Deck the Halls with Ecostalgia and the Empty Self: Longing for Home at the Holidays

It's common to feel nostalgic during the holidays. “Nostalgia,” by modern definition, means a "wistful yearning for the past." Etymologically, the root "nostos" means "homecoming" and "algos" means "pain, grief, distress." Thus, nostalgia may be translated as "severe homesickness.” But what we're actually yearning for may not be family or literal home. It might just be a longing for something more archetypally profound, a longing for the earth herself, and the way she once was, and the way the most archaic part of ourselves existed in relation to her. "Eco" actually translates to "house or dwelling" in Greek. Thus, perhaps an even more poignant and descriptive a word to apply to those feelings of longing you may be experiencing would be “ecostalgia”— a deep distress felt over longing for home.

In western culture, we inhabit a world that is ours for the taking. We continually seek to master Nature through technology and progress, we conquer the land. Even our very history as proud Americans in U.S. is based on the archetypal pioneer, one who pushes beyond the boundaries to foray into the beyond.

But has the taking, the conquering, and the pushing of boundaries truly fulfilled us? Many of us struggle in our daily lives, wondering what it is all about, seeking a sense of meaning.

In Constructing the Self, Constructing America (1995), Philip Cushman perceives that the individual in modern culture is an “empty self” that is driven by its felt sense of hollowness to fill itself up through increasing consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy. To alleviate the anxiety, depression, isolation, and suffering, psychosomatic disorders, or addiction, we turn to consumerism. We distract ourselves, stuffing ourselves into individual silos no longer linked to a larger web of creation.

But many of us are still in tune enough to know that something is missing, that we are longing for something meaningful, of wishing for a place we can feel safe and nourished: a sense of home. Psychologist John Hill, in his new book "At Home in the World" refers to “home” as the way we connect with the world. Indigenous cultures have long achieved this sense of belonging through reciprocal relationship with the world, through treating it with respect, through allowing all things to have a voice, through giving back to replace the things that they take to survive.

Though no culture or people is perfect, I am deeply aware that in the western world, as we increasingly turn as a culture to consumerism and distraction, freely availing ourselves of the “natural” resources provided by the earth, we lead lives that cause each of us to be increasingly more detached, dissociated, and alienated in a rampant state of disconnect from each other and from the environment in which each thing was once perceived and treated as alive and intelligent.

And worse than the ecological hazards we wreak, how is the dissociation and alienation affecting the way we treat each other as equal members of the human race, diminishing and disregarding the validity of the other? One of my favorite quotes from Jung states, “Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man's life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals. . . .Our present lives are dominated by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion. By the aid of reason, so we assure ourselves, we have "conquered nature"? (The Earth has a Soul, Meridith Sabini, and Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung).

During the upcoming season of Black Fridays, holiday sales, and traditional gift-giving, what role does Reason play for you? What offering do you leave at her altar? At what cost? Will your activities help you feel more at home in your soul, feed your longing to feel at home in something larger than your self, contribute to treating the Earth as your Home, and help you treat others more humanely?


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