— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
Many of us have a deep longing for something more in life, a yearning, a sense of loneliness. What if we are longing for something we innately have: a deep, visceral connection to the wild—to animals, nature, and the community of Life?
Wild animals are lonely for us. We are lonely for them. We have become disconnected from each other. Imagine what would happen if we expanded our sense of community to include all living beings in our consideration and planning? If we fell in love with the nonhuman life around us? What would the state of our environment be then?
Falling in love begins first with intimate contact. When we truly know and love an individual, we are moved to protect and nourish that being; see that it thrives. Falling in love is a natural result of a true connection with an individual—a dog, a cat, a bear, a bird; domestic or wild. It is the beginning of a journey to loving all of that species—and then other species—and then to seeing the utter miracle of all Life. By doing so, we are moved to save wildlife while incidentally saving ourselves. It’s a win-win.
Species loneliness isn’t just human. Animals want and accept our help and companionship when the circumstances are right—or urgent. Thought-provoking stories about people helping animals (and vice versa) are immensely popular throughout print and social media. When we dig deeper, we find that most of us have had at least one experience with wildlife that revealed an almost unexplainable form of communication and connection. Two such stories are shared in the post A Tale of Two Birds. I believe these experiences are available to all of us. For animals, it’s natural to sense and interpret energy. For us, it takes a bit more to find reconnection.
A theory that humans and wild animals are experiencing species loneliness has become increasingly embraced by a broad range of professions including ecologists, psychologists, conservationists, and biologists. The phrase was first coined by Michael V. McGinnis, Ph.D. in a 1993 article in Environmental Ethics:
“Species loneliness in a wounded landscape moves us to want to restore our relationship with place and others… humanity yearns to reestablish and restore an ecology of shared identity.”
Author Richard Louv takes on this subject in his book Our Wild Calling, noting the isolation that results from younger generations being tied to technology-sourced “friends” and staying indoors more than any previous generations.
“To recognize our membership in the family of animals is the calling of our generation,” Louv says, and I agree. Earth’s survival depends on a 180 degree shift in how we prioritize our journey.
There is such a sense of companionship in nature that can ease our profound loneliness. We may not be able to experience wild animals directly, but knowing that such life, vitality, and joy exists is exquisite, enriching and calming. Meanwhile, if we live in a city, we can connect with any non-human being around us, be it fish, fowl, mammal, or tree.
Our human-centered focus makes our frame of reference too small. If we humans can awaken to the realization of the amazing responsiveness of all Life, we would live in a profoundly richer, sustainable world.
We are surrounded by so much richness and magic ready to nourish our souls, warm our hearts, fill our loneliness, add joy and wonder to our lives.
Over the next several months, Earthfire will offer opportunities for sharing ideas, support and actions that we can all practice to reach a deeper relationship with wildlife and ourselves.
Your input will be warmly welcomed.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.