August - Mushrooms and Creative Potential


Spring and summer have been unusually wet and cool here in the Midwest. What this aspect of climate change has currently meant for the backyard is a plethora of mushrooms. I spotted these red ones near the house, then ventured out and found myself walking all over them! Chestnut bolete, hortiboletus, grisette amanita, mower’s mushroom, hypomyces - what wonderful names describing each unique mushroom. I learned them from the free iNaturalist App on my phone as I wandered the back yard, discovering them hidden in the grass and dead leaves. Why so many here? Some like oak trees, and there happen to be two of them, one on either side of the yard. Also, much to my ecological delight, they are more likely to be found in yards not smothered in weed killers and fertilizers. Yes, another reason to go natural and avoid monoculture lawns!


I was taken by my discovery, moved by the way they appear in silence overnight, live their hidden lives, and then decay in place. I learned that one way that mushrooms serve the ecosystem is by decomposing dead organic matter. Biologists say without their service, especially in woods, we would be buried in meters of dead materials! These mushrooms are what they are, contributing to the ecosystem as they grow from miniscule spores to fungi to fully developed mushrooms.

Mycologist Paul Stamets believes that mushrooms, and the fungi creating them, are so much more than we have known and that they can help save the world by cleaning polluted soil, making insecticides, treating smallpox and even flu viruses. For a real eye-opener view his TED Talk: Six Ways Mycelium Can Help Save the World. How impressive, even fantastic! What a service! Oh, to be so whole – and that’s the point.


In an insightful article The Green self: Ecological Crisis and Individuation. Jonah Saifer connects the idea of humans reaching our creative potential with having an impact on the ecological crisis. He says, “We, too, can contribute to healing Earth by becoming our fully developed selves, and one way we can do this is through the process Carl Jung called individuation.” He continues with a wonderful, organic image that made me think of mushrooms. “This is a natural process of inner development similar to an acorn’s innate potential of becoming an oak tree or a caterpillar emerging from the chrysalis as a butterfly.” Just as oaks, butterflies - and mushrooms - contribute to the flourishing of the ecosystem through through individuation – becoming whole – we can gain the wisdom needed to respond to external crises appropriately. Saifer continues, “Until then we are subject to the influence of unconscious drives, neuroses, and compulsions that put our biosphere in peril."


When I get overwhelmed with the impossibility of personally affecting the ecological crisis, when this effort seems completely beyond my reach, I know I can reach inside and continue to seek wholeness through the difficult process of individuation. The question is for all of us is whether we’ll have the courage and will to do so. Not easy, but so essential for the wellbeing of our rare and precious planet, including all life on it.

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