It would be nice if there were one medicine for all of the world’s difficulties. Especially these days.
We’re facing deeply concerning issues on the societal, political, environmental, economic, spiritual, and individual levels.
Communities are struggling to be vibrant and healthy, organizations and small businesses face unprecedented challenges, individuals are increasingly fearful and angry—the list goes on. The need for a widely effective and simple solution seems more urgent than ever.
Our problems are systemic, with many contextual and interacting parts. The automation and mechanization that helped humans develop and evolve fails to address these contemporary challenges. Our simplistic and reductionist approach exacerbates (rather than solves) the issues we face.
To succeed and move forward, we need systemic solutions that tackle issues holistically. We need to address relationships, psychology, behaviors, emotions, culture, and the very way we think.
While it isn’t a magic pill, a solution actually does exist and it’s applicable at all levels of our current difficulties. That solution is held within the intersection of nature and psychology.
Ecosystems, when uninterrupted by human intervention, serve as models of optimal functioning, organization, evolvement, and impact. Like humanity, nature encounters challenges like competition, uncertainty, and scarcity of resources. It also has goals for safety, health, and growth. Nature actually demonstrates solutions we could emulate to be successful ourselves, whether we’re a society, organization, political system, or individual.
Using nature’s principles and designs to address human problems is nothing new. In fact, it is the foundation for the field of biomimicry.
Biomimicry is utilized across disciplines with great success for the design of many products. This year Fortune identified it as one of “5 Trends to Ride for 2017.”
What hasn’t been done until now, and is a direction we need to take, is applying biomimicry to our understanding of psychology.
There are 10 principles that enable the natural world to thrive. These principles model a new and incredibly effective way of being in our interconnected world.
These 10 principles are: cooperation, change, communication, creativity, diversity, decentralization, patterns, “both and,” energy, and relationships.
Adopting these ecological tenets promotes thriving and healing, and leads to enhanced functioning, engagement, and impact.
Promoting health and growth by exploring the psychological relationship between humans and the natural world is at the heart of ecopsychology, a field that’s been around for decades. Any future change and development we want at any level of our society requires further utilization of ecopsychology. This will have wide reaching benefits for how we relate, act, feel, and think.
Whether you’re motivated to improve the environment of your business, community, organization, or planet, the challenges we face have to do with our psychology. We must understand these complexities to know how best to move forward.
Our experiences and relationships with nature hold profound insight and direction for promoting change. Communities and individuals are deeply affected by their experiences with their environment, and this has significant impact on development. Factors involved include access to green spaces, climate, belief systems, and personal memories—even how language was used to describe to nature.
Ecopsychology also provides key solutions to climate change—perhaps the most pertinent issue of our time. The importance of adequately addressing this pressing concern cannot be overstated: climate change will impact everything from our quality of life to our ability to create a livelihood.
In order to inspire individuals to make the changes needed to live more sustainably, we must bring people close to nature. Literally and symbolically. Practically and psychologically. We must also understand the psychological complexities of climate change—from how people think and feel to what makes them act and engage. Applying psychology, while improving our relationships with nature, is the only way we will succeed.
Though the most pertinent problems of our time might appear to be environmental, economic, social, and political, this isn’t necessarily the case. Perhaps of greater concern, and underlying the aforementioned struggles, is our lack of respect, tolerance, and kindness for each other and the planet, and our increasing feelings of apathy, selfishness, and fear.
We need to change these psychological states if we really want to grow. This entails spiritual healing and development on the individual and collective levels.
Enhancing our understanding of the human-nature relationship and deepening that connection will provide this necessary healing. Contrary to the global mindset, humans and nature are not divided or distinct; the fates of one aren’t separate from the other. From our shared participation and belonging on the earth to the positive effects of nature on our lives, there are deep networks of connection between us and the planet.
Coming closer to nature, whether tangibly spending more time in the wild or drawing upon its models and principles, will change the way we think, act, feel, and relate both internally and externally. This shift, in turn, will change our world from the inside out.
If all else fails and you’re left in doubt, get outside.
Whatever the issue, simply being outdoors provides a meaningful and positive impact. We need the fresh air, time with beauty, and to be part of natural systems to remind us of what is important and true. The science and research increasingly reinforces the importance of time in nature. The list of physiological and psychological benefits is enough to fill pages. Here are just a few highlights of the research: Time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression while heightening innovation, connection, emotional mood, and mental well-being.
At times, I feel dismayed as I look at around at the struggles I see in our society or think ahead to the world in which my daughter will grow up. At these moments, I often wish life were as simple as when I was a kid. And yet, I believe we can solve our problems and realize our potential if we can live by the teachings held within the critical intersection of ecology and psychology.
The path has uncertainties and won’t be easy, but, to be clear, there is a path. We must simply recognize and follow it: we must realize that nature knows the way.
Author: Dennis Kiley
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Yoli Rammazina