I’m currently reading The Forsaken Garden: Four Conversations on the Deep Meaning of Environmental Illness by the Canadian documentary filmmaker, Nancy Ryley. On her quest for her own healing from ‘environmental illness’ (fatigue, depression, hypersensitivity to foods and chemicals) which puzzled doctors and resisted conventional treatments, Ryley sought out and documented the guidance provided to her by four wise thinkers of our time: conservationist and author, Laurens van der Post; Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman; professor, and expert in William Blake and the Romantics, Ross Woodman; and, theologian and cultural historian, Thomas Berry.
Based on her deep conversations with these four individuals, Ryley comes to believe that her own environmental illness is intimately connected to her feelings about the sickness of the planet: “It nevertheless took me some time to realize that part of my ill health was due to my grief over what was happening to the planet. Through our contamination of the Earth we had ‘forsaken the garden’—causing untold suffering to its creatures, its soils, its waters, and its vegetation. We humans had betrayed and devastated a beloved organism that had not only given us life, but had generously nourished and supported us in that life” (p. 6).
Ryley’s grief over the destruction of our planet resonates deeply with my own feelings about environmental issues. For example, when I see pictures of the devastation inflicted on the landscape by the oil sands development in Alberta, Canada, a deep sadness comes over me. While I understand the (short-term) economic benefits of the oil sands to the Canadian economy, in my view, it just cannot be justified. I wonder, do the people involved in this project ever stop and think about what they are doing? Or, can greed blind us completely from seeing the negative environmental impacts of our actions?
When you love the natural world, it is a natural human response to feel hurt when you see it suffer. Perhaps, then, it is a fundamental lack compassion for nature that has led–and continues to lead–us to destroy it? How else could we continue moving forward with environmentally destructive projects (such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline) when we know the devastating impacts that they have on our only home?
Personally, I am firmly committed to raising my own children with an appreciation (and hopefully a love) for the natural world. I hope that fostering such a positive relationship with nature in their lives will encourage them to live lightly on the earth and listen to its voice–even if at times it hurts to do so.