Green Psychology by Metzner

Ralph Metzner. Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth. Foreword by Theodore Roszak. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 1999. Paperback, x + 229 pages.

Psychotherapist Ralph Metzner, who was among the first psychedelic researchers, is widely known for his books Maps of Consciousness and Opening to Inner Light. In this work, he addresses our troubled (he would argue “pathological”) relationship with Nature. Specifically, he explores how we might heal ourselves of this environmental maladaptation. At the same time, this is an exercise in revisioning psychology to include the vital but largely missing connection to our natural surroundings.

Green Psychology is a volume of previously published essays from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. As with most anthologies, one must expect a degree of disjointedness, but Metzner has attempted to smooth out the edges as much as possible and also has revised some of the essays.

Metzner historically derives the present dissociation from Nature from what he calls “transcendental monotheism,” which was then further sharpened through the rise of “mechanistic science.” Influenced by Marija Gimbutas’s work on the goddess cultures of Old Europe, which of late has been challenged by other specialists, he even finds first traces of dissociation from Nature in the “sky god” religion of the ancient Indo-Europeans.

One of the most fascinating and significant chapters in Green Psychology is Metzner’s treatment of the twelfth-century German mystic and visionary Hildegard von Bingen, who lamented the vanishing “greenness” (viriditas) of human beings and their mistreatment of the elements. We can only guess what Hildegard, if she were alive today, might say about our own era of environmental devastation.

Following his earlier, psychedelic trajectory, Metzner believes that exposure to psychoactive substances—especially those used by the shamans of traditional cultures—can, as in his own case, lead to “a radical paradigm shift” in one’s thinking. He regards psychedelics as Gnostic catalysts. At a time when drug abuse is a major social problem, this does not strike me as a helpful recommendation. There is no evidence that mind-altering drugs cause the kind of sustained environmentally and socially responsible vision that Metzner advocates. Rediscovery of our empathetic connectedness with Nature, in my opinion, first and foremost requires mature understanding and compassion, and these are not products of artificially induced trance states. I see the psychedelic emphasis of this otherwise thought-provoking book as its most serious flaw.

Copyright ©2007 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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