Gillian M Brown

In Nature’s Embrace: Emotional Emplacement and the Search for an ‘Eco-symbolic’

If it can be said that our emotions connect us not only with ourselves and the other but also with the world of nature how then might we understand our interrelationship with, and attachment to, this landscape of the other-than-human? Recent global events seem to have emphasised how much our emotional health is intimately bound up with a sense of connection to our natural surroundings, and we have seen a significant turning towards nature for containment and restoration in times of restricted interaction with others. As well as providing an increasingly recognised therapeutic resource the natural environment can elicit some of our most profound feelings of wholeness and belonging. Our other-than-human surroundings and neighbours have, invariably, comprised a backdrop to our developing selves and can often provide meaningful loci for personal experience. Nature, according to Marie-Louise Von Franz (1998), was “Jung’s greatest love” and Jung himself spoke of feeling “a kinship with all things”, relating in Memories Dreams and Reflections how a profound sense of being part of the landscape at his lakeside tower in Bollingen led him to experience himself as deeply entangled in his containing environment. In this paper I will discuss how we might usefully frame our emotional bonds with the natural world and approach the experience of meaningful encounter with the environmental ‘other’ from a Jungian, symbolic, perspective. Drawing on my experience of working therapeutically in nature-based settings, and on current thinking within the emergent field of ecopsychology, I will suggest that the constellations of association and affect that interweave the individual psyche with its encompassing ecosphere might speak to the deepest parts of our being and may, like the complex or symbol, be potent guides in our search for meaningful relationship and self-discovery.


Gillian M Brown is a third year PhD student at Essex University’s department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies where she is researching the application of Jungian thinking to encounters with the symbolic in natural, other-than-human, settings.

Gillian has a background in community mental health, therapeutic horticulture and ecopsychology. She is currently an affiliated therapist with the Wilderness Foundation UK, works as a psychotherapist in private practice, and serves on the committee of the Cambridge Jungian Circle.

She is awaiting the publication of a paper in the Journal of Analytic Psychology on the correlation between Dorn’s stages of the Coniunctio and Jung’s description of five stages of consciousness as described in his paper The spirit mercurius, with reference to eco-psychological findings.


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