Ecobiography, a method of introspection with nature

As a child, the philosopher Jean-Philippe Pierron lived in the city and visited his grandparents in the Vosges. From these vacations spent in the woods, he has preserved the memory of the mineral structure of granite and pink sandstone, which dissolves into sand. These feelings “preceded the words to talk about them” in the child he was. They also helped shape the man he has become.

We know that contact with nature provides peace and relaxation. Hugging a tree would reduce stress; walking in the woods gives better concentration … Conversely, the absence of outdoor activities can cause a number of symptoms. That’s enough to give rise to the ‘natural shortage syndrome’, which was conceptualized in 2005 by the American journalist Richard Louv and which all small town dwellers deprived of the outdoors would suffer from.

Yes, nature shapes us

If we see how useful nature is to us, why not go ahead and acknowledge that it, like the family and the school, helps to shape us? And that it is even a key element in our evolution! Contacts with plants, animals, even minerals nourish our intimate experiences as much as human relationships. Ecobiography, a neologism that combines ecology and biography, consists of writing and sharing the story of these lived experiences.

A process of introspection

Jean-Philippe Pierron has developed and tested this method of introspection with his master’s students at the University of Lyon to derive practical exercises. What to translate the proverb, according to which “the path that goes from one self to one self goes around the world”: a journey that passes the memory of the pebbles that were collected on the beach in childhood or by observing the play of the sun on the wall of a city apartment. “Man and nature are one”, repeats Andreas Weber, philosopher, and Hildegard Kurt, researcher in cultural studies, in their essay in the form of a program Get lost again! (ed. Le Pommier, 2021).

To destroy nature is to destroy us. At the time of the Anthropocene (geological era, in which man takes control of the planet’s environment), the challenge of the ecobiography goes far beyond the question of individual well-being. It is about taking a political stance by rethinking the world. This awareness should make it possible to stop exploiting nature, but also to identify the strong relationships that we live there, a source of enormous vitality.

6 practical exercises

These questions, which you can answer alone or in a group, allow you to formulate your connection with nature and share the experiences you have had.

1 / Identify an encounter with a living being, a place that has lived in you since childhood. Describe it in detail, indicate if it was pleasing and what emotions and images are associated with it.

2 / Where do you live, have you ever experienced a meeting of a character similar to your childhood? What made it possible, delayed or prevented?

3 / Is it or was it possible for you to share this ecobiographical experience without scorn? Has talking about it changed anything for you and others? What made you talk about it? How do you make everyone know this freedom?

4 / Around you, what hinders the development of your ecobiography? On the contrary, mention a successful deconfinement experience of these intimate experiences.

5 / What would our society need in order for this method to be encouraged or facilitated? How ?

6 / Where could you share your ecobiography, discuss it and invent links?

3 questions to Jean-Philippe Pierron

Jean-Philippe Pierron is a philosopher, teacher at the University of Burgundy and author of I am a we, philosophical study of our interdependence with the living, ed. Actes Sud (2021), € 19.

Is ecobiography a personal development tool?

No, it’s not narcissistic praise, but a way to answer the question “Who am I?” »Taking into account all our links, human and non-human. And it’s a way of challenging a system that ignores and despises those links. To look at the world only from what is efficient, profitable, we have a poor reading of ourselves and of what surrounds us. Ecopsychology is also trying to remedy this.

What does it lead to?

To a collective consciousness, because behind the anthropocene and the extinction of species, there is an extinction of our sensitivity that makes us suffer. Ecobiography can respond to this disorder. It makes it possible to make explicit the implicit, to bring forth images and cultivate our imagination, to find a common poetic language to tell the world and say what we live in it without using productive language.

Can you live in the city and have something to say about it?

The city is not a uniform world. One can, for example, count all the little living creatures that are visible from one’s window, or tell about the world of puddles crossed on the street, between school and home. I led ecobiographical projects with urban planners and elementary and high school students (the Habiter project) in Lyon. Fitness centers and even catechism classes also use this method.

By Adelaide Robault

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