s critique of Western, capitalist, materialist, consumerism persists: the air-conditioned nightmare.
The past few years have witnessed a significant, disturbing increase in the prescribing of psychotropic drugs; commensurate with an increase in the hegemony of Big Pharma where the well being of human beings, especially in the North, is concerned. In North America pharmaceutical companies reap immense profits annually. Big Pharma’s financial assistance and support to psychiatrists and the medical establishment influences and contributes to prescribing practices.
Can you prescribe a walk in the sun, a walk in the mist and rain, a walk in the park, a walk on the beach, a hike through forest (rails), a swim, a cup of tea, conversation with a friend, a book…
I share with many persons of my acquaintanced is satisfaction and discomfort with the term “mental health” and “mental illness”, preferring to engage with the concepts of wellness and well being. Yet ambiguity resides therein too. There are likely other words that could be used, but for the time being these ones offer heuristic value.
I agree with others’ of my acquaintance that an understanding of conditions that foment distress and create despair may be located in socioeconomic factors pertaining to a person’s life and relationships. Taking a more sociological perspective on the struggles and dilemmas communities of persons experience removes the medicalization of social problems, and the penchant to locate struggles and dilemmas within a person’s biology, or within their brain. We are not thinking of individual problems, rather, we are considering social problems. “Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all” (Gregory Bateson).
Decades ago, Jungian psychologist James Hillman along with journalist and screenplay writer Michael Ventura together published a book length conversation in which Hillman pointed out that soul is not merely within us, but soul also may be located within the environment, within the world outside our being. Soul is social. Martin Buber: “In the beginning is relation”.
“We know so little of what we know. We have such a narrow conception of how the human soul operates” (Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit, poet, activist, in conversation with Thich Nhat Hanh, 1975). In a tribute following the death of his friend, James Hillman, author Michael Ventura wrote, “He would want me to remember, while writing about him, that the psyche is a multi-event constantly in motion – an event, not an object…”. Psyche: relational, dialectical.
I see you in the field, a warm summer breeze moving up over the island, the yellow grasses swaying, you are exposed to the breeze as a herd of deer move slowly across the field; it is early evening, sunset, it is the beginning of the world, on the cliff arising high above the sea, swallows, mergansers, loons and other birds beginning to nest safely for the night amid rock niches, the herd of deer moving slowly through the grass, your smile flows merging with the sky, the sea, sunset transporting us, bewildering, enchanting…
We awoke amid morning dew, deer nibbling grass quietly observing us as we held one another in silence, nothing to say… two beings commingling…being…(Hornby Island).
How many children living in cities have ever experienced starlight?
How many impoverished children have ever stepped foot into a lake, walked an alpine meadow, picked blackberries, encountered a raccoon, a deer, a bear?
Telephone conversation with Anu (our 12-year-old grandson who lives in Comox, B.C. and on Cortez Island:
- my friend Scott told me you all feasted on a salmon you caught when you were up in Sayward [Northern Vancouver Island] last week
- yeah, I caught three salmon
- -wow, that’s so great you could feed everyone
- -yeah…how are the salmon doing on the Sunshine Coast with the drought
- Yeah, not good; the streams and rivers are very low; the salmon are struggling
- – yeah, over here too
Conversation with our eldest grandson Declan when he was in elementary school.
- Grandpa, did you know there are medicines in the forest?
- Yes, I was aware of that; who told you?
- Our Indigenous teacher took us into the forest and showed us plants used as medicines
- Isn’t that fascinating, that the forest provides such medicine for the people
- – yeah, I never knew that
Recently (May/June, 2022) staying in a home along a canal in Oud-Alblas, South Holland, about an hour from Amsterdam, each morning I would take my espresso onto the dock along the Alblas River and observe two ducks constructing a nest amongst the reeds along shore. One duck was exceedingly busy for long periods throughout the day, bringing grasses and reeds in its beak back to the nesting ground, where the other duck would patiently weave the grasses and reeds, creating a nest slightly higher than water level.
I found observing the ducks‘ meditative, sustaining, allowing me to enter slowly into the coming day. Very occasionally, a boat would come down, or up, the canal, the wake washing up close to where the nest was being constructed. A ripple lapping the shore.
On the shore opposite, though I never did get a view of it due to the canopy of bushes and trees, there was a lone cow we would hear throughout the day, mooing plaintively.
Nighttime starlight bouncing upon the canal….no street lights impeding star light…dogs barking in the distance…the moon… dark water reflecting light….
10.My being in the world sustained by cohabiting and encountering other creatures where I live; hummingbirds, woodpeckers, eagles, gulls, crows, ravens, raccoons, bear, deer, coyotes, and, once, a very healthy red fox walking along the road.
Recently, the morning after our first autumn/winter storm, walking along the beach today, came upon an enormous cedar tree snapped off lying across the beach stones low tide, green boughs and branches. Lone gull upon the large boulder waves wash over; another lone gull further along the beach, similarly poised. Waves. A fishing boat slowly passes out from shore. Sea flowing over beach stones, creating water music. Familiar resident heron perched too, fishing, off its rock.
Our home situated within a forest above a ravine, the stream flowing once again with the heavy rainfall, flowing into the Salish Sea. Cedar and spruce tree boughs proliferate, two woodpeckers regularly visit the same trees, and the chipmunk races up the cedar, taunting our dog, Garcia.
Ah, the wonderful web and texture, the delicate tapestry, sea’s ebb and flow, low tide, high tide, and the otter’s paw prints in the sand, the otters diving off the floating deck into the sea, waves wash up, disappearing the prints. Impermanence. Recalling the poet Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias”; all rulers eventually fade away, all monuments disintegrate, impermanence the only certainty.
Conversation with our grandson, Reuven, six years of age.
– Grandpa, today our Indigenous teacher took us into the forest.
-What did you do in the forest?
-Well, we collected plants and made tea with them when we got back to school
I remain hopeful our grandchildren will continue to grow their fruits and vegetables, gather mushrooms, fish streams, rivers, lakes and the Salish Sea, collect the medicine within the forest, drink the tea of forest plants, construct their dwellings from trees they have milled, and driftwood salvaged. Teach me.
On the beach with Reuven, standing with his staff, our wee Merlin!
-Grandpa, there are three tasks you have to do before you get through the gate
-Oh, yes, at least three…
Our friend Imelda McCarthy, of Dublin, Ireland, speaks of holding “hope and despair” simultaneously; while poet John Keats, proposed negative capability, of ”…being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…”.
“There is crack, there is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”).