One of my favorite concepts in ecopsychology is that of the ecological self. It originated with deep ecology, the philosophy founded by Arne Næss that encourages us to see ourselves as one of many parts of a vibrant global ecosystem and to value all of nature for itself rather than for what we can use it for. The ecological self is who we are when we see ourselves as interwoven with the rest of life. More importantly, the ecological self is altruistic, with a deep-seated need to care for and protect all life, not just human aims.
Most of us in the United States were raised with the idea that humans are at the top of an ecological pyramid; some of us even grew up learning that we have dominion over the entire planet and that it was made specifically for us. Unfortunately this power-over approach has led us to severely damage ecosystems, even in the most remote parts of the planet. We’ve polluted the air, water and soil, caused numerous species to go extinct, and even threaten our own health and happiness in spite of our supposed superiority.
Yet we also yearn for a connection with nature.