I went for a walk in the rain today. We’re getting into the rainy season here in Portland–which means it’ll be soaking wet now til probably early to mid June. (And you wonder why the Pacific Northwest is so green!) I walked over to the park, watching the fox squirrels foraging for acorns and other things to store away for Winter. The sky was a very pale grey, almost white, and almost perfectly smooth except for the occasional lower-hanging cloud adding just a slightly darker grey splotch.
I deliberately went out while it was raining. I’m one of those people who prefers warm, sunny weather–summer’s my time. I’ve generally tended to see anything cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit as too cold for my tastes, and I usually walk around in several layers all throughout Autumn, Winter, and most of Spring. Plus, having worked in a few occupations where I was outdoors a good bit of the time, I’ve come to appreciate shelter.
I spent a good bit of today reading Ecopsychology, edited by Theodore Roszak, in preparation for my ecopsych class. I’m reading through the entire book, rather than only the assigned portions, because this is really what my main interest is in my grad school career. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, to be sure.
One of the themes that has really leaped out at me is that of the excessive, even neurotic, need for control in Western cultures, America in particular. One particular thread that I’ve been following is that of the need to control one’s environment to an excessive degree, even to the point of destroying other beings. Because we feel the need to exert our control over the environment, we have so manipulated the world around us that entire ecosystems have been utterly destroyed. Even if you consider global warming to be a natural phenomenon, there’s no denying the huge amount of deforestation going on worldwide, including in crucial rain forest areas–or the extinction of multiple species by human interference–or pollution in waterways (Cuyahoga River FTL!). We have most decidedly left our mark, and not in the best way possible.
Compared to other cultures, modern Western cultures are incredibly out of touch with the interconnected world we live in; we have done a marvelous job of denying any connection whatsoever (except for those we find to be convenient). American culture in particular has taken independence and self-centeredness to an extreme–some would say neurotic–state. Because of this, we have lost, as a culture, the ability to interconnect, not even just with the environment, but with other people. Any form of dependence on others is assumed to be bad, weak, and a threat to the strictly-held boundaries of SELF. And it’s that deep divide between Self and Other that really screws us over. Instead of having a permeable boundary that allows for fluid connections depending on context, we stay in the perceived safety of Cartesian dualities because we’re too afraid to venture beyond the known.
We have a deeply-ingrained terror of losing ourselves in the world. We grasp our precious control so tightly that we never learn what it is to really let go, and simply experience. Instead, any mention of loosening the grip at all causes a kneejerk reaction. Suggest to the modern American that as a culture we’re addicted to consumerism (and as a culture are in denial about it), and you’ll get a bunch of–you guessed it–denial. People don’t want to question their nice, safe boundaries.
Reading some of these essays today made me want to go outside of those boundaries. I’ve already been working against some of the cultural assumptions that, as an American, I’ve had pushed onto me from day one. I’ve been trying to slowly decrease my isolationist dependence on technology, even as I try to acknowledge my interdependence with other people, other animals, other beings, and recognize the impact my actions have (even if I don’t always make the best choices every single time). And I’ve been trying to make my boundaries between my Self and Everything Else less rigid, more permeable–but without the either/or terror that says “If you don’t maintain your boundaries just so, you’ll be swallowed up!” (I’ve been working on destroying my dualistic assumptions and replacing them with continuums for a while now.)
So today I took a walk in the rain to see if it was really all that bad, if it was everything I feared it would be. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. I wore proper clothing to keep me from getting utterly soaked, though in places where the rain did soak in to my skin, I relished the feeling of water, right next to my skin. I listened to the sound of the rain pattering down on my hat, on the ground, on the leaves in the trees. I thought about how the rain brings fertilization–not just in hydration, but in the fact that every rain drop forms around a particle of dust or other stuff, and this falls to the Earth to help replenish the soil. The rain captures nourishment that is afloat in the air–topsoil blown away, minute bits of bio-material–and returns it to the Earth. How can this be bad, in and of itself?
And as I swam through the ocean of air that we all are submerged in, nestled amid trees and grass and birds and squirrels and hills, I recognized what Laura Sewall, a perceptual psychologist, was talking about in her essay “The Skill of Ecological Perception”–that we do not live on the Earth–we live in it. Our perception of depth is anthropocentric–it starts from our own head, and expands outward. Yet we can reframe that depth perception in other ways, and see the world in a wholly different light.
“Wholly” is a wholly appropriate word here. When I allow myself to perceive that I am in the Earth and not just on it, when I see myself as within my environment and not merely looking at it, immersed without losing myself and my subjective perspective, I am not veering off into the other end of the dualistic perception of “inside/outside” or “Self/Other”. Rather, I am perceiving from a place of “both/and”. I am mySelf, and I am also part of the Other. There is no contradiction in this. It is the sticking point of dualism that makes the automatic assumption that you can’t be in two places at once–yet it’s all in how you perceive things.
As for the rain being “bad”? Sure, I don’t like being soaked to the bone on a cold day. But to borrow a thought from object relations theory–the well-adjusted person is one who merges both the good and the bad traits of something that is perceived. A mentally unhealthy person is one who literally cannot make that merge–who cannot see that either the Self, or Other, or both, are composed of both good and bad things. (This results in the paranoid-schizoid position proposed by Klein.)
So in an attempt to have a healthier, more whole outlook (and, as a sidenote, “health” and “whole” come from the same root word), I went out to appreciate the good things about the rain, without ignoring the bad. I enjoyed the rain, and appropriately protected myself from too much of it soaking into my clothing. I remembered that I am in the Earth, not just on it, and didn’t lose myself in the process.