- Written by Chris Robertson Chris Robertson
- Published: 30 September 2015 30 September 2015
Is Climate Change just a literal threat to our survival,one to which we need to accommodate by being more in balance and showing more restraint? Yes and climate is also a phenomenon of the imagination.
Almost every culture has stories about climate, such as Noah and his ark. To treat climate change literally as a technical problem to be solved or even as a medical problem for a high Gaian temperature is to ignore our intimate relationship with weather. The weather is as much inside of us in our dreams and stories of storms, fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. We inhabit a psychological world even though we are estranged from the intimate co-habitation of our indigenous ancestors - the world is not really objectified, as our psyche re-constitutes it as ‘our world’. We maybe ignorant of how much we owe to the rocks, plants and animals that have animated our imagination, but despite this they live in us.
Clients come with stories, stories of their dreams or their infection by others dreams that are living through them. The dream of progress, the heroic story of conquest and triumph, the poor-me stories of their victim and the depressive stories of failure, rejection and helplessness. Then there are the apocalyptic dreams. Not the rehearsed ones from Hollywood movies but the spontaneous one that reflect the growing collective disease that parallels what Jung recognised as prescient of the Second World War.
In his striking book, Dreaming the End of the World, Michael Hill analyses modern apocalyptic dreams such as those on the evocative themes of “No Refuge, Invisible Poison” and the “Suffering Children”, all of which could also be linked to the felt threat of climate change. Paul Hoggett and Penny Maclellan using a method based on Gordon Lawrence’s Social dreaming matrix found that collective dreams constellated into themes such as abandoned infants, aborted babies, monstrous births. Paul Hogget suggests (pending publication), “At one level these dreams seemed to be about our anxieties regarding the vulnerability of life. But at a deeper level they expressed our anxieties about the carrying capacity of ‘mother earth’ ".
The weather acts as an unconscious barometer. On a bright sunny day our spirits are lifted. We want to engage and be engaged especially if there is a wind. When it is foggy, our thoughts may be clogged or we may drift into the mists of daydreams. Perhaps there is a reciprocal affinity between our internal weather and what we perceive outside our dwelling, such as in the wonderfully abbreviated "Seasonal Affective Disorder". This affinity deepens when we are camping with little of no separation between inner and outer. The weather envelops us. We may feel the rain as merciful or as drowning. We may attempt to escape or give ourselves over to it but it is difficult to deny its presence. David Abram, author of "The Spell of the Sensuous," reminded us that "We’re immersed in the mystery… our body is continuous with Earth’s body and our psyche is continuous with the larger collective Psyche" which includes the more than human as well as the human. "We live within the Psyche of the world."
When Bob Dylan sang, “ You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, he was not speaking literally. Walking into a room, we sense the atmosphere – the emotional weather. It could be sticky or dangerous. It could be inviting and calm. There might be something brewing that we can feel without knowing what it is. Similarly with the start of a psychotherapy session in which each protagonist is waiting to sense which way the wind will blow.
It is not surprising that many words overlap between psychotherapy and weather. We have depressions and sunny times. We can be cool, hot, gloomy, fine, hazy and blustering. We can become flooded, it can be raining in my heart or I can be hoping that ‘here comes the sun’. More enigmatic we can describe the weather as close without suggesting intimacy. From a dualistic viewpoint is difficult to know if meteorologists are borrowing from the psychological or if psychotherapists are creating metaphors. More likely there is a mirror operating between the energetic eddies of the emotional field and the equally uncertain perturbations in the weather. Our ego minds can not control either, so talk about the weather becomes this social banter for circumnavigating those complexities such as grieving, longing, delighting and empathising with each others sorrows and joys.
Tom Waits is more direct in his ‘Emotional Weather Report’,
And a line of thunderstorms was developing in the early morning hours
Ahead of a slow moving cold front, cold-blooded
With tornado watches issued shortly before noon Sunday
For the areas including the western region of my mental health
And the northern portion of my ability to deal rationally
With my disconcerted precarious emotional situation
It's cold out there
The point of this story is that the weather and our psyche are inextricably interwoven. Living involves weathering and being weathered by the challenges and misfortunes of life. Yet our escapist culture attempts to insulate us from such vagaries. In the sixties there was a great piece of graffiti that read, “Corrugated iron is the character armour of the council”. Perhaps in our era, it would read, “Health and safety regulations are a cultural defence against any vital signs of wildness.”
This intimate mixing in which it is difficult to ascertain what belongs to whom is part of the therapeutic craft. Working with a client who we recognise as having many of the same wounding and personal difficulties as ourselves, requires special attention to possibilities of collusion and confluence. Moving from stories of weather to those of climate require a different sort of intervention, one that addresses the cultural complexes that beset us. These complexes (narcissistic, manic, depressive) are the drivers of so many implicit, embedded stories such as that of the solar hero who brings light and order to a world of chaos. Freeing ourselves from the addictive grip of that hero is a first step to cultural change. It does open the space for a different sort of hero.
In this classic story of the ‘Rainmaker’ from the Jungian stable, we learn both of this new type of lunar hero and of an early climate intervention.
A certain province in China was suffering a terrible drought. They had tried all the usual magical charms and rites to produce rain but to no avail. Then someone said there was a rainmaker in a distant province who had a good reputation. The local dignitaries invited him and sent a carriage to bring him to the drought area. In time the rainmaker arrived and on alighting from the carriage was greeted by the local officials who beseeched him to produce rain. The rainmaker sniffed the air, looked around and pointed to a small cottage on a hill just outside the village. He asked if he could reside there for three days and see if he could do anything. The officials all agreed and he went up and locked himself into the cottage.
Three days later storm clouds gathered and there was a torrential downpour of rain. The villagers were jubilant and a delegation, led by the officials went up to the cottage to thank the rainmaker. But the rainmaker shook his head and replied “But I didn’t make it rain”. The officials said he must have done as three days had passed and rain had been produced. The rainmaker replied, “No, you don’t understand. When I alighted from the carriage in your province I recognised at once that you are all out of harmony and so it was no wonder it did not rain when it is supposed to. Being here myself I became infected by your disharmony and I became out of sorts. I knew if anything could be done then I would have to put ‘my own house in order’ first. And that is all I have been doing for the past three days!
It would be nice to think that the rainmaker is a prototype psychotherapist who through regulating himself was able to be the catalyst in that edge-of-chaos weather to bring the system back from its disregulation. While recognising that weather systems are inter-dependent with human systems, the present influence seems to be the other way round. Human systems have become so dysregulated that in a relatively short time span they have started to destabilise the Gaia system of regulating temperature and climate that have taken eons to create. The industrial heat pump of our consumer society, combined with its CO2 emissions, is warming the planet. The effluence of this consumption pollutes rivers, seas, air and land to such an extent that the Gaia regulatory system cannot cope. What makes it perilous is that our wonderful capacity to imagine, allows us to ignore the evident feedback from our scientists and carry on as usual.
Symptoms of the pending crisis are not just in climate science. The dominant story in our culture is one of progress. For a capitalist consumer society to function we need to believe in the myth of progress in order to invest in it. Without this faith, the myth loses its efficacy and the uncertainty spooks markets and our belief in sustainability of our society. We are being confronted with recognising that our children’s future will not only not improve on ours but they will be inheriting a degraded world in which survival rather than optimal pleasure will be the mode. Such is the power of the myth, that very few persons can confront this terrifying and salutary message. It could be that psychotherapists will recognise a new ethical obligation in their work to confront this denial in human terms rather than scientific ones. We will need to be crafting new stories that constrain the escapist phantasies and re-imagine what is desirable and sustainable.