In the Arms of the Green Man
Who is the Green Man, what does he represent, and why did he offer to hold me?
In the fall of 2007, as I began a graduate studies program in Depth Psychology at Sonoma State University, I had a series of dreams that have taken hold of me and directed the course of my research as well as the topic of my thesis. My first dream included the image of a man whose head transformed into leaves and grass when I first touched his face. As someone who has always loved the outdoors, it seemed appropriate that a man composed of vegetation would appear to guide me through this chaotic process of personal and academic growth that I was beginning. Throughout my studies here I have become more familiar with this ancient, and distinctly male representation of our connection to the wild, vegetative world of nature. As I have done this, I have found that my views regarding the way we treat the earth have begun to transform.
While I was familiar with the metaphor of the earth as “mother”, or “mother nature”, I had apparently not yet considered her other half: the irrepressible and fertilizing forces of “male” nature. This recognition of the imbalanced way in which I was viewing the earth has prompted me to ask many questions for which there do not seem to be any simple answers. While it may seem obvious in this time of environmental crisis that we need to respect and consider the earth that we inhabit in a more balanced way, what is not so obvious is why we don’t.
Therefore, one of my greatest concerns, and what I feel to be one of the most important contemporary issues of our time, is our relationship, as humans, to the natural world. Why is it so imbalanced and why do we feel so disconnected from it? When did we stop appreciating and revering the powers of the planet that surrounds us? How can we truly learn to value and recognize how time spent in nature benefits us psychologically? Is it possible to re-imagine this relationship in a respectful, sacred way that would promote positive change in our behavior towards the earth, and help to insure the survival and the flourishing of all the earth’s inhabitants?
My thesis is an investigative project that will focus on these particular questions. My purpose is to explore how we view our relationship, as humans, to the earth and to the natural growing world of nature that surrounds us. Using a depth psychological perspective and methods, I will examine the patterns, the history, and the mythic stories behind this relationship as well as the development of my own personal relationship with nature.
The field of depth psychology is one that has developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an era of rapid growth in the sciences, in technology and in human population. This era has also been characterized, however, by war, environmental destruction, a feeling of loss, of suffering, of separation, and a search for new meaning or purpose. As pointed out by analyst Murray Stein, it has “been an age of deep introspection and probing into our common human subjectivity.”. Depth psychology has grown as a result of this search, by attempting to recognize and incorporate a continuous chain of new insights and perspectives that can bring back meaning into our lives. The recent growth of this psychoanalytical field is a good indication of just how many people are searching for this.
Although depth psychologists have incorporated many of the ideas of traditional psychology, they continue on to a deeper level. They recognize that human behavior or human nature is not only controlled by conscious processes, but by unconscious ones as well. Webster’s dictionary defines the word unconscious as “not conscious, without awareness, sensation or cognition” and “containing psychic material that is only rarely accessible to awareness but that has a pronounced influence on behavior”. Psychiatrist Carl Jung once described the unconscious as containingeverything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking;
everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten;
everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind;
everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think,
remember, want and do
This complex and shadowed inner world cannot be easily examined by the same methods that attempt to explore the outer world of conscious experience. Depth psychology employs the use of other, more experiential and qualitative methods. These methods include psychoanalysis, dream analysis, introspection, imagination, creativity, art process, story, play, movement, and time spent in nature, which are utilized as ways of bringing what was once unconscious into awareness and possibly changing our behavior in the process.
Along with exploring unconscious responses, developing an understanding of any relationship also begins with a conscious examination of our individual and collective experience, in this case with and within the natural world. I will attempt to interweave both of these processes throughout my thesis by examining my own experience along with the current collection of literature on this topic.
In chapter one I will review recent writings as well as ancient representations of the Green Man in myth, as an archetypal image that addresses our relationship with nature. I will also explore my personal experience of the archetype, through dream and story. In chapter two I will continue to follow his development throughout history and religion in an effort to understand some of the changes or shifts in how we began to view the natural world.
In chapter three I will be exploring the views of ecopsychology, a more specialized and “green” field of study which has developed alongside contemporary practices of conservation and the politically charged environmental movement.
In chapters four and five I will continue to explore our relationship to the natural world by examining how it is seen through the different lenses of individual experience, using story, interviews, and personal surveys.
Chapter six will be an attempt to draw conclusions from my investigation and personal experience, and to formulate a clearer understanding of how we can bring about a sense of well-being into our own lives by developing a more personal and sacred relationship to the natural world.
The word “sacred,” as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, suggests a devotional attitude towards a religious deity or purpose. It also further defines sacred as something entitled to veneration or respect. While I incorporate these meanings in a general sense when I use the word sacred, I would also like to define it further as any experience that fills us with a sense of awe and appreciation that connects us with the world and the universe around us.
Our place in nature seems to have played a part in the development of every religious, spiritual, and mythical tradition worldwide, and yet we no longer treat the earth in a sacred or respectful way. I am not suggesting that we need to replace our current organized religions with one based on nature-worship. I do believe, however, that if we begin to recognize its place in the emergence of our spiritual traditions and understand how disconnected we have become from it, then we can begin to restore a more balanced view of our world, of ourselves, and maybe of each other. Even for those of us who may doubt the existence of any divine source, how can you not believe in the importance of a world that you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste all around you on a daily basis? It is my hope that an in-depth exploration of how we regard nature will be a valuable tool that will enhance my own understanding of this relationship, and perhaps allow me to help others to also reconnect with this world in a more sacred and transformative way.
While I can only imagine how the appearance of Green Man will transform me, there is one thing that I know for sure. As long as we are living here on this planet, it is still the green, growing, and sometimes wild forces of nature and the earth which hold us in their arms.