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5 Ways For A Better Relationship With Mother Earth

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5 Ways For A Better Relationship With Mother Earth

How we can improve our collaboration with Mother Earth

Creating reciprocal—we care for the Earth, the Earth cares for us—solutions.

I hear a very gentle sound

With your ear down to the ground

We want the world and we want it…




—“When the Music’s Over,” The Doors ( is external))

What is it about caretaking—caring for and being cared for by others—that drives us crazy? Not crazy in a clinical sense, of course, but why does caretaking trigger all kinds of psychological defense mechanisms—denial, projection, repression, dissociation, to name a few—that seem to protect us from being overwhelmed by dizzying anxiety? Why does it put us in a kind of familiar straightjacket, where we inhabit a tightly wound world of competing emotional states, in which we often can’t think coherently, let alone relate lovingly?

In a romantic or family situation, we define “relational sanity” as loving and being loved. In a more general sense, we’d define it as, quite simply, the willingness and ability to give and receive. And so why is this seemingly natural state so confusing?

One’s earliest environment is one’s primary caregiver, usually one’s mother. It is ever expanding to include others in one’s nuclear family, father, siblings, extended family, numerous others in an ever-enlarging circle of care and connection, and beyond (communities, societies, the world). From a Buddhist perspective, in fact, we are all “Mother Beings”—we have the potential to care for one another with love and compassion, containing one another’s fears and uncertainties, helping each other make sense of the sometimes painful, sometimes joyful reality into which we find ourselves placed together.

That “circle of care and connection”—those relationships, interrelationships—come to represent the world itself as we develop the capacity to think and feel clearly about our experience. What, then, do these early relationships say about how we relate to and interact with the world, the Earth, and the world as represented by its peoples: you and me? The Earth is our par excellence caretaker. How do the ways that we treat each other and ourselves—giving and accepting love and care to and from each other—help us understand how we interact with the Earth itself? Is this all a set-up for being in irrelationship with the Earth itself?

Is it the overwhelming—and seemingly impossible—task of caring for the planet that, like early examples of children turning the tables on caretaking with parents what shuts us down? Does the grand nature of what is necessary at this point in time to “fix” the ways that we have hurt the Earth trigger powerful, say dissociative, psychological defenses? Does the blocking of awareness that comes with that psychological protection cause us to overlook the possibility that the larger goal of caring for our planet will happen with “small wins” of mindfulness, conscientiousness, and daily commitments to care—just like any other functional and effective caretaking relationship? Do we feel that we deserve to be taken care of by the earth, as passive recipients of her great bounty, without having to thoughtfully, lovingly and actively do anything in return, like an infant waiting to be fed, changed, held?1

Clearly, loving the world on our own idiosyncratic, self-determined and solely self-interested terms is not paying off. Care must be a give-and-take that accounts for the needs of all concerned. We might say that the Earth cannot “speak” for itself. But, that is not true. The myriad forms of damage—pollution, population growth, poverty, climate change, mindless draining of resources, to merely scratch the surface—is the Earth speaking loud and clear. If we are in massive irrelationship with one another, fragmented and quarreling like siblings with an ailing parent, siblings who are fighting amongst themselves secretly afraid of getting screwed out of their fair share of the inheritance, we will never be able to get on the same page in taking care of our planetary host.

So, OK, let’s say that we are in irrelationship with the Earth. Now what? We need to begin to be open and collaborate in small conscious steps with a much larger vision. Let’s D.R.E.A.M. and make it real.

  • DISCOVER how it is that our ways of relating to each other and the Earth are either hurting or helping—contributing to the problem or the solution—with the larger issue of caring for the planet.
  • REPAIR as we see it is interactive and entails being honest about the ways that we have and are causing harm. It means coming up with realistic solutions that include the participation of every person in the living of our everyday lives, right where it counts.
  • EMPOWERMENT means making use of the joint insights gathered in discovery and initiated in repair to collaborate on implementing small daily and planet-wide ways to stop the damage being done and working together to create realistic ways to be in relationship with the Earth.
  • ALTERNATIVES means really working through our irrelationship with our planet. It means putting ourselves in relationships with each other where we can hold ourselves and each other accountable for being committed to an ongoing process of relating to and interacting with the world.
  • MUTUALITY means that we are no longer in irrelationship with the Earth. We have ceased to act out our anxieties about how poorly we believe the Earth is caring for us. It means turning the tables and loving and “caring” for it in ways that are more about out the survival of the world and each other than our own anxious demands for personal comfort and security. In “real relationship” with the Earth we care and are cared for.

In closing, let’s consider how the ways that we treat each other and ourselves help us to understand how we interact with the Earth itself. Is it possible that this Earth Day we can make the kinds of commitments to treat the Earth as something other than an ineffective caretaker who needs our help so that we can induce it to mete out enough resources so that we can survive (that’s basically irrelationship)? The Earth is not a withholding and neglectful caretaker unwilling and/or unable to reciprocate our love and care. It is more a source of care that—like any “sane” caregiving mature relationship—will only be able to offer and give care if the love and care that we (as individuals, communities, societies and as a planet) give constitute genuine reciprocal—we care for the Earth, the Earth cares for us—solutions.


1Maybe, in synch with our human tendency toward self-interest, a halting and barely conceivable question about our collective future as a species—a pause if you will—might be: how is our care, or lack thereof, of the Earth affecting our children? The documentarians of this worthy Kickstarter project ( is external)) ask: What do we do today to prepare our children for tomorrow on our climate-changed, resource-constrained, and crowded planet? As they seek to understand how to engage children emotionally with this difficult task.

[Mark Borg]

Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D. is a community psychologist and psychoanalyst, founding partner of The Community Consulting Group, and a supervisor of psychotherapy at the William Alanson White Institute. He has written extensively about the intersection of psychoanalysis and community crisis intervention. He is in private practice in New York City. Grant H. Brenner, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice, specializing in treating mood and anxiety disorders and the complex problems which may arise in adulthood from developmental childhood trauma. He works from a humanistic and integrative perspective, recognizing that each person requires an comprehensive assessment and individualized treatment plan, and that often different types of treatment are sometimes necessary to explore before finding an approach which works. At the same time, he values evidence-based approaches and stays current with new developments. He uses various approaches including talk therapy, medications, and interventional psychiatric approaches such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neurofeedback. He is a volunteer and Board member of the not-for-profit organization Disaster Psychiatry Outreach. He teaches and supervises, and is a faculty member of the Mount Sinai Hospital and Director of the Trauma Service of the William Alanson White Institute. He is an editor of and author in the book Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience: Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work, and the author of several papers and book chapters. Daniel Berry, RN, MHA has practiced as a Registered Nurse in New York City since 1987. Working in in-patient, home care and community settings, his work has taken him into some of the city's most privileged households as well as some of its most underprivileged housing projects. He is currently the Assistant Director of Nursing for Risk Management at a public hospital serving homeless and undocumented victims of street violence, drug addiction and severe traumatic injuries.

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