Caretaking a new Landscape of the Mind (2011 for Ingenius)

There is a real need for new concepts in the English language that help us understand the vital relationship between our physical environment and our mental states. We need a new conceptual ecology to remember and reunite that which we have almost forgotten.

Our appreciation of nature, for many city-based and urban citizens, is now so digitally fractured and digitally enhanced, that people have E-experiences of E-nature via films such as Avatar. We have obliterated much of the ecology of external reality, only to have it re-arranged for us as entertainment within an internal digital unreality.

Our conceptual ecology must be re-started, much the same way that contemporary composers like Phillip Glass restarted classical music after the cacophony and atonality of Schoenberg and other twentieth century composers of the abstract music schools. Glass recommenced music with the simplest of musical form (minimalism) which then allowed music to expand once again with creative organic growth and ecological inspiration.

As a baby boomer, I have a lived experience of extensive change to my local, regional, continental and global sense of place. My ‘home’, including the whole earth and its climate, has been transformed by forces seemingly well beyond my control. For me, the loss of my endemic sense of place has been met with sadness and distress and I have sensed the same sadness and sense of loss in others as they grapple with the forces of open-pit mining, oil spills, development pressures and land clearing and now, global warming and changing climes.

Our language lacked a concept to adequately describe this lived experience of negative environmental change, so I created the concept of ‘solastalgia’ to give expression to it. Solastalgia is an existential melancholia generated by the chronic desolation of a loved home environment at any scale of human experience.

Solastalgia is a sign, in specific parts of the world, that in some important respect, humans have failed to take care of their environment. This failure of caretaking of the natural and built environment has its correlates in the caretaking of the mind. Our mental health is tightly woven into the fabric of our physical home and when the home is desolated, so too is our psyche.

In order to counter solastalgia and other earth-related or ‘psychoterratic’ mental health problems, I have created positive concepts that will assist in the positive care of the earth and the mind. The concept of soliphilia, or the solidarity and affiliation needed between people to heal and repair the earth is a political and cultural addition to our psychoterratic language. To resist those forces that are desolating the earth and its life we need new concepts that unite us in ways that go beyond the traditional political contest over who owns the earth or the industries and technologies that transform it. In our common humanity and our one earth we have the foundations to be genuinely sustainable.

The emotional experience of ‘eutierria’ or that feeling of organic oneness with the earth is another concept in our language that is strangely missing. The feeling of total harmony with our place and the naive loss of ego we often felt as children has become rare in this period of what Richard Louv calls ‘nature deficit disorder’. With eutierria I have put back into our language an earthly equivalent of ‘that oceanic’ or spiritual feeling of oneness with our home.

To be good caretakers of the earth, our home, we need to firstly become aware that it is our conceptual landscape that generates environmental desolation. Restoration of external desolation requires a conceptual restoration project inside our heads.