‘Sumbiotude’: a new word in the tiny (but growing) vocabulary for our emotional connection to the environment



Glenn Albrecht, Author provided

Glenn Albrecht, University of Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains references to deceased people.

I am a child of the Anthropocene, born in 1953. I have lived in a period of history also known as the “Great Acceleration” as huge negative change unfolded.

While contemplating these changes, I have sensed, within humanity, a profound sense of emotional isolation. To help overcome the solitude, I have created the idea of sumbiotude, thinking and working in companionship with others, to reconnect to life.

Being alive in this particular era, I have had the privilege of living through the rapid transition from a focus on that which is “obvious to the senses” to our new ways of rendering the invisible, visible.




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I also accept that reality is complex and independent of us and that new insights into nature can come via acts of scientific and conceptual discovery. However, I am always aware that I am walking in the footsteps of the late Big Bill Neidjie of Arnhem Land when in Gagudju Man he suggests:

We walk on earth,

We look after,

like rainbow sitting on top.

But something underneath,

under the ground.

We don’t know.

You don’t know.

At a time of massive biophysical change (heatwaves, wildfire, floods, pandemics), we need to expand our language to understand these changes and to be able to share the emotional upheavals they engender.

I’ve created a “sumbiography” (from the Greek, sumbios, which means living together) to investigate the union of elements in nature and culture that have symbiotically cohered into a view about life – a philosophy of my own.

For others, undertaking a sumbiography has the potential to help them find their own particular view of their emotional connection – or the lack of it – to the Earth.

A sumbiography can reveal just what kind of emotional compass we have with respect to our personal relationship to this living planet.

A new vocabulary

As a philosopher, my response to the encounter with the open cut coal mines of the desolated Upper Hunter region of NSW was to rethink the emotions of attachment to and abandonment of a place that is loved, and to find the right way to express my feelings.

As there was nothing in the English language to help me, I decided to create my own concept – a neologism – to adequately describe the emotional distress at the loss of one’s endemic sense of place.

It took the combination of a lifetime of teaching, thinking and a creative effort shared with my wife, Jillian, before the concept of “solastalgia” entered the world in 2003.




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Solastalgia, the distressing lived experience of negative environmental change, arose from understanding that the positive side of the lived experience of Earth emotions had to have negative equivalents. Solastalgia marked the beginning of my journey of mental-landscape discovery.

That such a concept did not already exist in the English language was, to me, a sign of just how deeply alienated from our home we – as an Earth-destroying, or “terraphthoric”, culture – had become.

Co-existence with non-human life

My mother played a huge part in my rediscovery and naming of different, more positive, psychoterratic emotions.

In her late seventies, she was struggling: the legacy of tuberculosis had left her breathless and she was having trouble both retaining her independence and continuing as a volunteer guide at Kings Park in Perth. I shopped for her and we ate together most nights.

After a year where I lived close by, she suffered a big, bloody and lonely fall. Following her hospitalisation and recovery, I took her to live with me in the village of Jarrahdale in the Perth Hills.

Our house and block, “Birdland”, had jarrah trees on it and ground orchids; it was visited by kangaroos, possums, quenda (southern brown bandicoot) and many different kinds of birds.

A kangaroo resting at Birdland.
Glenn Albrecht, Author provided

My mother and I thrived there. She reconnected with her own endemic sense of place, and I thinking about the concepts and the associated words needed to account for that sense of reconnection and good Earth emotions.

If the mine-scape of the Upper Hunter and the homogeneity of the city of Perth represented the solastalgic Anthropocene to me, Jarrahdale had offered a lifeline to a different lifestyle and worldview – one where co-existence with non-human life went beyond companion and domesticated animals and a limited number of edible plants.

Adding richness to sumbiography

In loving each other as kin, my mother and I also shared a love of the endemic (endemophilia). This was made manifest in the moments when spider, donkey, enamel or bee orchids were found with almost the same excitement as very first encounters.

These five years with my mother added richness to my sumbiography.

As an adult, I could reunite with my past and feel, beyond solastalgia, positive emotional states residing in me that were also without the corresponding concepts, words and ideas in my language.




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While based at Murdoch University, I began a systematic quest to negate solastalgia and all the other negative Earth emotions to add something new, something “terranascient” or Earth-creating that could join the dialectic of the psychoterratic.

Symbiosis

In 2011, I created the meme of the Symbiocene, which I defined as the next era in human and Earth history where reintegration of the Anthropos (humans) with the Sumbios (symbiotic life) was completed.

In 2013, aged 84, my mother died. Half her ashes were scattered carefully into the Kings Park bush around a huge old gnarly log from a long-dead jarrah tree.

Ground orchids abounded in this place, so too the red and green kangaroo paws. She deserved a presence in that park, as her spirit had graced it for more than 20 years. I imagine she became a copse of pink enamel orchids, glistening in the Perth spring sun.

If humans are kind to the Earth, some of her will also become a new jarrah tree, auburn hair all fiery in its wood grain.

‘Sumbiography’, ‘solastalgia’ and other emotions are discussed in the author’s book, Earth Emotions.
Shutterstock

For the great bulk of human existence, symbiosis was typical of our relationship to the rest of nature, and I wanted to regain the property of what the Greeks called sumbiosis or “companionship”.

Living together

If I live to be 100 years of age, it is my hope that my life will come to exemplify a neologism that is sumbiotude, or the state of living together.

Sumbiotude is the exact opposite of solitude: instead of contemplating life in isolation, sumbiotude involves contemplation and completion of a lifespan with the loving companionship of humans and non-humans.

I will also be happy if my creative, conceptual work can help Generation Symbiocene – which includes my own children, my step-grandchildren and my five-year-old granddaughter – live in a world where positive Earth emotions prevail.

This is an edited extract republished with permission from GriffithReview68: Getting On (Text), ed Ashley Hay griffithreview.comThe Conversation

Glenn Albrecht, Honorary Associate, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental and emotional health



File 20180529 80633 loc9im.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hiking the Savage River Loop in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
Lian Law/NPS

Brad Daniel, Montreat College; Andrew Bobilya, Western Carolina University, and Ken Kalisch, Montreat College

Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.

As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.

But while some equate solitude with loneliness, there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. The latter is essential for mental health and effective leadership.

We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.

On an average day in 2015, individuals aged 15 and over spent more than half of their leisure time watching TV.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans Time Use Survey

Reflection and challenge

We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.

Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.

Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural and inspirational settings.

Spending time in city parks like Audubon Park in New Orleans provides some of the same benefits as time in wilderness areas, including reduced stress levels and increased energy levels.
InSapphoWeTrust, CC BY-SA

Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.

Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.

Putting it together: The outdoor solo

Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24-72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.

Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.

Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.

Solitary reflection enhances recognition and appreciation of key personal relationships, encourages reorganization of life priorities, and increases appreciation for alone time, silence, and reflection. People learn lessons they want to transfer to their daily living, because they have had the opportunity to clarify, evaluate and redirect themselves by setting goals for the future.

For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling and reflection time.

Retreating to lead

As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.

The ConversationIn order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.

Brad Daniel, Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College; Andrew Bobilya, Associate Professor and Program Director of Parks and Recreation Management, Western Carolina University, and Ken Kalisch, Associate Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.