Returning the Self to Nature by Jeanine M. Canty

Returning the Self to Nature: Undoing Our Collective Narcissism and Healing Our Planet by Jeanine M. Canty


This book. It took me a long while to write about this book because I needed to digest its concepts singly. I’ve never read anything like it.  

A single-parent friend, frantically studying nights and weekends to earn a therapy masters, learned this book was one of the elective choices on offer. They read it too, and we spent hours hiking while discussing the ideas presented. Canty’s views are uncommon to the general bevy of American therapies as ecopsychology lives just off the edge of our culture’s collective unconsciousness. Canty puts the onus on the individual to make sweeping change. But many times, reading, I had to set the book aside to think about what I’d read.  

For example: Being raised in the United States, I felt a sense of specialness about this country. Even the in the language of our religions, we’re “chosen.” Americans pride ourselves on individualism and independence. We do not see the strings attaching us to other people, our dependence on other countries’ resources or, often, the natural world beneath us. After presenting narcissism and building on it to arrive at collective narcissism, Canty then expands the frame:  

“[O]ur current societal story…is very fragile. It needs to be constantly fuelded with a tale of specialness –that we are great, better than others, that we are living the dream. Each moment is filled with stuff – things to do, self-referential thoughts, judgment, criticism, endless purchases, nonstop messaging via our technology. In the moments when we do stop, we often feel an emptiness that we cannot bear, so we resume the continual illusion that we are fulfilled. Our narcissism takes full form in our inability to authentically relate to the larger world, for in doing so our reality might crumble.”

– Jeanine M. Canty, Returning the Self to Nature, p. 78  

The ecological crisis, according to Canty, stems from an inability to truly look at our individual impact from a broader lens. Even those of us who try – recycle, grow veg and bring our bags to the store – are disconnected from the reality of the earth’s slow demise.  

“It is the larger culture, our society, that is breeding us to be narcissistic, and this is a problem. Not only does it cause us to be more self-centered, but it also causes us to not care as deeply for the welfare of others.”  

– Jeanine M. Canty, Returning the Self to Nature, p. 16

Canty writes ugly truths with such gentleness, such coaxing. I felt coddled as I read along, even when the content felt personal. Thoroughly researched and foot-noted, Jeanine M. Canty held my hand throughout the reading. She offered reasonable explanations for why my own narcissism hadn’t occurred to me, and, dotted through the book, exercises to help with reconnecting to self and to nature.  

At its core, this book is not about the wider lens, however. It’s about me, about the individual reading it. And I think that’s what took me so long. To internalize my own role in wrecking the world was difficult and quite sad. As an avid hiker, camper, and one of those nature-play loving parents who spends all day with kids in the woods, I’ve long felt going into nature healing and necessary. But I couldn’t have pieced that together with healing the cultural damage done by living so disconnectedly. Now that I can, I will put this book into as many hands as I can, discuss it widely with whoever wants to listen, and hand these ideas to my own kids.  

“Unraveling our collective narcissism begins when we start seeing how we have been bred to be selfish, competitive, and often uncaring to other humans, nonhumans and Earth.”  

– Jeanine M. Canty, Returning the Self to Nature, p. 118

Who is this book written for?

Humans who care about the earth and their own responsibilities to it.

Returning the Self to NaturE by Jeanine M. Canty
$18.95 :: Shambala Press :: 192 pages :: Paperback

BUY Indie :: BUY from Barnes & Noble

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