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This book, The Earth Has a Soul, is a beautiful compilation of a wide variety of Jung’s writings that touch on–as the title says–“Nature, Technology and Modern Life.” But it’s more than that: it’s a seer’s insight into the psyche of a species in trouble.

The editor, Meredith Sabini, sums up a major point: “In order to develop consciousness, we had to separate from the instinctive base of human nature; however, Jung believed the separation had gone too far…” (p 67). Unfortunately, while the separation from nature has “gone too far,” the level of consciousness remains severely limited.

Jung himself lived in a time when European society was making a dramatic shift from rural to urban life (1875 – 1961), and he lived through both world wars. In addition, his personal experiences mining the depth of his own being, along with his life-long studies of human consciousness as a doctor, lent him a perspective on human nature unparalleled in the history of psychology.

Jung’s perspective on the human interaction with nature–or rather, the nature in humanity–was often poetic as well as empirical. His comment here speaks here of what we today call “biomimicry”:

“For instance, the glowworm represents the secret of making light without warmth; man doesn’t know how to produce 98 percent of light with no loss of warmth, but the glowworm has the secret. If the glowworm could be transformed into a being who knew that he possessed the secret of making light without warmth, that would be a man with an insight and knowledge much greater than we have reached…” (84)

His statements often tread the ground between commonly accepted, materialistic language, and referring to supernatural experiences and phenomena as real. However, his genius comes through most clearly when he illuminates points beyond a dualistic perspective entirely.

“It remained for modern science to despiritualize nature through its so-called objective knowledge of matter. All anthropomorphic projections were withdrawn from the object one after another, with a twofold result: firstly man’s mystical identity with nature was curtailed as never before, and secondly the projections falling back into the human soul caused such a terrific activation of the unconscious that in modern times man was compelled to postulate the existence of an unconscious psyche.” (p 86)

The sad result is, “Modern man does not understand how much his ‘rationalism’ (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic ‘underworld'” (p 97). Moreover, we re-encounter the ‘underworld’ in other people: “Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena…Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly” (p 111).

The results are plain and frequently family and friends–as well as one’s self–lament about battles with forces that simply don’t conform to our “conscious” expectations.

“He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by powers beyond his control. The gods and demons have not disappeared at all, they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an invincible need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, dietary and other hygienic systems–and above all, with an impressive array of neurosis.” (p 127)

This is all quite depressing, but in light of recent (not to mention, historic) occurrences, I truly believe it is of utmost importance to look directly at the reality of human neurosis; one’s own, and mass neurosis. That does not mean wallowing and cynicism, but rather, opening our eyes and choosing to behold the truth, or as close as we can get. The crux of non-sustainability is sighing and looking away, doing our best to block out the haunting memory. In that spirit, let’s go one step further down.

First, Jung highlights the mechanism at work, saying, “Even when we have corrected an illusion, it by no means follows that the psychic agency which produces illusions, and actually needs them, has been abolished” (p 130). He speaks of “psychic agency,” which at times can manifest as a demon in the woods behind your house, or something far worse.

“The fantastic, mythological world of the Middle Ages has, thanks to our so-called enlightenment, simply changed its place. It is no longer incubi, succubi, wood-nymphs, melusines and the rest that terrify and tease mankind; man himself has taken over their role without knowing it and does the devilish work of destruction with far more effective tools than the spirits did.” (p 131)

This is the part in the article when we should expect that “ray of hope”; those uplifting words that shed light on possible solutions to the psychological maze. As perhaps expected, the ray of hope is what we often refer to as “return to nature.” That does not mean a backward slide in consciousness, but rather an embrace necessary to sustain life.

“We all need nourishment for our psyche. It is impossible to find such nourishment in urban tenements without a patch of green or a blossoming tree. We need a relationship with nature. I am just a culture-coolie myself, but I derive a great deal of pleasure from growing my own potatoes.” (p 155)

I can say from personal experience that here Jung is at least partially referring to a quite tangible experience of one’s own life force being nourished by the life force of plants, animals and the planet. It’s something that we all intuit, as evidenced by the growing numbers of people populating favorite hiking spots, for example. But it can also be clearly and immediately felt at a conscious level, and with a minimum of stillness and silence. The challenge is that nature’s ability to recharge and sustain us is reliant on our willingness to make way for her: less pavement and pollution, more trees in cities and clean energy sources.

As Jung summaries, “Real improvement can be hoped for only if there is a radical change of consciousness,” (p 160) and in other writings he explains his perspective that humanity is in a rather early stage in the evolution of consciousness. He emphasizes the utmost importance of individuality, “individuation,” as opposed to the “standardized milieu” (p 155). This in part means the direct look at one’s own neurosis, as mentioned above, so as to avoid–or at least learn from–the demons rising from the depths, or projecting the monsters onto “them.”

Truly, I would be happy to post dozens more quotes from this exquisite compilation, but I am happy to leave some discoveries–perhaps the major ones–to future readers.

–Jung, C. G. The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life. Ed. Meredith Sabini. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2008.

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ImageI saw The Lorax movie just before it left theaters a few weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it or read the book, it’s a story that straddles both spaces: sustainability and, subtly, spirituality.

The original story is about a young boy who goes on a little trip outside of his known world, and discovers the home of the Once-ler, all enclosed up in his tower. Eventually, with persistence on the part of the boy, the Once-ler tells the story about how once upon a time this whole region was covered in wondrous Truffula Trees, not to mention wildlife.

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space…
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!

But due to the Once-ler’s own industriousness, he causes the destruction of the whole entire region’s ecological system, leaving a sad, deserted wasteland. After the Once-ler cuts down the very first tree, the Lorax magically appears to tell the Once-ler off.

…I heard a ga-Zump!
I looked.
I saw something pop out of the stump
of the tree I’d chopped down. It was sort of a man.
Describe him?…That’s hard. I don’t know if I can.

“Mister”! he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues…”

The Lorax returns to the Once-ler repeatedly, trying to get through his thick skull with example after example of various species becoming sick and eventually disappearing from the area. But repeatedly the Once-ler fails to listen, citing the necessity of providing his absurd product to everyone who wants to buy one, and his prerogative to grow and grow and keep growing his operation. Finally the Once-ler looses his patience, yelling at the Lorax that he has “rights,” and–in a telling moment–saying, “Now listen here, Dad!” And of course it’s just then…

And at that very moment, we heard a loud whack!
From outside in the fields came a sickening smack
of an axe on a tree. Then we heard the tree fall.
The very last Truffula Tree of them all!

With the main natural resource exhausted, the business shuts down, and the Lorax exits in a different magical way.

The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance…
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance…
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.

With the ray of hope inspired by the transfer of the last Truffula seed from the old, depressed Once-ler to the curious little boy, the story ends with a clear plea for readers to–like the little boy–CARE.

Obviously the main point here in including this story on this blog is that The Lorax himself is a supernatural being who is urging this industrious but ignorant person to stop destroying the environment. We know The Lorax is supernatural primarily by his magical appearance and disappearance. I would suppose that Dr. Seuss himself was drawing from mythic and folktale precedents that tell of spiritual sources being the carriers of warnings for the human race. Not only that, but this Lorax cannot–or chooses to not–inhabit a landscape that has been rendered lifeless.

There is a lot more we could speculate about here, particularly with regard to the “Dad” reference relating to the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of God the Father, and the evolutionary path of a human from infancy to adulthood, as well as the evolution of humans as a species. (That path begins with being in awe of the parental figures, putting up with the parents, rebelling against the parents, and finally developing enough wisdom to see the wisdom of the parents.) But the most important factor is simply the inspiration the story has for those who do, actually, CARE.

We can only hope that more good than harm has been done in the wake of the release of this movie, considering the extreme marketing tactics: a multitude of corporations are touting their products as “Lorax Approved.” (I’d guess it’s about as close as they have yet come to “God Approved.”) As always, one has to rely on one’s own faculties–NOT labels–to discern what is a truly eco-friendly product, and what is just another “fool Thneed.” (Hint: 99.9998% of products are Thneeds.)

Source: Seuss. The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971.

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