Ecological Self

Jeanine M. Canty
Professor, Transformative Studies, Author

The fields of ecopsychology and deep ecology often refer to the ecological self as a key to reawaken our inherent connection with nature. The ecological self was first identified by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, the co-founder of deep ecology—a movement that advocates for every supporter to develop their own ecophilosophy and unique relationship with nature. The ecophilosopher and activist Joanna Macy has given the phrase a more active feeling by calling it “the greening of the self.” Naess would also refer to it as the process of self-realization, as it is a means of maturing from the small ego self to a sense of self that is in relationship with the more-than-human nat­ural world. For instance, one might be drawn to a particular animal or a tree near their home, appreciating that their wellness is tied to this being.

The ecological self develops our understanding that we are connected to nature, building our recognition that we feel compassion and even love for nature. With this awareness that we are nature, we see that the damage we are doing to the Earth is directly hurting us; we are inseparable. The ecological self broadens our identity to encom­pass nature; it sparks caring and an understanding that we are in this life together, rather than separate. When we separate ourselves from the larger Earth community, we distance our compassion for other beings, silence our bodies and instinctual selves, and open the way to permitting harm to other sentient beings. As we build our ecological self with direct immersion in nature, we realize we are nature.

Pamela EA Ecological Self

In the Sierra Oaxaqueña, a farmer gently cradles a Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar. Oaxaca, Mexico, 2023.
Photography By Pamela EA