In our first lecture and workshop of the season, Jungian analyst and senior climate scientist Jeffrey Kiehl explores climate change and how to heal the split with our animate world. Register today.
Connecting You Q & A
How does Jungian psychology suggest we deepen our connection with Nature?
There are a number of ways Jungian psychology provides for you to deepen your connection with Nature. Perhaps most importantly is to actually spend time in Nature. Jung often talked of the importance of actually taking the time to be in Nature. So, I encourage people to find some time in their busy lives to go out and be with Nature. By the way, this does not necessary mean that you go off on a back packing journey in the wilderness. It may mean going for a walk in a park, or sitting in your garden. It may mean sitting with your dog on a quiet day. A second way of connecting to Nature is through your dreams. If you dream of an animal, then engage with that animal. Learn everything you can about the animal. Develop a living relationship with the animal. Go visit the animal. Finally, let us not forget that we are Nature. Our bodies arise from Nature, so open yourself up to ways of reconnecting to your own body? When was the last time you danced?
James Hillman noted that the environment we have ignored and mistreated is making its importance known to us through its pathologies. Can you explain this in relationship to climate change?
This is a very important observation by Hillman. Just look around at the world today. We now have three hurricanes in the Caribbean. We have severe flooding occurring around the world. We have severe droughts in western North America and the atmosphere full of smoke from numerous fires. The number of heat waves is now twice that of cold waves. Arctic sea ice is at record low coverage. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates. I could go on to list many more manifestations of climate change. All of these are the symptoms of our desire for energy and our continual dependence on fossil fuels for that energy. What depth psychology asks of us is to look not just at the symptoms, but at the deeper psychic causes of our pervasive planetary pathologies.
Our energy consumption and our demands for energy have exploded to huge levels, but we’ve become so accustomed to living this way that we don’t see it anymore. How can Jungian psychology help wake us up to our enormous and unsustainable appetite for energy?
This question goes to the very core of our dilemma. We have an insatiable appetite for energy. Energy that is used to provide us with so many things to buy and dispose of. Why do we feel the need to consume so much of our world? A depth psychological perspective on this is to consider where our inner psychic energy resides at this time. I feel that our desire for outer physical energy is due to our lack of connection to a source of inner psychic energy. We feel a sense of emptiness within that we are attempting to fill through the consumption of the planet. So, our challenge is to find a way to feel fulfilled from within. Jungian psychology’s purpose is to open us to experiencing that inner sense of wholeness.
What do you say to someone who says “I don’t have kids — why should I do something about climate change? I won’t be around…”?
I would ask this person: what do you really care about, what you really value in life? I would need to get a sense of how connected the person is to their lived-world. If I knew what they valued, then I could begin to relate this to climate change. I would also ask this person to reflect on the various ways we are connected. How are connected are they to another, to natural resources? I would look for where the feeling is in the person. Only then could I determine if there is a bridge, no matter how tenuous, between us. It is all about finding a doorway to begin a conversation.
Tell us about how you came to study psychology at age 50 after building a career as a senior climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Well, I could say that doorway was opened through personal suffering. The gift of suffering is that it leads you to doing your soul work. In addition to the personal dimension, I had been carrying out research on climate change for a number of years. One day I finally realized – on a feeling level – the implications of our behavior. That if we continue to rely on fossil fuels, then carbon dioxide levels will be more than three times what they were before the industrial revolution. I looked into the literature and realized the last time in Earth’s history this had occurred was around 40 million years ago! We know what the climate of Earth was back then. Extremely hot, extremely high sea levels. A climate unknown to humans and we are heading there at an unprecedented rate. I asked myself “Why are we doing this?” I immediately felt the answer to that question was rooted in psychology. So, I went back to school and got a degree in psychology.
What advice would you give someone who feels hopeless, scared, overwhelmed or despondent at the climate challenge we face?
The first thing I would encourage the person to do is hold that feeling. Sit with the feeling, even if you want to run away from it. I would also encourage the person to find others who are feeling the same way and share their feelings with others. Then I would ask the person to learn about the problem. The science is actually quite simple. It is important to accept that we are the cause of this problem. I would also talk with the person about how we as a species have overcome tremendous challenges in the past. History is full of stories of how humans can rise to a great challenge. Finally, I would talk with the person about the various ways they can become engaged in solving the problem. I am a strong advocate of what I call ‘engaged Jungian psychology.’
Why is it important to share stories about how our changing world affects us?
We are the storytelling animal. Story provides a powerful empathic way for us to connect. Story is rich in metaphor, image and feeling, which are the basic building blocks of archetypes. So, once we enter the world of story we are in the archetypal realm, which is the realm that provides a common lens of perception to the world around us. The power of story is profound and can provide a meaningful way to a flourishing future for all.
What role can art and imagery play in tackling complex, global issues like climate change?
This is a topic of great importance to me. I am constantly talking with artists about their role in providing new images around the issue of climate change. Images are transformative, not just on the individual level, but on the collective level. I have published a paper in Psychological Perspectives that is on the topic of artistic image in Western history. Image, play and art are essential ingredients to creating a new world.
Friday, September 15, 7:30-9:30 pm
Parkdale United Church
Saturday, September 16, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Parkdale United Church
Register on our Events page and join us for what promises to be a fantastic lecture and workshop.