Harold Searles (1959) : 'For as far back as I can recall, I have felt that life’s meaning resided not only in my relatedness with my mother and father and sister and other persons, but in relatedness with the land itself –the verdant or autumn-tapestried or stark and snow-covered hills, the uncounted lakes, the rivers. In subsequent years, the so-called life in cities –Boston, New York, San Francisco, Washington- has shown me that the “nonhuman environment” here is equally enchanting and profoundly meaningful to one’s living. Whether in surroundings that are largely natural or largely man—made, I have found that moments of deep felt kinship with the nonhuman environment are to be counted among those moments when one has drunk deepest of the whole of life’s meaning.
My personal psychoanalysis, which concluded seven years ago, further deepened my appreciation of the significance of the nonhuman environment. I shall never forget, to give but one example, the grief I felt upon realizing that the very building in which I had grown up, which had been sold some years before, was now lost to me forever.
The whole subject may be likened to a vast continent, as yet largely unexplored and unchartered…. Most writings concerning human personality development and the dynamics of mental illness, whether by Freud and his followers, by Jung, Rank, Adler, Sullivan, or others, limit themselves, for all practical purposes, to a consideration of intra-personal and inter-personal processes. What I shall refer to as the nonhuman environment is, by implication, considered as irrelevant to human personality development, and to the development of psychiatric illness as though human life were lived out in a vacuum- as though the human race were alone in the universe, pursuing individual and collective destinies in a homogeneous matrix of nothingness, a background devoid of form, color, and substance…
The views which I shall propound in this book will be extensions of various of the psychodynamic concepts which Freud introduced. But it remains true, nonetheless, that in Freud’s own writings, as well as in those of other investigators, it is a rare thing to find explicit acknowledgment paid to the significance of the nonhuman environment in man’s psychological life. The thesis of this volume is that the nonhuman environment, far from being of little or no account to human personality development, constitutes one of the most basically important ingredients of human psychological existence.
This divorcement [from the nonhuman environment] has probably been additionally encouraged, during the past two thousand years, by the spread of Christianity, which so often preaches that man loses hope of union with the Godhead to the extent that he yields to his “animal” impulses –the impulses which form his psychological bonds with his closest kin, the other member species of the animal kingdom. The Christian religion is to be contrasted, in this regard, to the pantheistic paganism of Ancient Greece, which preached that the revered deities themselves often took the forms of various members of the animal kingdom or even of the vegetable kingdom….
The things I have in mind here [as examples of people’s love of the nonhuman] consist in our love of gardening; our love of frequenting familiar haunts of Nature; our enjoyment of active sports –golf, boating, hiking, and so on- which in their pursuit bring us physically closer to Nature; the very real and important places which pets have in the lives of many of us; the fascination which so many persons, both children and adults, find in going to zoos; the appeal of beautiful landscapes in motion pictures, in paintings, in literature, and, not uncommonly, in the very dreams that well up from the innermost being.
The language of romantic love, like the language of poetry, is saturated… with aspects of the nonhuman environment. It is rare to find a great novel which so skeletally limits itself to a portrayal of human beings alone as does psychoanalytic theory. Much more often, great literature imbeds its studies of human beings in a portrayal of them as being collectively an integral part of larger, nonhuman, Nature itself. Much great art, to the best of my limited knowledge, does likewise…
When we turn now to a sampling of the explorations which psychiatry and psychoanalysis have made into this fundamental subject, we find that the development of theory has lagged far behind the development of widespread technical practices in this regard. Here I refer specifically to practices which have long ago become accepted as valuable in the institutional therapies, as conducted by psychiatrists of either a general psychiatric or psychoanalytic orientation, of patients suffering from psychotic or severe neurotic illness. That is, even in strong psychoanalytically oriented institutions, where the therapeutic effort is focussed primarily upon the intrapersonal and interpersonal process of the illness, considerable efforts are also maintained to provide occupational therapy activities (wood and metal working, weaving, and so on), to provide beautiful landscaping about the hospital, and to provide opportunities for gardening and for visiting nearby places of natural beauty. Zilboorg informs us, in his ‘A History of Medical Psychology’, that occupational therapy was introduced about one hundred years ago, and landscaping , at least one hundred and fifty years ago. We carry on these efforts in hospitals without having, I think, any adequate place provided for them in our psychoanalytic theory. This is a matter of more than theoretical importance, moreover, for it has seemed to me, in my own institutional work, that one reason for the notorious difficulty in psychoanalysts’ working with and appreciating the efforts of the staff members of the occupational and recreational therapy department is that our psychoanalytic theory does not embrace the field; our theory has not shown us the common ground in which the psychoanalyst and the occupational and recreational therapist are working…
One might object: “What difference does it make in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy with patients? If an individual’s relationship to his nonhuman environment is disturbed, it is only because of his intrapersonal and interpersonal difficulties; once these have been resolved, he can turn to that environment and make the most of it, psychologically, without difficulty.” To this I would say… that in the life of a psychiatrically ill individual his ability or inability to relate himself constructively to the nonhuman environment may be of more than a little importance, both in terms of causing his life to be significantly less, or more, grievous, and in constituting a real factor in the prognosis of his illness. I have repeatedly gotten the impression in clinical work that to the seriously ill patient the threat of impending psychosis, for example, conveys terror not merely in that it will bring with it bizarre and frightening and confusing experiences, but also in that it will mean the loss of familiar relationships with other persons (family members at home, co-workers, and so on) and of the familiar nonhuman environment.' [The Nonhuman Envoronment]
Hillman ‘We’ve Had A Thousand Years’ (1992) says: “The idea of the self has to be redefined… I would rather define self as the interiorization of community. And if you make that little move, then you’re going to feel very different about things. If the self were defined as the interiorization of community, then the boundaries between me and another would be much less sure. I would be with myself when I’m with others. I would not be myself when I’m walking alone or meditating or in my room imagining or working on my dreams. In fact I would be estranged from myself. And ‘others’ would not just include other people, because community, as I see it, is something more ecological, or at least animistic. A psychic field. And when I’m not in a psychic field with others –with people, buildings, animals, trees- I am not.”
Hillman talks of the putting of the psychiatrist at the bottom as pill-dispenser or ‘straight-jacket man’ and the aesthetic workers on the top paid therapists list.
Makes sense, and the idea has been around for a while….