Queerness in Nature: Identity, Meditation and Ecopsychology
“There are no straight lines in nature” — Antoni Gaudi
About three years ago, coinciding with my move from Toronto to the west coast of Canada, I began to hold the possibility that I might be queer. Moving to the coast both inspired and necessitated me to reckon with my identity. Who was I and who would I become as I transplanted myself far from home, old friends, family and former communities?
Since that time, the answer has become a clear and prideful “YES!” I am gender queer, sexually queer, cognitively queer, relationally queer. Queer through and through. And through this recognition I feel liberated. I am proud to share the journey that helped me recognize my true nature.
In addition to moving, my studies in psychology and expanded states of consciousness also helped guide my inquiry into my true nature. I began to notice how my own identity had been shaped by my unique upbringing, situated within a collective neoliberal, dualistic, hetero-normative culture. Identifying as a straight woman helped me fit in and belong, to an extent. Why would I question that? Fitting in is a primal survival need. It felt good to belong.
But, the more I allowed myself to hold my personal identity as an open question rather than a fixed gender or sexual orientation, the more I recognized that the binary and siloed categories on offer did not resonate with my beingness.
Owning my queerness was initially a process of shedding the default norms that were assigned to me based on my biology and the expectations of others. I’d accepted these norms as core parts of my identity throughout my life without question. In recent years, I’ve come to see that these norms double as structures of oppression. By establishing what’s normal, we also establish what’s “abnormal”. Our human nature tends to fear, ostracise and persecute anything outside the established norm because it threatens our sense of belonging and our abilities to neatly categorize and quickly predict (skills we needed in the past to stay safe in the wilds).
If you ask me how I feel, I’d tell you that I feel both feminine and masculine. I also feel wild and animalistic, at times. I’m attracted to both men and women…and beings in between, including plants and animals and words and music. I’m attracted to what I find beautiful. I make a practice of following my bliss. In this culture, some of these attractions and even the radical act of following your bliss are labelled as queer. That is, outside hetero-normative, capitalistic paradigms. To me, these attractions are the most natural movements I have the privilege to make.
These days, embracing my queerness (and this is a different process/definition for everyone!) is as much an embracing of my fullest, paradoxical, indeterminate and mysterious self as it is a shedding of labels like straight and woman.
The more I take an honest look within myself, the more I recognize myself as essentially fluid. I am not an image I am trying to create (though I dabble in social media!). Certain identities feed my ego — therapist, guide, community organizer, consciousness explorer. But these are roles. They are not who I am. I change — emotionally, physically, psychically… All the time.
Meditation has helped me on this journey of recognition and acceptance. Each time I sit, I sit within the ever-changing nature of my experience. Practicing pure awareness helps me find ease and equanimity within that. I love to remember that I “don’t know” (a classic zen practice) much about anything, including myself. I’m slowly and surely replacing judgmental thinking with genuine curiosity. And as I attend to myself, by regularly meditating, often planting seeds of loving awareness into my own heart, I am much more able to compassionately attend to others.
The study of ecopsychology and the works of Bill Plotkin have been speaking to me lately. Ecopsychology, the combination of human psychology with ecology, is the study of interdependence and connection among all forms of life on earth. Ecopsychology situates the human psyche and each ‘individual’ psyche as a node in a vast, interconnected network. In this shift from ego-identification to eco-identification, ecopsychology is off-centre (or de-centers the self) and is an ‘abnormal’ — or queer — paradigm. It would have to be, it’s wild.
Within an ecopsychological frame, each human is no longer an independent unit, apart from others. Rather, all humans are all already a part of their environments. From an ecopsychological perspective, our wounds are symptoms of our disconnections from the natural world and others; our health can be recovered by consciously affirming and strengthening our connectivity to the natural world and those around us.
Ecopsychology is much more than a response to an individual’s well-being and self-understanding. Ecopsychology is a response to our climate crisis and a call to action. When we can see how environmental degradation is self-degradation, when we can listen deeply to the earth, the elements, the stars, and each other, we can nourish and be nourished by the abundant connectivity of our beings. Nature, of which we are a part, speaks a language of creative resilience and renewal. The answers to our current predicaments (personal and collective) are within nature and nature is reflected within our selves. It is all right here. May we become wise enough and quiet enough to listen.
From Quantum theory to the theory of evolution to the current pandemic — the proof of our already existing connectivity to each other, our environments and the unseen has never been more obvious. In our search for health and wholeness, we must re-member ourselves as co-extensive of and co-existent with our physical and social environments. Meditative practices like forest bathing and establishing sit spots are tools of this trade.
As I deepen into questions of identity and ecopsychology, I am coming to experience the nature and the wilderness that appear beyond or outside of me as extensions of the nature and the wilds within me. Meditation offers us the opportunity to sit within ourselves and to clarify our true natures. And what many of us find in this experience is that we each contain a wholeness of being that is nondual. Not this-Not that. As we see in ecopsychology, the ego is not separate from ecology but contained within it. To paraphrase Rumi, we are not the drop within the ocean but the ocean within the drop. And just like the ocean, our tides shift, waves form and crash, storms brew, waters calm. As in nature, our experiences of self, “other” and the world are ever-changing. This path gifts us with teachings and practice in the arts of grace, fluidity and acceptance.