The RIC Good Wood Guide

Rainforest and Psyche

John Seed 1

Ten years ago, in the fourth ever edition of World Rainforest Report 2, Queensland zoologist Peter Dwyer noted that the highland people of Papua New Guinea find the rainforest wildlife not only good to eat, but also "good to think".

He goes on to say, "Whilst we don't eat our rainforests, we do become enmeshed in our perception and thinking about them until they suddenly and vividly possess for us values that we can only identify as symbolic, intrinsic and, with some desperation, spiritual. Tropical rainforests are primitive and ancient ecological systems. Their origins stretch backwards through the emergence of the flowering plants in Jurassic times over 135 million years ago, to the plants preserved in the coal-measures of the Carboniferous era millions of years before that, and which appear to us today in the form of plastics. Such is biogeochemical continuity".

Dwyer's ability to see rainforests of hundreds of millions of years ago embedded in the plastics of the present age is a good example of the psychological effects of rainforests upon people who spend their time in them. Psycho-biogeochemical continuity?

Why is this so? Why do we who spend time in rainforests "become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them"? I believe that contact with rainforests energises and enlivens a realisation of our actual, our biological self. They awaken in us the realisation that it was "I" that came to life when a bolt of lightning fertilised the chemical soup of 4.5 billion years ago; that "I" crawled out of Devonian seas and colonised the land; that, more recently, "I" advanced and retreated before four ages of ice.

We are composed of the ashes of ancient stars weaving themselves into ever more brilliant complexity, weaving themselves into rainforests, weaving themselves into us. I am that!

Yes, our psyche is itself a product of the rainforests. We evolved for hundreds of millions of years within this moist, green womb before emerging a scant five million years ago, blinking into the light.

When we enter the rainforest, we become acutely and personally aware of the exquisite intelligence of Nature, holding millions of species in dynamic, evolving equilibrium.

In the light of these forests, our puny human intelligence becomes aware of itself as a mere fragment of this vast, compassionate web. Our tiny, momentary life finds a true frame of reference there, against which our humanity can see itself. We realise the matrix within which (regardless of any arrogant fantasies we may have to the contrary) we are inextricably embedded.

The intelligence of the rainforest which gave rise to human beings (as well as the myriad other creatures) remains accessible to humans who choose to surrender to it. Unfortunately, the thick insulation of social fictions that we call our "selves" may prevent us from recognising that we are just one leaf on the tree of life, just one strand in the vast biological fabric, incapable of independent existence.

We may then labour under various delusions, like: the universe revolves around the earth; the world was created for our benefit; or, that our relationship with our myriad fellow creatures is one of subjugation and dominance.

A few years ago, the Pulitzer prize-winning eco-poet Gary Snyder was working for the then Governor of California, Jerry Brown. An exasperated Brown said: "Gary, why is it that you're always going against the flow?" Snyder replied: "Jerry, what you call 'the flow' is but a 16,000-year eddy. I'm going with the actual flow". Thinking like a rainforest!

If we enter a rainforest and allow our energies to merge with the energies that we find there, then the forest may be a place where our roots are able to penetrate through the soft soil and reach beyond that sad, 16,000-year history and into the reality of our billions of years of carbon journey through the universe. Various truths which had been heretofore merely "scientific", become authentic, personal and, yes, spiritual. We may now penetrate to a truly deep ecology.

1. John Seed is a co-author of Thinking Like a Mountain, and is a director of the Rainforest Information Centre. (Email: Click here for SELECTED DEEP ECOLOGY WRITINGS BY JOHN SEED.

2. See under Books, Journals.

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