– Heartwood Path Waypoint 1.22 –
The Origin Of The Heartwood Path
Explaining The Curative Aspect Of Nature
For thirty years my main professional focus was outer world environmental action. I established conservation goals, worked hard, and, by 1983, met my goals. Although I was a successful conservationist, my intuition told me that I needed to hunt for something more.
The Heartwood Path Began As A Burnout Cure
This hunt started as a charge to find a cure for “burnout” in environmental activists. From this narrow bud, a flower emerged that is much more universally significant.
The Heartwood Path Blossomed Into A Cure Of Personal, Social, And Environmental Ills
When this small but special bud blossomed its petals revealed a map showing a path for how to make the world better. In following my newly blossoming course, I found sweet nectar. Pulled to drink this elixir, I found a magical cure for personal, social, and environmental ills.
A Remedy To Personal And Environmental Ills Is Current
The invisible cure for personal, social, and environmental ills I discovered while preparing these courses is a remedy that comes in two forms of current—that is, both 1) current as presence and 2) current as flow. It is, metaphorically speaking, a nameless enduring stream. Its power comes like the flow of water in the main channel of a powerful but largely forgotten river. Like the ever-present air we breathe, the enduring stream is, without the viewer receiving special guidance, too pervasive to be seen, too invisible to be appreciated, and too amorphous to be used. And so, we resort to scrounging benefits from its smaller, familiar, but less fruitful seemingly detached remnants.
For most of my life, I lived on the banks of the Father of Waters, the Mississippi River. Like the Enduring Stream, this main artery in the system of rivers in North America flows endlessly, it is rich in symbolic meanings, and despite the construction of levees, dams, dikes, dredging and other monumentally misguided efforts, it refuses to be contained either physically within the government’s navigation channel or within the imagination of those who are fortunate enough to witness its magical might. Due to its nature of meandering so extensively that it has historically altered its course, parts of the enduring Mississippi River have occasionally been abandoned as u-shaped lakes called “oxbows.” Now that the main flow-way of the Mississippi has taken a more opportune route, one such remnant of the river nearby my hometown is Horseshoe Lake. Though huge, like the main channel of the river, Horseshoe Lake can be captured by the eye and contained within its banks. Having lost the self-scouring power of the main flow of the Mississippi, Horseshoe is stagnant, shallow, and less attractive. The flow has stopped and topsoil from near-bye farm fields threatens to fill-in this lake so important to migratory birds. There are signs that this body of water was once a section of its abandoning parent, but the magical symbolism of the Mighty Mississippi flows elsewhere. Unlike the Mississippi which sensually comes from some distant place upstream and flows to some out-of-sight place downstream, all the edges of Horseshoe Lake are within sight, measurable, namable, and suitable for the construction of the Granite City steel mill and other industrial developments nearby. For these reasons, the abandoned channel of the greater river is diminished in its symbolic meaning.
Though diminished of the vast metaphorical power it had when it was part of the main river, some benefits can be gleaned in the abandoned lakes and solid crusts left aside at edges of the lake. Trees, for example, become timber. Chemicals become medicines. Plants and animals become classified, dissected, studied, and used. In the abandoned pools left behind by the flowing Father of Waters, the water is shallow and calm enough for a grandfather to hook fish, give the pole to his grandson, and then marvel at how many fish the little lad can catch. It was from Horseshoe Lake that I, at age four, along with my grandfather at age fifty-four brought home my first remembered bucket of bluegill for dinner. The lake and the bucket were in my awareness. There are no such memories regarding the parent stream, which seems too vast, too dangerous, and too mysterious to be plucked out by a single family’s memories. Not threatened by the wrath of the churning waters in the main channel of the river, a little boy’s self-esteem and confidence grew, a steel mill belched out salmon-colored “pay-dirt,” and the human culture around the lake became bigger, louder, and brighter, but also more destructive.
I did not include this description of a river and an oxbow because of some need for you to understand hydrology. The important lesson here comes at the end of the next section.
Hard To Swallow
The realization of the curative powers of the enduring stream was a bit of a rude awakening for me. I was happy in my acute awareness but troubled when that awareness broadened into a more expansive consciousness.
I spent thirty years stopping dams, power plants, mines, highways, and other rude aspects of civilization. It is a bit hard to come to the realization that during all of this time I was working save the earth from (metaphorically speaking) the ax of civilization when really it is the madman wielding the ax that ought to have been changed. It took an understanding of the Enduring Stream for me to come to that conclusion, which would not have been possible without the study of Natural Attraction Ecology and a form of eco-psychology offered by Dr. Cohen at Project NatureConnect. Dr. Cohen enabled me to, among other things, make rich distinctions between the Mississippi River (broader consciousness) and its abandoned oxbows (limited awareness). The Heartwood Path is not about the stagnant oxbow of limited awareness. It is about the enduring stream of broader and higher consciousness.
The Discovery Of The Path
The man who saved the Grand Canyon and essentially invented the modern environmental movement once asked me to “write a piece” about how to prevent “burnout” in environmentalists. My first response to his call to action was to ask: “why me?” My second response, kept to myself, was to wonder what I would have to say in such a “piece.”
David Brower’s (1912-2000) call for me to write happened in 1986. It did not take me numerous decades to become articulate about the subject of perseverance. It has, however, taken me that long to be able to produce what I believe to be the real benefit of Brower’s request. In looking for ways to keep environmentalists active I also discovered ways that personal growth is good for the planet, ways the planet can aid in helping people add to their development, and ways nature can lead us to find happiness. These ways come from the Enduring Stream itself, but, to reap its rewards, one has to first uncover the Enduring Stream, for it is largely hidden from the bulk of humanity, especially those of us who live the bulk of our lives indoors, detached from nature, where “the enfolding earth is filtered through a dense panoply of technology” (Abram, 2010, p. 263).
The initial uncovering of the Enduring Stream can begin for you in a number of ways, including:
While this principle will be described subsequently, the basis for it has been discussed by other authors. Nordhaus and Shellenber (2010), for example, demonstrate the need for such a principle when they state “The (environmental) problem is so great that before answering What is to be done? We (have to) first ask, What kind of beings are we? and What can we become?” (p. 8).
Since the nature of something is often best revealed in its origins, I will explain here how Brower’s charge to help fight “burnout” in environmentalists led to something that is good for everyone. Like a prophet, Brower arose to the occasion, knew what was needed, and knew how to, at least, get it started.
Given the alarming dropout rate for volunteer and professional environmentalists, given my passion to protect nature, and given my undying admiration for David Brower, I would eventually become excited about my new assignment. Not at first, however. Here’s how it went down:
David Brower, the man a book-writer name Stephen Fox called the “most prominent conservationist of the post –war period,” wanted me, then a seasoned regional representative for one of Brower’s organizations, (Friends of the Earth), to figure out how to help my eco-comrades persevere. Although that was for me quite an honor; it was also daunting, to say the least.
“Why do you want me to write it?” I asked. “After all,” I said, “who better than you to pen such a ‘piece?’ You have four more decades of experience than I, and nobody has a better history of successes.”
His answer began curiously: “ You live in the Midwest.” I suppose for him the Bible Belt section of the Midwest was the American equivalent to living in Siberia.
“And with practically no support” he continued, “you stick to it, year after year, winning scores of conservation battles on a limited budget.” Then came the part he knew would make me rise to the challenge, just to prove a point:
“And, despite the low pay and isolation, you never give up.” There, he said it: “isolation. ” He knew that would be the clincher. Dave knew how I felt about being regarded as an “isolated, out of touch, hick from the sticks.” He meant that, except for periodic lobbying trips to the nation’s capital and trips to the West Coast because I had become a Friends of the Earth board member, I was largely isolated from San Francisco or Washington D.C—the nation’s two power centers for environmentalism.
Looking like he realized his statement demonstrated a prejudice against the Heartland, he wryly asked with a self-knowing chuckle: “How do you keep the fight going year after year after year?” I was flattered.
Then it hit me. Despite my history of attempting to overcome “Midwest-ism” by attempting to be a good example of an articulate, dedicated, mover-and-shaker, I had no answer for the one man I admired most professionally. I did not know what I did to keep myself from “burning out” so how was I going to write a piece about perseverance in environmentalists?
This realization sent me on a quest, and in the process of attempting to present “burnout” remedies for activists, my own and those proposed by others, I discovered something that can be good for everyone, especially those who seek to make a difference in the world without crashing. Eventually, I would put all I learned into this series of courses that I continuously see as being beneficial to both individual participants and the planet as a whole.
The Discovery Of Applied Eco-psychology
Along the way to present this “piece” I discovered applied eco-psychology. With that and a host of other practices, I believe I am helping to develop a new arm of the environmental movement. So fruitful do I believe this approach to be, I am now personally doing what I never imagined I would do: I am transcending the approach I learned from Brower and others in the environmental movement: I am presenting a new, softer approach to the old mildly militant one from my days working at Friends of the Earth and elsewhere.
This is not a change, for that would imply giving up the old approach. I believe Brower’s approach is still valid: fervently and legally use the political system to demonstrate, though media attention, local demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to governmental officials, that one’s will to protect wild places is greater than the collective will of everyone hell-bent to destroy such places.
This approach is well suited to winning conservation battles, but I fear in the years to come that it, by itself, will not be enough to win, using the jargon of my fellow eco-warriors, the overall “war to protect the environment.” While saving individual wild places is a valid endeavor, saving natural places alone will prove to be an insufficient solution to the global environmental predicament because during the fray to save a place (or a species, for that matter) little is done to correct the root cause of the global environmental predicament.
To be truly successful, the environmental movement needs to add to its agenda changing the collective human mindset that is now leading to environmental destruction. The magnitude of the job of reversing the psychological underpinning that promotes the ecological destructiveness of modern civilization understandably causes much of the burnout amongst environmentalists Brower was asking me to address. Changing the minds of the masses seems too overwhelming for even a legion of environmentalists to take on.
Indeed, lack of motivation occurs when one sees a huge job but does not have the tools necessary to do the work effectively. So the question arises: “What sort of manageable “fulcrum” can be used to tip the big, collective mindset of humanity towards a consciousness that promotes ecological sustainability?”
Given that we in the United States are blessed to live with a political structure that allows citizens to affect change, I am not advocating throwing out what works well on targeted campaigns. I am, however, about to propose an additional tool, a sort of fulcrum, one that is an adjunct to both traditional psychotherapy and the traditional environmental advocacy approach. The new approach I am about to present, therefore, is not a change but a transcendence.
I am proposing that those who care about the environment add to their time-tested targeted tactics a new approach that will have a broad and deep impact. I make this suggestion because I have found that when environmental advocacy is combined with helping people work to regain their psycho-spiritual sense of wholeness with nature, the total is greater than the sum of the parts—especially when the work is laid out along an understandable and doable pathway.
Luckily, the work of two men –David Brower and Dr. Michael Cohen--served as a guide for my proposed deeper, two-tier approach to environment protection: 1) engage in targeted battles to save specific aspects of nature and 2) show those who care about the environment how to add to their personal growth, expand their world view, and become both more effective and happy sustainably.
The path I will describe here is for one’s personal growth. It can be taken without receiving college credit or as part of Dr. Cohen’s program which does provide certification and advanced degrees, including a Ph.D.
The path I am about to describe is where the perseverance Brower wanted me to write about comes about. Beyond the attainment of perseverance, this path, which leads to Dr. Cohen’s applied eco-psychology, is also where one can find an amazing source of guidance, information, and the healing—all necessary for personal happiness, improved relationships, and a protected environment.
Brower, more than anyone else, taught me how to “save the earth, one place at a time.” As I have said, I have used his approach to fight dams, nuclear power plants, lumber barons, and huge mining companies, with considerable success. Along with these positive results, I have also seen the ill-effects of such battles on my cohorts.
For their own personal and private reasons, most of the activists that have worked with me in conservation are not still participating actively in the movement. Brower recognized this problem throughout the world and requested that I present a “burnout” cure.
His charge made it possible for me to add “saving the earth, one person at a time” to my suggested approach to environmentalism. My proposed approach requires the following of the practices developed by eco-psychologists such as Michael Cohen along a path that I will describe here.
I have already summarized Brower’s way of saving the environment. Now, since you will be repeatedly asked to spend time outdoors appreciating nature in the activities that follow, it is useful here at the outset to switch for the moment from saving the environment to savoring the environment and, specifically, to savoring in ways that engender greater Triple A Happiness.
A good anchor for your own happiness is the source of your calling. The following activity will help you recall the origins of your passion.