The Ecology of Being
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
I am reading a book right now that discusses how the body traps, holds, and remembers the traumas which we suffer emotionally and physically. It is a deep dive into the psychology of pain suffered and pain survived, and it is as beautiful as it is perplexing—a reminder of the magic that the human mind is capable of when it needs to protect its core state of being.
The author discusses something very interesting, something I would like to explore a little bit further. Bessel Van Der Kolk, an M.D. PhD, worked with severely affected mentally ill patients such as young women with major depression and young people with schizophrenia. He emphasizes the importance of looking at not just the incidences that highlight their illnesses, or even the incidences of lucidity, but rather looking at “the ecology of their lives.” What drives them? What moves them to make decisions? What kinds of things are they interested in? What kind of relationships have they had? How have they built their world? What makes them feel comfortable?
This phrase has really stuck with me for a couple reasons, but one of the main reasons is that “ecology” implies that each moving part of these relations is pertinent to keeping a larger system alive. It emphasizes the importance of not only each person, but each and everything that makes them a person—rather than the thing that makes them sick. Ecology is a word we use when discussing a larger life force, the unity and relationships that are formed in the outside world. Scientifically, these ecological interactions are ones that organisms cannot live without…what makes humans any different? Mentally ill or not.
Van der Kolk opened up a door for me, and I believe for many others, by presenting the idea that we are, indeed, part of a system. There is an internal world, and there is an external world. They have to function in balance with one another. They need parts of each other to exist as they were meant to. The human ecosystem is the most vast, complex, and riveting one of all. There is very little likelihood we will ever come to fully know the depths of it. By the time we do, there will have been evolutionary changes and adaptations in both society and individuals—thus, our knowledge is moot. Outdated. This is one of its greatest beauties. People like me will chase this knowledge until the end of my days because I see treasure in every shift, I see gold in every drop of blood, and I yearn to hold a detailed map of human behavior.