I spent some time this summer driving a friend from the mainland around the Big Island of Hawaii.
She was profoundly affected by a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. “This is terrifying,” she said shakily, staring wide-eyed at the Halema’um’au crater from the overlook by the steam vents near the Visitor Center. “People shouldn’t be allowed to bring children here.” She was clearly experiencing a panic reaction.
We drove out of the park, and went the the Thai restaurant in Volcano Village. Over an early dinner, I explained that the Hawaiians regard the volcano two ways, as spirit and as matter. There is no separation between spirit and matter in their world view. But the distinction exists in the mind of Westerners, so I stuck with the material line of explanation.
In the material world, Hawaiians see Kilauea for what it is, visible evidence of the natural forces that created their island home. Volcanos are good things! So Hawaiians experience emotions of awed gratitude, not terror, contemplating Kilauea, which has been erupting continuously since 1983. Sure, it’s necessary to moving out of the way from time to time when the volcano is creating more land. This is part of the deal when you’re living right on top of volcanic activity.
After the meal, blood sugar stabililzed, we drove back to the Jaggar Museum and Overlook at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Night was falling.
As I watched the tears roll down my friend’s face, I saw that the volcano had unleashed some powerful emotions. “What are you feeling,” I asked her, “What is it really about?” My friend was experiencing an acknowledgement that nothing in life is permanent or stable, not even the ground beneath our feet.
We as humans control nothing, really, except our attitudes and choices. People raised in the Hawaiian culture take this as a given. Those raised in the Western culture do not. So we Westerners are culturally primed for a life of fear of change and frustrated attempts to control the world around us.
When I first came to Hawaii in 2007, I had no idea that nature itself would come to be my most powerful teacher. After years studying with native teachers, I realize I’m fluent in what the Western world calls Ecopsychology.
In The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, Theodore Rozak sketches out the The Principles of Ecospychology in the Epilogue. Ecopsychology is rooted in the assertion that “the person is anchored within a greater, universal identity” than that which has been presented in earlier psychologies. The goal is to “awaken the sense of environmental reciprocity that lies within the ecological unconscious. Other therapies seek to heal the alienation between person and person, person and family, person and society. Ecopsycholgy seeks to heal the more fundamental alienation between the person and the natural environment.”
Ignoring the sunset moment on the Big Island of Hawaii, a car speeds by the volcanic plume of Kilauea