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Book reviews - reviews of selected recent publications in our field of interest

rusttottonedited by Mary-Jayne Rust & Nick Totton
Karnac Books 2011

2 reviews
  - by Mara Senese for HOPE
I never expected this professional book to be so engaging Read in full

- by Kamalamani

Vital Signs is a thoughtful and thought-provoking anthology.

The twenty-three different voices of the book reflect – rather beautifully – the diversity of responses from the psychological world to the ecological crises we face as a species.

The contributors consist of eco-psychologists who work: as Jungian analysts, psychotherapists and psychologists in private therapy practice, in the Transition movement, as psychotherapy lecturers and trainers, as ceremony makers, kindergarten teachers and as a professor of geography. Many of the contributors are UK-based.
This book is ambitious in its breadth and depth of material. For example, the material ranges from the inclusion of practical examples of current initiatives, for example: the ‘Natural Change’ project, ‘Carbon Conversations’, ‘Wild Therapy’, and the ‘Inner Transition’ dimension of the Transition movement, through to more theoretical pieces, including Postmodern views and the politics of transformation, and the interface of ec-opsychology and spirituality – for example: ‘spiritual emergence’ in re-discovering intimacy in our relationship with the other-than and more-than human, the ecology of the unconscious, Borderland consciousness and the significance of self-transcendence values in effective environmental campaigning.
What first struck me when Vital Signs arrived in the post was the immediacy of its title – putting me in mind of hospital intensive care units – contrasted with the vivid, green, enchanting beauty of the front cover image (‘Heart of Reeds’ by the land artist Chris Drury). ‘Vital signs’ refers, of course, to the measures of physiological statistics used by medical professionals in assessing basic body functions. In this book the editors also use this term to refer to the gradual process of how – as individuals and as a society – we are beginning to wake up and respond to our collective predicament with small green shoot signs of hope and healing, as exemplified in the book.
This book for me embodies the koan-like need for immediacy and a state of emergency in responding to the earth’s (and our own) suffering, balanced with the need for a depth of understanding in where we are, rather than resorting to knee-jerk responses. This reflected my process in reading this book. Although I am not new to this sort of material, reading the book was challenging. Normally a fairly fast reader, I found I had to pace myself to take in and assimilate what was being offered. Somehow I felt the need to see the big picture of the ‘vital signs’ of the planet whilst checking that I wasn't over-whelming my own ‘vital signs’.
Whilst, I imagine, aimed at eco-psychologists, psychotherapists and ecologists, this book might well be of interest to a wider audience of students and practitioners in the social sciences, ecologists and other therapeutic fields. I rarely read an anthology cover to cover, but I did with this one. Of course, on a personal level I found some pieces more interesting, relevant and agreeable than others. Vital Signs offers a huge amount of food for thought both as a human being amongst billions of other beings – human and other-than-human – dwelling on the planet in 2012, as well as informing my work as a therapist and eco-psychologist. I appreciated the diverse styles and approaches of different authors – for me it reflected the microcosm of the riches of the eco-psychology world and how we can work creatively with such difference in this world and beyond. Some authors wrote in a very personal, intimate way whilst others took a more traditionally academic approach. My overriding response was one of respect for many of the authors who really ‘know their stuff’ and, more importantly, live their stuff rather than preach from on high or give the impression that they have it ‘sorted’.
In fact, what has personally given me hope in having read Vital Signs is the vast horizon of difference portrayed in this book. Faced with and engaging with the multiple ecological crises, (not to mention grieving for the harm already caused to the planet and other species) calls upon the deepest qualities, skills and resources in each of us. The diversity and experience reflected in this book gave me a sense that each of us can – or, in fact, that we do – play our part in the way that we are personally able to play that part. Vital Signs doesn’t offer the quick fixes so beloved in mainstream society, it offers wisdom founded on years of experience and therapeutic work in practice, for which I am very grateful. I am left with the question raised by Mary-Jayne Rust at the end of her chapter on ecological intimacy:
‘Will we die out as Homo Industrialis Destructivensis (Henriques, 20111) or can we make the leap to really become Homo Sapiens?’
[1Henriques, 2011. Personal Communication with Mary-Jayne Rust.]
Originally published in EarthLines Issue 1, May 2012