What if rootlessness is the cause of our unease?
We are being uprooted from our ground like trees in a hurricane, separated from our extended family, local community, and the natural world. Witness the fate of Generation Z, born in the mid-to-late 1990s, who are predicted to hopscotch all around the U.S. in their lifetime, working 18 jobs, spanning six careers, while living in 15 different residences. Contrast that with my parent’s generation, who often worked their whole lives at one trade while living in the same house in the same community.
It can’t be denied: we have become uprooted from the land where our ancestors were born and died; where local customs with maze-like connections to our community have withered and died with the rise of interstate highways, TV, and social media; where even the smells of the earth and of the air itself have become a distant memory in the antiseptic suburbia of America that have blossomed like overfed algae since WWII.
Our rootlessness accelerates in pace with climate change, obliterating nature’s normal rhythms, which always served as our most reliable guide. Political polarization is undermining the bedrock of what we believe our democracy to be. And now, along comes Covid: Beyond attacking our physical bodies, it is short-circuiting our social habits, which, by their intimate regularity, affirms our humanity by connecting us to our community.
It’s a big deal!
As a retired psychotherapist, environmentalist, and follower of Carl Jung, I believe our roots to the earth — and to each other — are as essential to our survival as food is to our bodies. So you can imagine my delight in discovering a book, Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor, by Christy Wampole that examines this subject every which way. It’s a limited edition academic tome that cost an absurd amount to buy on Kindle, but I had to have it.
I believe we are like trees, except our roots connect to the earth through the sprawling, subterranean networks of our brain. Wampole expresses this notion in academic language: “I claim that the root is not only a powerful figure that represents home, the past, death, memory, and the mother; it is a figure for the subconscious itself.
Here are some other musings from her book: “Subterranean life, imagined as the final resting place and a return to the womb of Mother Earth, is subconsciously strived for by all people. Both humans and plants rest in beds.”
Traditional cultures, particularly indigenous ones, can’t comprehend our rootless, free-floating existence. As an example, Wampole writes about the Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou, who was amazed, after moving to America, that when a baby is born here, the umbilical cord is thrown away. “In the Congo, it is kept and buried in the soil of home, which remains a permanent place of return. With this symbolic attachment of the child to her homeland, a transfer from the mother’s body to the body of Mother Earth, initiation into life begins with a tethering.”
What an embracing notion for those of us not traditionally religious who, like motherless children, feel cast out alone into a bleak, postmodern world. The feeling of being forever tethered is a real security blanket. Of course, we have trees.
Look at all the recent, best-selling books touting trees’ miraculous, human-like qualities. With each new book, we discover more ways that plants, particularly trees, are like us. But, Wampole says, the most recent scientific research suggests we have it backward: it’s not that plants are like us but that it is we who are like plants.
In fact, she says, due to our new love affair with all things digital, we are becoming more plantlike. “In our increasingly vegetative state, in which we access the remote world through a screen, we have taken on something of the plant’s existence, which requires everything to come to it.”
Wampole concludes by going further afield, erasing the separation between plants and us: “Humans and plants have always been in direct communication via their shared cellular consciousness, which is so intimately and reciprocally attuned that the boundaries between plant and human are dissolved.”
But one thing is for sure: whether tree or human, you can cut off a bunch of our roots, and we will still thrive — but cut a few more, and we will die.
Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor, by Christy Wampole. Kindle Edition
Originally published at http://jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.