A few years ago, one July morning, under a beautiful tree canopy in a wood, I met speculative fiction writer, Cae Hawkesmoor, who inspired me to begin the Unpsychology project. I’d been leading a session entitled ‘Unpsychology’ at the fourth Dark Mountain ‘Uncivilisation’ gathering, and Cae proposed a collaboration – which first manifested as an invitation to an online community forum they curated – but then soon developed into something much more interesting and connected.
The contexts of the Dark Mountain Project, set up in 2009, were collapse, ‘peak oil’ and the inevitability of climate breakdown. At the time, environmentalists attacked the Mountaineers as pessimistic doom-mongers – even George Monbiot got in on the act – but ten years on, the conversations we were having about the climate emergency now seem just normal, as Extinction Rebellion protests and Amazon fires alike erupt – not to speak of the growing political chaos that swirls around us
Dark Mountain was a creative – and particularly a literary – response to these cultural shifts – and Unpsychology was an attempt to map how a new ‘ecology of mind’ for our changing times might emerge. Unpsychology, in the way Cae and I saw it, was to be an ecological, egalitarian project that challenged psychological and cultural norms and recognised deep, archetypal realities. It was to champion neurodiversity and reflect the voices of those whose psychological experience was beyond the cultural boundaries of ‘norm’.
As a psychotherapist, I saw (and still see) my professional field as strangely narrow and inhibited in relation to social and ecological issues – and my fellow editors Cae and, later, Julia Macintosh could vouch for this in their experience of the sharp end of a system that doesn’t have the time or the levels of awareness to connect up sadness and madness with exclusion, discrimination and ecological degradation.
The psychological ‘norm’ was (and is) to see dysfunction as emerging from inside the individual – whether this is through nature (genetics) or nurture (attachment) – and yet it’s clear from my own work with clients that context is everything! Help people make the connections between their daily lives, their inner worlds and what is going on out there in the wider social and ecological spheres, and they usually get it – they get a sense of where they fit in the wider framework, and are able to move forward – even if it is difficult and painful to do so.
The dangerous alternative has been to go for the quick fix – and new-age thinking (that has infused progressive movements to a sometimes alarming extent) is full of these. Unpsychology – or Soul making (as I sometimes call it, inspired by James Hillman’s prescient writing) – is about being grounded and humbly scientific. Alternatives, based on world views that rest in glorified wishful thinking will not do the trick.
What we need in these troubled days is the deep, slow, unearthing of soul, rather than the quick-fire promise of spirit!
Unpsychology Magazine has therefore championed alternative perspectives on ‘mind’ and ‘world’, and you’re just as likely to find the work of artists, teachers and activists there, as psychologists. In fact, often our contributors are poets and therapists; painters and coaches; activists and healers. They bring a poetic, soulful sensibility to the difficult and important issues of our times, and they reflect life as it is out here – messy, complicated, difficult, creative and often totally awesome!
In the first couple of issues of the magazine, Cae and I brought curated generalist writing and art around the unpsychology theme – these were well-received printed mags that I am still really proud of. Writers like Alex Lockwood and Helen Moore shared their work, alongside surfers, ecologists and photographers. However, it felt like more focus would be useful and, when Cae stepped away to pursue their writing career, it seemed like the right time to make a change.
The next edition was, for Grandpa Steve, very close to my heart. I edited an edition on Childhood, and was delighted to get a host of poetry and writing which championed the child’s position – and particularly excited to republish a chapter from Jay Griffiths excellent book on Childhood , Kith – The Riddle of the Childscape. The issue is illustrated beautifully throughout by Ruth Thorp (yes, my daughter) and the Childhood edition is a beautiful object (and, if you’re interested, still available!!)*.
By now, things were hotting up. The cultural conversations about climate were beginning to slide into the mainstream (though still way down the agenda), and Julia (now my co-editor) and I invited submissions for the Climate Minds edition. Unlike previous issues, this was to be entirely digital and free to download. The volume of submissions reflected the importance of the theme, and the wonderful writing (fiction, poetry, essays and combinations of all these!) and artwork provides a real representation of the artistic and psychological response to the climate emergency.
All the contributors, as they alway have, donate their work for free – and a number of them contributed work that is right at the heart of unpsychological and eco-psychological writing right now. Writers in the magazine like Zhiwa Woodbury, Pegi Ayers, Toby Chown, Dave Hicks and others have been developing perspectives on the Climate Mind for some time, and the art and poetry in the anthology provides a rich and archetypal glimpse into the imaginal response to this troubling theme.
At the same time, writers like Will Falk and Carol Koziol contributed to Unpsychology on Medium – our online home – together with Julia and I who crafted a couple of series of dialogues on Healing and on the Climate Mind.
The latest edition of Unpsychology (#5 if you’re keeping count!) is the most eclectic yet. The theme for this one was Earthsongs, with an invitation to contributors to submit music and musically inspired offerings as well as the usual writing and artwork.
And this one is a joy! It has its own playlist on Soundcloud, and there are films, spoken word pieces, dance music, folk music, essays, poems, archetypal musically themed essays, short stories and some of the most inspiring artwork we’ve featured to date. A number of our contributors have come back for more: Helen Moore, Toby Chown, Jenny Arran and Janet Lees have all appeared in one or more previous editions, but the new work from across the world is equally exciting… songs from Mairi Campbell, the Roots Grown Deep collective, the Land – to name just a few!
I could go on, but the point of this article is to highlight the existence of Unpsychology Magazine – to tell its story, and to track its development alongside other connected movements, groups and organisations: Dark Mountain Project, Extinction Rebellion, the Ecopsychology community, Nora Bateson’s Warm Data Labs and a host of others.
Not least of these is Campfire Convention itself. When I came across it, it felt like a kind of home – an ecosystem that Unpsychology was already a part of – without us knowing it. The concerns about which we write and create are the concerns that were being talked about and sung around the campfires this summer.
Julia and I are just two editors, working in our spare time with a growing community of people with an interest and engagement with the themes of unpsychology – but it feels as if Unpsychology could be voice for a much wider community. So this is an invitation. If you’re interested (or even excited!) about anything you’ve read in this piece, get in touch. We will be soon putting out a call-out for issue #6 of the magazine (sneak preview: the theme will be Other Than – other than human, that is!), and we are always looking for contributions for our Medium publication.
So, here’s an Unpsychology to-do list:
- Check out Unpsychology on Medium – and let me know if you have anything you’d like to contribute: https://medium.com/soul-making
- Download your FREE copies of Unpsychology #5 Earthsongs AND #4 Climate Minds, by going to http://www.unpsychology.org/latest-issue/ and clicking through.
- Look out for the Submissions Call for Unpsychology #6 – at unpsychology.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/unpsychology/
- Get in touch if you’d like to get involved or collaborate with us!
Steve Thorp: Therapist. Writer. Editor, Unpsychology Magazine.