By Ciel Patenaude —
What is often seen as the “childlike” tendency to attribute human qualities to animals and the rest of the nonhuman world has long been criticized as undeveloped thinking by many so-called sophisticated realists and philosophers. Viewed as a process of immature “psychological projection”—the process through which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world—connecting with other species and even non-living objects in this way has been denigrated as a lower form of relation, and an expression of an undeveloped perspective on existence.
The brilliant psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung, in contrast, saw that it was in fact the immature understanding and use of our own access to consciousness that prevented us from forming truly connected relationships to other animals and the rest of the ecological and material world. He understood that being able to relate to and anthropomorphize animals and the phenomenal world was not a sign of naïve youthfulness, but suggested that a person had come to understand their own existence and relationship to consciousness in a truly mature manner. Jung presented the idea that we are collectively unsure of how to utilize our gift of consciousness fully—being as we are, a “young” species, behaving on this Earth like a teenager does when just driving a car for the first time—and so, in fear, we create a kind of boundary between us and the rest of the world in order to shore up our fragile consciousness and create a sense of self that we believe we can rely on. Therefore, one who has come to understand their existence fully would have no need for such fear and segregation, and would dissolve these boundaries with ease.
Jung saw our capacity to connect with other species as an innate instinct borne of our shared history, and this truth is exemplified in the actions of every child that comes into this world. We are born desiring connection with the animal, plant, and mineral kingdom, and only learn later to create arbitrary and illogical boundaries between “us” and “them.” Jung suggested—as most indigenous peoples around the world have always maintained—that we must see ourselves as but a part of an enormous family, and while we may appear on some levels to live at an apex point of the evolutionary process, we can be
considered mature and developed only to the extent that we are able to see ourselves as part of the larger system.
To quote, Jung said: “We need to project ourselves into the things around us. My self is not confined to my body. It extends into all the things I have made and all the things around me. Without these things, I would not be myself; I would not be a human being. I would merely be a human ape, a primate.”
April 6-12 this year is National Wildlife Week in Canada, designated to acknowledge the birthday of ecobiologist Jack Miner. Miner is credited with being the largest influence in saving the Canadian goose from extinction in the 20th century, an act of conservation and attention that has been celebrated in the week of April 10 since 1985.
The point of National Wildlife Week is to celebrate the natural heritage of Canada, bringing attention and awareness to the conservation of other species and habitats throughout our country. It is a noble cause, most certainly, and one that deserves our full attention.
And by full attention I mean full attention—the whole of our understanding in body, mind, and spirit.
Introducing Carl Jung’s philosophies about conservation is inspiring and opens us up to thinking about our relationship to all that is from an angle not often presented. Secondly, I believe that it lays the groundwork for acts of conservation that speak to the heart of all our challenges as human beings, and awakens our ability to be fully present to both our individual experience and to the manner in which we interact with the whole.
Why do we seek to conserve? Is it because we feel that it is our duty as some kind of superior beings on this planet to make sure that the lesser beings—all the other species below us on the evolutionary ladder—are taken care of or at least not wiped out completely? Is it because we want to preserve the balance and perfection of the natural world as best we can, not upsetting the whole picture as much as we have been with our industry and development? Both of these motivations are valid, certainly, but what of an aspiration of conservation based upon these Jungian philosophies? What if we conserved because we saw ourselves in the natural world, and felt such deep connection to all that is that we would feel as wounded by its loss as we would by the loss of a family member, close friend, or even one of our own limbs?
It may seem like a stretch to some, but as James Lovelock asserted in his Gaia Hypothesis and as Carl Jung spoke to in his philosophies, we are all truly just parts or cells within a larger body on this planet, and the extent to which we are able to understand and live honestly within this fact will determine the level happiness, health, and maturity we experience.
Therefore, during this National Wildlife Week, when pondering the experience, pain, or plight of another species—be they animal, plant, or even the larger phenomenal material world as a whole—I would ask that you seek to dissolve the boundaries that we have all created between ourselves and “the rest,” and desire not to conserve nor to save, but to relate, connect, and commiserate. This is our family. We must learn to treat them as such, and in doing so we will find the healing we all desire and need.
Ciel Patenaude is an Integrative Health & Shamanic Practitioner based in Williams Lake, BC. A highly trained and naturally gifted intuitive healer, Ciel holds a BSc in Biology, an MA in Integrative Healing, and is a certified Yoga Teacher & Wellness Coach.