In today’s episode, we speak with ecopsychologist, facilitator, community builder, seeker, Lauren Mangion.
We speak about how our humanity has allowed us to forget our connection to the natural world when that in fact, we are completely interdependent and how our Western industrial growth society has been shaping us for centuries and the impact that this is having on our lives. We speak about how the role of ecopsychology is committed to healing this rift.
We explore the importance of our connection to our neighbourhoods, deepening our connection to place, as a solution to our healing and how ecopsychology can offer a deeper glimpse into the paradigm shift that's ultimately needed.
Our conversations explore the role reciprocity has in what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning and about flipping the mindset that nature is here for us to one of being in this reciprocal relationship with nature and to continue to deepen those bonds of connection. That when we’re able to tap into our collective grief for the state of the world, it ultimately does unlock more joy.
And in the end, we talk about what makes for a good life is the quality of the rich relationship we have in our lives.
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Lauren has a Master's degree from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado in Ecopsychology. Ecopsychology is defined as the recognition that human health, identity, and sanity are intimately linked to the health of the earth and must include sustainable and mutually enhancing relationships between humans and the nonhuman world.
When she's not exploring the natural world, Lauren can be found facilitating community development with a Calgary-based non-profit. She also enjoys kundalini yoga, planning and going on adventures around our beautiful country and hanging out with her family.
Ami: Hi, Lauren, thanks so much for joining me today.
Lauren: Thanks for having me.
Ami: So your work has been in the study of ecopsychology, which in my experience has been so profound and fascinating. And I was telling my family this morning that I was going to be having this conversation with you today about ecopsychology. And they immediately asked me, like, what is that? And so I gave my best shot of what I understood as ecopsychology to be, which was this fundamental belief that humans and nature are intricately, intricately connected, and we have started to see ourselves as disconnected from nature, but we are actually inherently connected to it. And when we can start seeing that we are connected to it, our overall well-being is going to start improving. Am I close for sure?
Lauren: Yeah, I think so. I have a master's of arts in transpersonal psychology from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and through the master's program, we spent every class I took was spent trying to define ecopsychology, which is a strange thing for an academic field to do, but. One of the things I really love about it is that it seeks to. It seeks to stay radical There are many of the big thinkers and supporters of the field who really think that it's important that ecopsychology as a field stays fluid and organic and. Irrelevant, and so sometimes that makes it hard to define what I think you're definitely really banging on
Lauren: So it's not only that we're separate from nature and there's this disconnect just to build on that, it's important for us to realize that we are nature and we are mammals. We are embedded in the web of life, just like any other creature that exists here on this planet. And we are completely interdependent. So it's ultimately about looking at where that rift came from, where we became separate. And I think when we say we it's an important distinction that we're speaking about the industrial growth society so often kind of the global north or the kind of Western capitalist Western civilization way of thinking. And that's those kinds of ideas that have been shaping us for over a century. And so looking at that rift and then working to heal it, so working on our own relationship with the natural world and I go outside and I'm just like I am part of this. I am part of this. I am nature. And it's. It's a real practice because it's undoing a lot and unlearning a lot of programming.
Ami: It's so interesting you talk about undoing because so many of the conversations that have been having lately, it's like a lot of us are really committed to undoing something that has been done, you know, in talking to death doulas and sex coaches and community builders. And it's really it's like we're in the Great Undoing right now and we're all coming at it from different ways. And I just find that you know, by undoing we're coming closer to who we are, not only as individuals but also as a collective, a human collective.
Lauren: And it's so interesting, like talking about death doulas and sex coaches, because I would say all of that disconnection and separation came from the same place. You know, our bodies are nature and the same thinkers that separated us from the natural world separated us from our bodies like the church made it about. The head is holy, the mind is everything and the body is this like, primitive, dirty thing. And so I think all of that connects to ecopsychology as well.
Ami: Your master's thesis is so fascinating and I just want to acknowledge you for how well written it is, I don't think I'd ever say that I loved reading a master's thesis, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thesis. And it explores the value of place-based initiatives for building healthy and connected communities that are inclusive of all beings who dwell there, human or other. And you say North American individual, individualistic lifestyles and pursuits can be linked to suffering, fear, isolation and environmental destruction and the need to heal. The many ways humans have gone from self, from other humans and the natural world manifests is paramount. The neighbourhood holds potential for the rediscovery of the benefits of reciprocal care for people and nature at a level that is manageable for people to undertake. And I love this. I love the manageability of it. Because what you're suggesting is we can take this big thing that even you and all of your classes are trying to define over and over again and. And do something with it. OK, let's take this big thing and put it into something that's doing its restoration. There's a doable way for us to connect not only the land that we live on, not only back to ourselves, but also to the people in literally the place that is right here near us. So is it enough to just be connected to our neighbours and is it enough just to be planting gardens and sharing our produce?
Lauren: It's a very good question that I would say I ask myself on a daily basis. It's hard to feel that it's enough to know we'rere more connected to what's happening all around the world than we ever have been before and through social media and all the media channels, we know what's happening out there about the destruction of the Amazon, all these great forests all around the world. And here in Alberta where I am, my government just reversed 1970s legislation that prohibited mining in our eastern slopes. And they just went ahead and made that OK for it to happen. Like it's just farmers in India right now are protesting and being held captive by the police. It's on and on and on and on. And if you're really tapped in, it can feel and I think people just generally are feeling so overwhelmed. And we're hearing about climate change all the time. We know about the fires, everything that happened in Australia. And it's so much and. It's hard to think that one person can do anything, but because, carrying the weight, the literal weight of the world on our shoulders.
Lauren: Essentially, this cripples us and I feel like that's somewhere that I've been and I still go to that place all the time. Working kind of at a more of a neighbourhood level, it really got us down into like somewhere it's about a locus of control. It's somewhere that is right in front of our faces. It's a much smaller kind of system to be working within. And when we're involved, when you experience this in all the placemaking and all the things that you've been involved and you actually get to see the good that you're doing, and I think that just helps praud on and that's really important. It continues to move us forward. And we get these small kinds of glimpses of hope and connection and all the things that are so important to being human. And it inspires us to keep going and. Yeah, of course, I think my ultimate hope would be the more that people put their roots down and connect to a place that that ripple effect is huge and easy to imagine how it can just keep spreading, right?
Ami: Wendel Barry talks a lot about place and he says that "our job is to love our place more than any other place". So how does this statement resonate for you?
Lauren: Yes, I love it. And I think that's so one of the things that attracted me to Ecopsychology, you and I worked together at a grassroots environmental non-profits here in Calgary, and for several years we were in people's homes giving environmental assessments and coaching people on ways that they can work towards a more sustainable lifestyle. And there are a lot of amazing things about that work. But I think when we all kind of finished our time with it we knew that there was something kind of missing, and I think what ecopsychology offered me was this deeper glimpse into the paradigm shift that's ultimately needed. And so for me personally, all of these ideas have kind of translated in my own work in developing a relationship with the natural world, like I try to count it. Among all my other relationships, like with humans that matter, to me, nature matters so much to me and I seek to kind of create a loving relationship that I nurture and I tend to like I do with my family and my friends. and the pandemic has been an amazing gifts in this area for me because I've discovered walking, it's not something I've ever done. Honestly, I kind of thought it was like something that you do when you're old. You go for walks and it's been something that
Ami: We are middle age. Let me get that in there.
Lauren: We're getting up there. It's something that's easy to do. It doesn't matter like kind of what level of restrictions are happening. I can put on a pair of shoes. I'm so fortunate to live by the river and buy some beautiful parks that I can walk to in five minutes' time. And I've just been getting to know my place and I'm working on learning the names of trees and the qualities of trees. I've had a long fascination with plants and plant medicine, so I've just been working with the things that I grow in my garden and then the volunteers that come up in my garden as well. And all of those things, I think just. Really deepen that connection to place
Ami: I would love to hear more about what we have to say about that. I just wanted to put a piece in here that is you know, I do want to speak to that. And I also just want to add this one piece, that of somebody that I think you love as much as I do is Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote the author of this beautiful, beautiful book. If folks if haven't read this book, you need to read it. It's called Braiding Sweetgrass. And she says, "we need acts of restoration not only for polluted waters and degregated lands but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honour to the way we live so that when we walk through the world, we don't have to avert our eyes with shame, so we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgement of the rest of the Earth's beings". And that quote to me is illustrated so much what you're talking about, about our you know, we can go out and we can be in relationship to the trees and to have, you know them better and know them deeper and to know the volunteer plants that are popping up and to have a relationship with them because they're also speaking to us and they're telling us stuff. There's a communication that's happening if we're willing to listen to it. And that's so it draws so much around what you're talking about. A place like that is also a place that also grounds us in our place. Yeah. So that quote to me is just such an eloquent way of us, you know, getting back into alignment with our natural world.
Lauren: Yeah, I love it, I read that book and I thought to myself, oh, I didn't need to spend tens of thousand dollars on a Masters's. This book is Ecopsychology in one neat little package. And I think what I love so much about what Robin Wall Kimerer speaks about. And she herself has an indigenous background She talks about it's all about reciprocity, and I think that is just such an important concept that helps with that undoing and unlearning that we spoke about that at the beginning and starts to pick apart our kind of Western mindset and Western paradigm because and this is something that's a really critical and ecopsychology, too, is that we have to be mindful that we're not getting back into nature as the utility of nature, as objects kind of relationship. And there's so much research now around how nature heals. Right. And how. What a great tool it can be for humans well-being, and I'm always very aware of how I speak about nature in that way because it's not here for us. I deeply believe that it's here. For us to. Be in this reciprocal relationship with and to continue to kind of deepen those bonds of connection that are for us and for nature, and I think she speaks about that so beautifully. Right. Like every chapter is a different plant or tree and the gifts that that plant or tree gives to us. And then how can we give those gifts back and.
Ami: Yeah, I find that when I read her work, it's almost like it hurts and it's not in a bad way, but it's like it's stripping away something and it's touching me in such a deep and profound way that I feel it in one sentence. I just know which says that we need we don't need to avert our eyes in shame. I just that like no, we don't need to that we can actually be so present to it. Hmm. And that leads me to ask you a question about what does the role of grief play and all of this.
Lauren: Hmm, that is such a good question. Yeah.
Ami: You know, too if that's helpful, Joanna Macy says, to be conscious in our world today is to be aware of the vast suffering and precedented peril. Is to be present to what is actually happening in our world, but to not divert our eyes in shame, but to be with it, to feel it deeply so that there's something on the other side of it, so that we can be so connected to it.
Lauren: I think this is just such an essential part of our wor as people that have grown up in the industrial growth society and I'll be really honest that I find it hard not to feel shame when I think about what we've done and what we continue to do, literally destroying our home. And I think what kind of species does that? So I know that's an area. I still have a lot of work to do. But Joanna Macy is certainly one of my heroes. And her workarounds. Around grief and having grief rituals in a group setting has been really transformative for me. And I think it's ultimately. I think so. I talked about people feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and I think people she talks a lot about numbing and when we're facing. Climate change and all of its implications and questioning the future of humanity and the planets. Those are huge things to contemplate and it's really easy to want to numb and distract because of the. The gravity of its and the magnitude. But I've just found personally that. If I'm able to tap into my grief. It ultimately does unlock more joy. When we numb the grief, we numb the joy as well, and we no capacity for gratitude and connection. And so it's really it's a really important place to connect and to, but show enemies, he talks a lot as well about not dwelling in the grief. So it's just finding that place for yourself where you touch it, you acknowledge you are with your present to it, but you don't get sucked down by the grief because then we don't act, right?
Ami: Yeah. I remember so clearly the moment of doing some Joanna Macy work. This was 11 years ago and I was still living in Calgary. And I remember just being in this group and just weeping, weeping for what was so present to what was happening in the world. I think it was the first time I was ever so present to it. And I remember just thinking I was like, how am I ever going to make a change? Change in a shift? I'm just one twenty-five-year-old person, you know, like, I can't do anything with this. And it's so interesting when you ask big questions, big answers can come. And I ask the questions so clearly to the universe, like, what can I do? And not too long after that, we were introduced to a gentleman named Rob Avis, who introduced me to the concept of permaculture, which is a holistic way of living in harmony with nature. It's systems thinking. It's like taking the ideas of nature and bringing them into our own backyard. And I got in that moment that, like, I can actually do something by transforming my own way of being and operating in my own small parcel of land in my backyard. And it gave me something to do with it. I could take my grief and put it into something that felt like I was making a change, not only just for myself, but for my children and for my neighbours. And it comes so back to what you're talking about on the neighbourhood, that there is actually something we can do with it all. You know, if we're willing to ask big questions and sit with it and be in the grief and be in the sadness and be in all of the things that come with it, but there's so much that it can actually be done.
Lauren: Yeah, and it makes me think of one of your original questions about one person's action really matter and for me, I don't really know the answer to that, but I think it matters may be on a plane beyond our earthly plane. For me, at this point, I just love and I care so much about the natural world that living any other way than what I live and continuing to seek to even live more sustainably and keep pushing that envelope for myself and my and my little world here at home. It would be it would create so much cognitive dissonance, know it would be me living completely out of alignment with my values. And there's just there's no going back and. It's not coming out of guilt and I think a lot of people. Maybe go through that phase where it's like, well, if I don't, it starts with recycling and like, oh, I feel so guilty if I put that can somewhere else. But once you keep doing it, it just comes from joy, like you just know. That's a better way to live, and it ultimately leads to more simplicity as well, and it just kind of clutters your life and I think there's someone value in that.
Ami: Can you tell me, Lauren, about a story or do you have like a pinnacle moment when something shifted for you in this realm, like in this area that we're talking about right now, where you had, like, you know, you're like, OK, there is no going back for me anymore. That something was shifted. That got you really in greater alignment to the work that you're really passionate about and committed to now.
Lauren: It's a really good question too. I guess I realize and contemplate how lucky I am to have had that experience to work in the small environmental non-profit with like-minded people in a similar kind of space and life, like, it's hard not to think that that wasn't divinely kind of put into our lives because everything happens at that time. Like I. I went into that work kind of I have just recently finished more of a degree in community development, so it was really much more social Environment was a huge part of it, and I started working a little bit at social service agencies, and I just knew that that was kind of more of my calling and passion to work more in kind of that sphere of environmentalism, which is now a word I don't love and people's connection with the natural world. And so that was just such a rich time of learning for me, of learning so many different things and connecting to all of these people that were really kind of challenging paradigms. And. Deeply thinking and talking and working with one another and collaborating to talk about what can we do here in Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, and oil and gas epicentre
Ami: During the peak of the oil boom.
Lauren: Hopefully, this is notoriously conservative, I think we've had one non-conservative government in the last hundred years and it did not go well for that government. So I think that was a big part of things. And the place where I live to, we moved to a community in Calgary called Bonus and. It's kind of also similar to our time with the non-profits, there's sort of something magic in us living here, too, because it's a very active community. It used to be its own town. So there's something about that small-town kind of village spirit that still lives here and people notice it and are excited by it and move here because of it. And so there are so many people that just kind of seek to keep that alive and keep that community alive here. And I know we talk about the importance of neighbourhoods. And I just want to acknowledge that, I get that for a lot of people, this work is quite challenging to build a community in neighbourhoods and I talk to a lot of people that live in more suburban communities or neighbourhoods, and a lot of people move there because they want anonymity and they want to just kind of do their own thing and be able to shut their garage door and not interact with anybody. So that's a really difficult context to make a change in. So where I live here, people are outside and like I've seen on our street, like this ripple effect of people gardening in their front yards and everything is just kind of out there. And there's always like little mobs of neighbours chatting and little free libraries.
Lauren: And we have lots of community events. And yeah, we just kind of have this foundation built that's easy to keep working from. So that's been really kind of transformative for me, too. And I have to say the embedded within that. Is just how much joy and inspiration I get from seeing all those little kind of exchanges of community care and all the ways that people take care of one another and kind of going back to simplicity, all the ways that people trust one another here in my community to share goods and tools and like, it's literally a place where you could knock on your neighbour's door and ask for a cup of sugar. And so that just, you know, there's so much inspiration here from which to draw from and to keep me going in the importance of community building and just getting stronger. And just lastly, to say on that, too, is I sort of have a theory that I think we're very isolated, we're very individualistic in North America and. I think that's really lonely and isolating for so many people, and we kind of have this epidemic of isolation. And I think once people connect into more community care and more. Kind of relationships a within a caring and healthy community, it actually expands their sphere of empathy. So once we have more human care, I think that then we're able to open our hearts and our spirits more to include more beings and that and care more about the ducks and the trees and the squirrels and the dandelions even less care about the dandelions.
Ami: I love that so much. You said so many beautiful things and that Lauren that just gives me so much hope and to see the possibility of what we are also capable of doing and living in. And I'm curious about you. What do you think makes for a good life? what does that mean for you?
Lauren: I think that's it ultimately all comes down to rich relationships. I think about this longitudinal Harvard study about that exact question and they studied a group of men because the study started so long ago, eight years ago, when you would never study women and asked people what made a rich life. And for the bulk of the people that felt that they had a good and rich life, it was about quality of relationships, not quantity. It was about quality. It's about dying, knowing that you've given care and received care and love, and you showed up for the people and the non-humans other than the human world around you and you've given what you can. I've been thinking a lot lately about how I think we're also kind of all programmed to think that it's important that we make our mark on the world and hopefully even get a little bit famous and I think about how people our age. Do we ever let go of that kind of teenage idolization of kind of that idea of like a celebrity and making a mark, and the more I think about it, the more I think it's completely OK to make a mark in a very small circle in a small sphere. This also goes back to kind of our original conversation about working at a neighbourhood level, it's. It's within us. It's not I don't want to say control, because more and more I realize how much is not in our control, but it's a place where we can make an impact and see the impact that we're making. And we know if we have good quality relationships and we know that that's kind of a living, evolving thing and that we have to keep at it right. And just as our relationship with the natural world, it's something to continually care for and tend to.
Ami: Is there anything else that you'd like to add today before we come to an end?
Lauren: thing I think a lot about lately is, is the concept of wilderness and We think a lot of about wanting to get into the wilderness and we think of wilderness as out there, and it's kind of this pure, virginal, untouched. And what does that make you think of being pure and virginal and untouched? It's a very patriarchal view and potentially quite a misogynist. Right. Wanting places to kind of stay pristine and valuing more because they're pure and pristine. And so I really do kind of think that that is a very colonialist and I was just reading recently about how Yellowstone National Park is often lauded as this untouched place, right, pure wilderness it. There were so many indigenous peoples that held ceremonies on those lands that worked with the animals and the plants there. And there are so many places in North America that are not untouched by people. So that's also just erasing this everything that came before settlers. Right. So kind of within that thinking and also going back to that place kind of idea of really putting down our roots and getting to know the places in which we live.
Lauren: I've been trying to kind of remove that dichotomy for myself of like wilderness, best wilderness love, like how can I get into the wilderness more? And I've just been trying to really connect to the nature around me and not make any kind of nature better or best or worst and. I live in a kind of a place where there's, you know, like a sort of natural park close by in that it's not a manicured park where there's all these like manicured hedges and perfectly mowed grass and that sort of thing. There's a lot of grasslands and so many different plants and birds and things that live there, and it's within 10 minutes of my door and I think that it's very healing because we're domesticated to right as humans. We've also been tamed by colonialism, patriarchy and by systems of power. And we don't think that we should be ignored so why should we ignore these city landscapes and isn't city natural spaces? Because that's ultimately just kind of doing to those spaces what we might do to ourselves.
Ami: Hmm, makes me think of in university and you know this about me, that how much I struggled with with with university and getting through it was just wasn't the way that my brain operates and works. But I do remember this one class was called Canadian Wilderness. And I remember the professor talking about how we romanticize wilderness so much. We romanticize it. And actually, if we were really deeply connected to it, we would actually get that's it not as romantic as we think it is. It's it actually wants to kill us most of the time. You know, it's like when I go out into nature, I make sure its on a really sunny week that is not going to rain. And that I have my NASA-inspired, high-tech tent with all of my high-tech gear. That's going to take me out there and I'm going to survive. No, no problem. And I have like my GPS like S.O.S. call in case something does happen. But that actually really isn't the case of this idealized, romanticized vision of what nature really is. But it actually exists all around us, like when we step out our door, like where can we see nature just in my own backyard. And that's something I'm really trying to teach my children, is like nature just exists outside. It's just out there. It's nothing that we always have to go to be in. And it doesn't have a box around it, but that is all around us. And to start seeing it and just like listening to the cardinals in the morning or what's the bird that we're hearing right now or what is that tree and being able to identify and being connected with it in that way.
Lauren: And I think something you said it like because we are nature, humans are nature, nature is also a mirror for humans. And so, yes, there are aspects of nature that could kill us, most definitely. But nature is everything right there. There's it's kind of the idea of being red in tooth and claw. And there's all these like. There's the predator-prey relationship and it can be really vicious and cruel, and there's also all these symbiotic relationships like what we're learning now about forests. I think we understand about forests in that forests are a community. And trees are in communication, they're talking to each other, they're supporting one another, they actually if one is sick, they feed that sick one. So it's all out there just as there's this huge web of relationships that look so different in the human world. It's the same in the natural world.
Ami: Lauren, thank you so much for sharing something so deeply a part of who you are and for giving us a little insight into what that looks like for you and how we can embody that in our own lives for taking the time to share that with me today.
Lauren: Thank you so much. It was a wonderful conversation, Ami.