Nancy Ryley has written a challenging book, The Forsaken Garden (Quest Books, 1998), which arose from her own experience with what she calls “environmental illness” ( like allergies and cancer which are linked to environmental factors). Ryley developed so many allergies to her urban environment that she had to move to the Canadian rural West. She argues that much of what is wrong with the world today is the result of over 200 years of industrial and technological “progress” driven by patriarchal dominance. She interviewed four people: Laurens Van Der Post, a conservationist; Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst; Ross Woodman, an English professor and specialist in William Blake; and Thomas Berry, a theologian. It would have bolstered her argument if Ryley had included an environmental scientist.
The central idea is that humankind through science, and technology has changed its relationship with Nature, starting with the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago and continuing with every new development since. We have lost the sense of interdependence and connection to the Earth that long ago underpinned agrarian societies. That living relationship with the earth and nature has been replaced by the notion that humans can manipulate their environment any way they choose to their own benefit without regard to the consequences for the rest of the fabric of life. We are discovering the downside of many of the irresponsible acts of ourselves and our ancestors, whether they be the pollution of earth, air and water, or the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to greenhouse gases (and the climate change that accompanies it), or the overuse of chemicals as pesticides and food additives. Thomas Berry points out the huge problem caused by the marriage of food production with chemical companies (plus the over-prescribing of drugs and use of antibiotics). We eat food grown with and processed with chemical substances and we get sick and go to a doctor who gives us more chemical substances.
As Nancy Ryley discovered much of this becomes personally real as we develop allergies to things in the environment and in food. Have you considered why there has been such a huge rise in the occurrence of allergies? Have you thought about the fact that two out of three cancers are linked to environmental factors? My own family has been impacted by allergies attributed to changes in the way food is produced (with the widespread use of genetically modified soybeans). Allergies affect the digestive system which in turn affects the brain and its functions, especially sleep.
Riley’s interviewees all argue for the adoption of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) towards Nature and Mother Earth: a respectful attitude, a sense of oneness, interdependence and mutuality. When we harm the earth we harm ourselves. “Only a deranged species would foul its own nest” (p.143). “The Earth is one country, humankind its citizens. We either live together or die together. For a house, a planet, divided against itself, will not stand” (p.192).
The book does not offer any quick solutions. Ross Woodman (taking his cue from William Blake’s epic poem Jerusalem) says that a huge crisis, an apocalypse, will be needed to get humankind to change. “If necessity is the mother of invention, survival is the mother of change. But until our survival is directly and immediately threatened, not much is going to change.” These words were said before Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy impacted our national consciousness. I’m a believer that governmental action could make a difference, but the cry for action needs to be much louder than at present. I’d prefer not to wait for an apocalypse.
Laurens Van Der Post believes in the healing power of “wilderness therapy” where people have direct, personal contact with the beauty and nurture of nature. Those weeks kids spend at camp in the summer may help them towards a new relationship with the Earth. Thomas Berry believes that scientists may help us all be amazed by the story of the evolution of the universe. Scientific exploration can reveal the glory and mystery of God in the story of the universe. Out of a sense of awe we may change. Those television documentaries “Nova” and “Cosmos” may open our minds to the immense grandeur of God’s handiwork. Marion Woodman believes in Jungian fashion that dreams will guide us to the healing archetypes that inhabit our personal and collective unconscious. The chapter about dreams (p.93ff.) is a valuable reminder for us to pay attention to this important healing resource.
It remains for each of us to adopt a kinder attitude towards the Earth, our home, for we thereby treat ourselves and others with respect and love. Aggressive, selfish, greedy behavior (particularly at the corporate and governmental levels) needs to be challenged and set aside. We have a long way to go.