To move from ego-centric to eco-centric we’re going to have to get touchy feely…


To move from ego-centric to eco-centric we’re going to have to get touchy feely, writes Salt’s resident ‘Soul Doctor’, Nick Kettles.

Really, it should be so easy.  All we have to do is accept we have a responsibility to foster a reciprocal relationship with the earth, our home, and we’ll change the world.

However, the idea of being in a conscious relationship with this wonderful third rock from the sun seems to be either scaring the crap out of us or sending us to sleep with indifference.  So what is it really about getting closer to terra firma, which is so perplexing?

I think the challenge of reconsidering who we are in relationship to the earth, is that framing our current reality in terms of its potential to become a cataclysm of Biblical proportions has triggered a collective existential crisis.  Having emerged so shortly after the nuclear threat of the Cold War, the risks of climate change are asking us again, to consider our very existence in a way which forces us to not just confront our own mortality, but our collective vulnerability too.

We’re already uncomfortable talking about death as a natural process, but en-masse caused by the kind of extreme weather event we see reported on the news, or predicted by computer simulations of what would happen if global warming continues unchecked, is just way too much to comprehend. It’s not just the thought of what would happen if those close to me, from my family to my wider tribe were to die, which is so perplexing, but potentially what would happen if I was left alone.  This has left us more likely to deny climate change science as a way of defending ourselves against the threat it represents to the social networks which underpin our ego identity.

This ego identity is rooted in a largely Judeo-Christian narrative, which has positioned humanity as lord over nature since the advent of colonialism. Nature is there to serve humanity’s needs and humanity’s alone. Today it still shapes the development of law and commerce to the extent that the idea of reframing it represents nothing less than admitting that we might not be in control of our destiny.

This makes getting closer to nature that much more difficult for us.  Indeed, our objectification of nature as tradable capital originally in service of improving our quality of life, has today insulated us from the wild so much, that according to environment writer David Nicholson Lord on average, we spend less than a day in a lifetime, in sensory contact with Nature.

We may be moved by a Youtube video of nature but will it impel us to get out from behind our computer screen to touch, hear, see and smell nature up close?  Even when we do get out, technology can get in the way.  I had the opportunity to walk down a river canyon on the side of a Pyrenean mountain last summer, and observed another couple on the tour, who were more concerned with filming themselves with their GoPro camera, than slowing down and directly experiencing the flora and fauna in front of them.  That was until they lost the camera in a deep pool and without it as a way of mediating their experience they suddenly became very self-conscious.  Without a prop to position themselves at the centre of the piece, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. It was like watching Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden being told they were naked.  In this way, technology, which does so much to bring us together, also becomes a way in which we perpetuate our distance from nature, because in our Selfie generation, it still positions me, myself and I at the center with the world revolving around me.

Hard that it maybe, a closer more reciprocal relationship with nature is important, because if and when we do come out of denial that we are not entirely in control, it may be just the thing which helps us to live with uncertainty as part of our existence.  The risk is that if we don’t reconsider who we are in relationship to the planet, which supports us so graciously, we may only be able to create the appearance of a more sustainable and just society.  Life will seem more manageable on the outside, and yet we’ll be no less vulnerable on the inside.

This is not to say we need to return to living in mud huts, cheek by jowl with wild animals, but learning to embrace a more multi-sensory experience with nature is key in forming a more empathic relationship with the earth, where we can learn to not only respect the rights of other life forms, but also consider how they might teach us too.  According to Charles S Fisher, author of ‘Meditation In The Wild’, nature’s harsher realities provide us with a teacher for how to better understand the cycle of life, death and renewal.  Contemplating this, might be the very thing which fosters the kind of humility needed to recognise that my relationship with the earth is in fact inter-dependent.  In being open to experiencing myself as a significant part of the whole, but not more or less than any other part, I can learn to live in harmony with the earth’s natural cycles, rather than against them.

Switch off your mobile devices for a day.

While you maintain radio silence, and the temptation of being in touch with the next new, new thing, ask yourself who am I?  Who am I in relationship to the land immediately around me and what is my responsibility to it?

Take a walk and notice what you can see, feel, smell and hear.

While walking, first let go of thinking about arriving at your destination, and then pay attention to appreciating nature through your different senses.  Notice what happens when you cycle through experiencing nature one sense at a time.  Even in urban environments, it’s possible to experience nature by for example seeing the intensity of green on the moss growing on a wall, hearing the birds calling, smelling the rain, and feeling the breeze on your face.

Contemplate the sky

We often forget that the sky is the visual representation of the earth’s atmosphere and therefore no less part of nature.  Contemplating its changing cloud forms in relationship to the permanence of its blue expanse can remind us of  this.

Nick Kettles is a writer, consultant, and trainer of Co-Active Coaching, with the Coaches Training Institute. To find out more: