INTERVIEW WITH VADIM RYABIKOV
Psychologist, musician, composer Vadim Ryabikov - about co-creation with the natural world, geopoetics, ecological grief, psy-geographic music as a special way of human interaction with natural landscapes, transforming the experience of the landscape into aesthetic images that can change our attitude to the environment and have a healing effect on us and our life world.
Keywords: geopoetics, psy-georgaphic music, environment, symbol, symbolic dimension, archetype, ecological grief
Brief note about the interviewee:
Vadim Ryabikov - psychologist, anthropologist, musician. The author of the Interactive Resonance therapeutic method. Former Head of the Sector for Cultural and Natural Heritage of the White Sea and the Solovetsky Archipelago, Russian Research Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage named after D.S. Likhachev, participant in research expeditions to Arctic, South America, Southeast Asia. Expert of the Arctic Geoculture Laboratory of the State Institute of Culture and Arts of the Arctic (Sakha / Yakutia)
Alexander Kopytin (AK): As a psychologist and musician, composer, you spend a lot of time traveling to different regions of the planet, participating in scientific expeditions, as well as in cultural activities, maintaining and restoring the centers of spiritual culture based on the study and support of natural environments in their unity with culture. Please tell us what motivates your activity, and what you see as your professional and personal task, working with the human soul and culture through the environment, on the basis of co-creation with the natural world.
Vadim Ryabikov (VR): Humanity will have to rediscover the planet, although the era of geographical discoveries has already ended. For several centuries, and more clearly, starting with the modern era, the Earth began to be perceived not as a person's life-world, but as a physical body, as a storehouse of resources. Guided by this worldview humankind transformed the natural environment, the entire geosphere, invading all the shells or layers of the Earth and at the same time destroying a very important symbolic dimension.
The entire practice of mastering reality in the modern era was based on an objectivist worldview, and the subjective dimension in the relationship of a person with the environment was recognized as false or as introducing “hindrances” to the knowledge of reality. This ultimately led to the loss, or rather, a sharp narrowing of the symbolic dimension. While exploring and transforming the environment, we began, wittingly or unwittingly, to neglect the symbolic dimension that fills the entire natural world, that is, to neglect symbols as carriers of universal meanings that the natural world stores in itself. Gradually, humanity found itself in a “meaningless”, artificial environment, in which vital existential connections are not supported within human integrity, within the mental or spiritual world.
The loss of a genuine psychological and physical connection with the natural world and its symbolism leads to suffering. Although a person can break off for some time the relationship with the deep ecological unconscious, this cannot last long. A person becomes "fragile", losing contact with the sources of mental strength, inspiration and life, begins to feel himself/herself in a cardboard, lifeless, artificial, false world. It is no coincidence that geneticists such as Kenneth Blum have long that, since the 1950’s, more and more children are being born who are not capable of experiencing joy and happiness. This has been linked to contentment deficit syndrome. Although this position, in my opinion, does not stand up to criticism, nevertheless, I admit that despite the objective improvement in the quality of life of a significant part of the world's population, the subjective experience of happiness and satisfaction with life in a modern person is steadily declining. I associate this with the era of the Anthropocene. Interestingly, regardless of geneticists like Kenneth Blum, chemist Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize winner, admitted that the Anthropocene epoch began in the 1950s, when humankind significantly changed the mode of operation of the shells of the geosphere, the whole face of the planet. The era of the Anthropocene was preceded by a period of powerful social transformations, called modernity, which is characterized by the establishment of the capitalist socio-economic structure, industrialization and urbanization.
From my point of view, the epidemics of depression and other mental problems of our time are evidence of serious human ill-being, with which something must be done, together with measures to prevent an ecological catastrophe. The predictions of the World Health Organization, which some time ago predicted that by 2020, depression will come to one of the leading places as a cause of disability, have turned out to be justified, although the WHO and mental health specialists still do not seriously take into account the environmental, echo-human reasons for the spread of various mental ailments, such as depression. Many of them, obviously, are associated with the weakening of the physical, emotional and spiritual connection between humans and the Earth, its symbolic dimension as a generator of vitality.
AK: In this context, one cannot but recall such rapidly spreading psychological and clinical phenomena as ecological grief, ecological anxiety, and solastalgia (distress caused by environmental change in one’s home environment). These phenomena, apparently, are becoming widespread, but so far they have attracted insufficient attention from scientists, although they seem to be getting coverage in the media already. An article on climate grief was published in BBC news in April 2020, and in October 2020, the Guardian newspaper ran an article on solastalgia.
VR: Yes, indeed, the phenomena of ecological grief, ecological anxiety and solastalgia reflect a clear tendency towards an increase in the psychological distress of the population, together with the degradation of the ecosphere and our spiritual connection with the planet, its symbolic dimension. Along with the environmental damage due to the environmental crisis, psychological damage is growing. In addition to the disappearance of flora and fauna, the loss of living spaces for animals, people are losing their usual way of life, of personal identity, which for centuries has been formed in relations with landscapes as not only physical, but generative symbolic environments. Ecological grief is an emotional response to such losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems and significant landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental changes. Ecological grief is thus a natural reaction to ecological losses, especially among those people who until recently sought to maintain close ties with the natural environment and attached increased importance to this connection. And these are not only people engaged in agriculture and representatives of indigenous peoples, but also many others who have the ability to feel the world of wildlife, admire it and value it as a source of physical, emotional and spiritual renewal.
Grieving is an inner work that the soul performs, extracting the investments it once made into its own future, in a situation where it becomes unattainable. After this work is completed, the soul must re-invest itself in the image of a new future. If this is not possible, grief becomes pathological. Refusal of awareness of losses can be the reason for the lengthening of the mourning period, its transition to a pathological form, manifested, in particular, as somatic diseases or depression.
We see how many patients suffering from depression, or psychosomatic illnesses, get relief during contact with pristine nature. As a rule, this is accompanied by tears and grief about something inexplicable that is lost. This is especially evident during meditative contacts with wild animals that we organize (a wolf pack, or dolphins in natural conditions). This allows us to make the assumption that the psychological distress of these people is largely the result of unrecognized environmental grief.
Photo 1: "One day in a pack with wolves" eco-psychological retreat (photo by V. Ryabikov)
Photo 2: "One day in a pack with wolves" eco-psychological retreat (photo by V. Ryabikov)
AK: Together with the obvious ecological physical losses associated with the disappearance of species, landscapes and ecosystems, changes in weather conditions, disruption of the usual way of life or loss of livelihood, modern people are increasingly experiencing losses resulting from the degradation and weakening of their vital skills of communication with the natural world as a form of living dialogical interaction with nature as such a system in relations with which together humans establish a form of life, and with which they identify, forming their ecological identity. Psychologists have been talking a lot, for example, about the importance of emotional intelligence in human life for successful social adaptation. Emotional intelligence is really very important, but ecological intelligence - the ability to feel and understand the natural world and participate in its life, supporting it and, together with it, healing and supporting ourselves - is something that can probably mitigate the experience of ecological grief, ecological anxiety and solastalgia and, if possible, influence the very sources of these ailments.
How can we restore a healing connection with the natural world, with its symbolic dimension, helping ourselves to maintain mental and physical health and helping the natural world as well?
VR: I, for example, do this by conducting eco-psychological retreats, creating psy-geographic music, engaging in activities related to geopoetics. Geopoetics is a trend. At first it was the literary method created by Kenneth White, which eventually took on the character of a cultural trend. Through various types of creative interaction with the natural landscape, geopoetics develops a holistic, non-pragmatic perception of the natural world, of our connection with the Earth, and also contributes to the transformation of these experiences into aesthetic, artistic, musical images. A geopoetic attitude, along with other measures, can lead a person to a new, spiritual relationship with the natural world.
Geopoetics is sometimes contrasted with geopolitics. If geopolitics is viewed as a form of space exploration, based on an imperious effort, then the geopoetic is form of exploration of the environment which is more associated with an intellectual, emotional, aesthetic effort. This is not only the creation of images, but also the practice of space exploration, the creation of anthropogenic landscapes, taking into account their symbolic dimension. In general, geopoetics today is implemented as artistic and aesthetic practice, primarily related to the creation of literary texts.
For me, this is the practice of musical interventions in an environment, in a geographic space. It developed in the context of the Arctic complex marine expedition of the Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage as an attempt to help the traveler to enhance, amplify the experience of the landscape. This practice of musical intervention allows the traveler to remove the restrictions for the emotional, cultural and aesthetic perception of the landscape. It helps people to convey their feelings, to become an exponent of the unique natural and symbolic properties of a particular place.
In the expeditions, I used a music workstation, a computer containing a bank of timbres and sounds. In practice, interaction with the landscape presupposed the selection of certain kinds of sounds that were supposed to evoke deep interactive resonances with the environment. It is simply impossible to impose some kind of sound on the space. If, for example, we talk about the Arctic, then this space is so filled with some special quality that it is impossible not to feel it. In the choice of tonality, intonation, sound, musical colors, I practice a reverent attitude to the landscape, trying to convey these properties of the Arctic environment. I really don't want to disturb the harmony of the place. When you're looking for sound resonances in a landscape, you need to have a rich arsenal of sounds to hit the right waveform.
Photo 3: "Splash of Eternity" expedition. Field recording studio (photo by V. Ryabikov)
During the first Arctic expedition, I created a whole gallery of such musical images, which were indicated by the time and place of their appearance. This was the beginning of the emergence of psy-geographic music. This is the music that is born here and now, at the moment when the composer-medium is in a state of meditative contemplation of the landscape, is at the mercy of those psychic forces that have been awakened, set in motion as a result of meditative contemplation of the landscape. Thus, the author of psy-geographic music becomes not only and not so much the composer, but the “spirit of the place” that currently exists here. The musical images obtained in this way are used on the shore, in the therapy room as a kind of "mediators" with those mental states and experiences, those psychic forces that were awakened once. That is, such music is a way to attract healing natural forces and their psychic equivalents into our everyday life, into the space of the city.
Photo 4: Expedition to the Arctic. Spitsbergen Archipelago (photo by V. Ryabikov)
Photo 5: "Arctic: The Territory of Discovery" expedition. Lena river. Lena Pillars (photo by V. Ryabikov)
Photo 6: The ancient road to "The Heart of the Earth" sanctuary of the Kogi Indians (photo by V. Ryabikov)
AK: I see a clear consonance of the geopolitical platform to the mission of our journal, the eco-human concept of ecopoiesis considered as a factor of the co-evolution and co-creation of nature and humans, forming a united system, "Nature - Humankind". Ecopoiesis means that, in mastering and creating a living environment for themselves, humans act not only as subjects of society and culture, but also as “environmental subjects” capable of taking care of their “earthly home” and, in the words of M.M. Bakhtin, to to be able to convey in artistic form the "expressive and speaking being" of the natural world. You often use the expression "symbolic dimension" of the natural environment What does it mean? Is this what the environment endows a person with - its meanings, states, stories - or is it something that can exist independently of a person, as a kind of transcendental phenomenon? From what I've heard so far, you believe that interacting with the symbolic dimension of natural environments has a significant healing, harmonizing potential.
VR: We cannot say unequivocally whether the natural environment has its own subjectivity or whether it only reflects those mental phenomena and properties that humans endow it with. As a supporter of deep archetypal psychology, as well as the concept of the subject-generating interaction of a person with the environment developed by Viktor Panov, I am inclined to the idea that the psyche is not only and not so much the product of the human brain, but what arises in the interaction of the subject and the environment, with which together we form a united system. Our mental organization relies on archetypal ordering forces that awaken in us during the subject-environmental interactions, in particular, during an interaction with the natural environments. These ordering archetypal forces are enclosed in nature and have served us as powerful generative potentials, accompanying the biological and socio-cultural history of our existence. These forces ensure the systemic coherence of the entire set of our mental processes with the fluid reality of the world. Humans are woven into the great web of life, not only physically, but also mentally.
The natural habitat contains systemic factors that activate the connections between the consciousness of a person immersed in it, and the deep, ordering, archetypal forces of the unconscious. These systemic factors may be clearly visible, but their work is mostly hidden from direct observation, instrumental or audio-video recording. It is the result of the systemic interaction of humans with the ecological system and planetary life in general. We as a part of nature and together with nature create an intellectual, cultural "layer" of planetary life, generate and express our own subjectivity and the subjectivity of the planet.
AK: Our interaction with the “symbolic universe” of nature is of vital importance, and not only for our mental health, but also for the preservation and “health” of the planet. I understand that in your practical activity as a psychologist, leading eco-psychological retreats, and as a musician creating psy-geographic music, you turn, first of all, to the archetypal forces of the "ecological unconscious," to use the term introduced by Theodore Roszak.
VR: Yes, it really is. The ecological foundations of archetypal psychology are of fundamental importance to me. This is due to the recognition that archetypes as universal innate forces organizing and directing our mental activity and manifested in the images of dreams and fantasies, are creations of the spiritual culture of all times and peoples. They are, at the same time, universal mechanisms by which the correlation of our internal needs as subjects and a biological species with the needs of the natural environment occurs.
However, the healing, regulatory capabilities of the archetype do not appear on their own when, for example, we immerse ourselves in a natural environment. Much is determined by our activity as subjects entering into certain forms of interaction with the environment. In accordance with the concepts of archetypal psychology, a living symbol that begins to be born at the moment of tuning to the environment requires a certain response in the form of experience, through visualization and dialogue, its expression through poetry and other literary forms, music, visual images and bodily reactions. Different types of meditative environmental practice are possible, allowing for different types of interaction with the physical and symbolic environment of the particular landscape. In the process of creative interaction with the environment, a person as a self-aware part of the natural universe differentiates and expresses various subjective components of one’s experience and brings them into culture, into the noosphere.
AI: Thank you very much. Your experience and ideas fully correspond to the mission and values of our journal.
Note: Samples of psy-geographic music created by Vadim Ryabikov are presented on the Psi-Geography website (http://psy-geography.ru) – http://psygeography.ru/psi-geograficheskaya-muzyka
Interviewed by: Kopytin, Alexander
Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Department of Psychology, St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Reference for citations
Kopytin, A. (2022). Interview with Vadim Ryabikov. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, Vol.3(1). - URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru