Be off to the woods! | Sunday Observer

Be off to the woods!

We seem to be living in a crazy world. Sorry, the world is not crazy but the people! We are responsible for the depleting ozone layer, killing of elephants and rhinos and also destroying rainforests. We hold seminars, conferences and workshops at five star hotels where speakers wax eloquent repeating the oft-chanted mantra “Save the environment.” But are they genuinely interested in saving the environment?

Inflicting irreversible damage to the biosphere seems to be the most obvious craziness. Unfortunately, there is no term called “Ecological madness” in the Dictionary of Psychology. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists more than 300 mental diseases in its “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (DSM). The DSM categories are mostly related to sex. For instance, you find terms such as sexual aversion disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, hyperactive sexual desire disorder, gender identity disorder, travestic fetishism, and voyeurism. But, all these are not related to the environment except the seasonal affective disorder which is remotely connected to nature. The term “Dysfunctional environmental relations” does not exist even as a concept in psychology or psychiatry.

The reason for the omission may be due to the fact that mainstream Western psychology was limited to the mental health of urban society. In Sigmund Freud’s words, “Nature is eternally remote. She destroys us – coldly, relentlessly.” Most of his theories have been rejected by modern psychologists, but the tragic sense of estrangement from nature continues to haunt psychology.


Thanks to a group of modern psychologists, ecology has found a place in their studies. They are now known as ecopsychologists who are wondering why people buy what they do not need. When you enter a mall or supermarket probably with a credit or debit card, you tend to buy anything and everything irrespective of your need to lead a happy life. People would say, they shop when they are depressed. By moving among happy people they think they can get rid of depression.

The million dollar question is, whether you can get rid of depression by purchasing unwanted items. Ecopsychologists argue that people buy unwanted goods not out of greed but due to their sense of emptiness. The emptiness is not created in the present. It can be traced back to their childhood experiences, including, inadequacy and rejection. It may also be related to the middle class craze for competitive success. When they fail in life insecurity creeps into their lives.

According to modern psychologists, when you are addicted to spending sprees, nothing can stop you. If you are to be salvaged such a person should be given something environmentally fulfilling to fill the void. Ecopsychologists suggest that such addicts should seek the solace of nature and the environment. They suggest that people should go back to the woods, at least occasionally.

Nature is a great healer. Emerson lamented that only a few people could see nature. If they go back to the woods, they will find reason and faith. There is no malady nature cannot cure. People who lead stressful lives need not swallow tablets and capsules. They have only to go back to a forest and spend some time among the trees.


Modern civilization has distanced man from forests, seascapes, starry skies and moonlit nights. Villagers are less stressed because they live close to nature. They take a walk among the trees in a forest. They look at the starry skies and children try to count the stars. They walk along dusty roads moonlit nights, enjoying the serenity of nature. They think that their city cousins are crazy to consult psychotherapists for stress.

Long before ecopsychologists came to the scene, philosophers had stressed the need to go back to nature. Even the Buddha meditated under trees and delivered his sermons in open areas. Today, we flock to air-conditioned theatres and auditoriums to find solace in dramas or films. Hardly anyone tries to walk into a forest and recharge their mental batteries.

Sometimes, highly stressed people are asked to visualize a soothing scene. If you have never visited a forest or seen a waterfall, you may not be able to visualize such a scene. Instead of visualizing a soothing scene they should be asked to go to the woods. The image of the real will be more fascinating than what is imagined.

Modern man has been devastating the natural environment for monetary gains. River banks are vandalized when people start sand-mining. Forest cover is reduced when he cuts down massive trees. In short, man exploits natural resources unmindful of the consequences. Man has forgotten that he has a moral reciprocity with the nonhuman environment.

Environmental losses

All sensible people are grieving over the great environmental losses the world is suffering. Once a depressed person told a psychotherapist that he no longer could drink tap water. The reason was his anxiety over the environmental devastation happening everywhere. This is not an obsession with the environment. It is a genuine commitment to the environment.

At a conference on “Psychology as if the whole earth mattered” held at Harvard’s Center for Psychology and Social Change, participating psychologists concluded, “If the self is expanded to include the natural world, behaviour leading to destruction of the world will be experienced as self-destruction.”

As Sigmund Freud lived in a pre-ecological era, he failed to realize the significance of biosphere in psychology. Thanks to the efforts of a new breed of ecopsychologists, we are now beginning to understand the importance of living close to nature in order to keep our sanity. So, it is nothing but fair to conclude that we should go to the woods and feel the therapeutic value of trees, birds and waterfalls.

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