Depth Psychology Blog

Living in the Borderlands --Ecotherapy and Sensitivity to Nature and Earth Issues

07 Jan 2013 4:55 PM | Bonnie Bright (Administrator)

Though his is not the only one to say so, of course, according to  Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein (2007) in his revolutionary book Living in the Borderlands: The Evolution of Consciousness and the Challenge of Healing Trauma, humankind has experienced a massive split from our sacred roots in nature. As a result our egos have become overspecialized and lopsided, severing our ability to connect with the dimension of the sacred forces which nature embodies. Bernstein refers to the need for a massive compensatory shift in evolution that will help us regain balance and wholeness, action that will pull us “back from the brink of self-extinction” (p. 13). Bernstein’s hypothesis is firmly based on believing that everything that exists, both animate and inanimate “has within it a spirit dimension and communicates in that dimension to those who can listen” (p. 8).

In the book, Bernstein coins a new term, "Borderland", which he defines as the arena in which the “overly-rational westernized ego is in the process of reconnecting with its split-off roots in nature”. He proposes that new psychic forms are emerging in our culture as a result of the reconnection process between our deep roots in nature and our western minds. These forms are resulting in extreme tension which is currently emerging and affecting the world and this tension impacts and plays itself out in specific individuals. This is a form of participation mystique, the psychic identification the world around us, a term coined by anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl.

Bernstein theorizes that some people who are highly sensitive are actually experiencing and embodying the tension that is a result of the reconnection process, tension which shows up in various ways. These people who feel the tension from the reconnection are those who, in Bernstein’s hypothesis, live in the Borderland. They are often deeply feeling and highly sensitive. They tend to experience profound but irrational feelings which may actually be extensions of what is going on in the world around them because of a tendency to psychically identify with both the animate and inanimate objects in the world around them. For example, according to Bernstein, they seem to experience abuse of the earth as an almost physical violation of their own bodies or suffer from environmental illness in which their bodies become hypersensitive and reactive to the toxins and pollutants in the atmosphere. They feel the extinction of species as a physical pain, and abuse of animals as a physical affront.

Bernstein says evolution that is carrying us back into connection with sacred nature, sacred being “that which is transpersonal, beyond rational experience, and which carries a feeling of numinosity” (p. 11). He references primitive and indigenous cultures for whom nature was always sacred, whose beliefs included the idea that every object, symbol, or event has inherent spiritual significance and purpose. Because we have, as a culture, moved too far away from that position, Bernstein says, we find ourselves literally on the edge of total destruction. Bernstein perceives that Borderland people are, in effect, taking on the some of the work for all humanity as they absorb the tension of the reconnection process between our specialized egos and sacred nature.  Since most humans are still living in a mode where they are unaware of this dimension and relationship at all, Borderlanders are doing the work that most of us don’t yet know how to do. Bernstein says the liminal space where chaos and order overlap causes terror and discomfort, but it is common for people to experience it as they shift from the profane to the sacred. 

The first time I read Living in the Borderland, I believed I found it "interesting." It took about four years and another read--as well as lots of depth psychological work on myself--to begin to understand and begin to acknowledge that I, too, related to the "Borderlanders"--feeling profoundly affected by what is going on in the world around us. For years I have been researching the concept of "ecocide" and wondering just how affected each of us really is by the knowledge--conscious or unconscious--that we are collectively destroying the earth we live on and possibly our species as well. This, of course, is not less important than the innumerable species we're aiding toward extinction through our current cultural practices that we are only on the verge of beginning to question. 

If you feel profoundly affected by "what's going on on the planet," you may also be a "Borderlander" and can benefit from Ecotherapy. There are many practitioners who help you work through and embrace your profound sensitivity to nature and the planet we inhabit and to find healthy coping mechanisms that will help us all move forward.

Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychology and hosts a regular podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA.

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