Want to know more about Emma Palmer, the 2018 Childfree Person of the Year? Check out our Q&A with her:
Tell us a bit about your therapy and ecopsychology work.
I’ve worked as a counsellor and psychotherapist in Bristol, UK since 2003. These days, my independent practice includes clients working with bereavement, trauma, relationship issues, anxiety and depression, and spiritual crises often related to the challenging times we are in economically and politically.
It is an ongoing privilege to do this work – to see change happen in and through relationship. Witnessing the courage, strength, and humour of the people I work with never fails to move me.
Moving into ecopsychology work over the past decade has been a natural progression. In theory and practice, ecopsychology integrates ecology, psychology and psychotherapy, and explores the relationship between humans and the natural world. I grew up in the countryside, immersed in nature and loving animals. Since my teens, I’ve been concerned about detrimental aspects of human activity upon nature. So bringing that early love of nature together with my psychotherapy work felt like an organic next step. I now teach ‘wild therapy’ which takes therapy into the wild and brings the wild into therapy. I write and give talks on ecopsychological themes and actively support the building of the UK ecopsychology community.
Paul Crummay, who nominated you, wrote, “From her zen practice she brings a profound ‘parental mind’ of love and nurture to all her ecological and therapeutic work.” Can you elaborate on this?
This might need a bit of zen back story, so bear with me! The notion of ‘parental mind’ originates from the zen tradition. Dogen, the 13th century zen teacher, emphasizes that the practitioner must maintain three ‘minds’ or attitudes: magnanimous or big mind, parental mind, and joyful mind. From the viewpoint of magnanimous or big mind, everything we encounter is our life. Holding this ‘mind’ leads to a desire to take great care with whatever or whoever we encounter. This ‘parental mind’ empathizes with every living being. In its broadest meaning, ‘parental’ extends beyond the procreation of children to having a sense of caring and stewardship for all of life, human and not. Although Dogen was writing centuries ago, his teachings still feel fabulously contemporary.
The Buddhist teachings I’ve been learning since I was 24, including the teaching of ‘parental mind,’ seriously factored into my decision not to have children. The more I practiced, meditated, reflected, and studied, the more I saw the broader consequences of having children and our interconnectedness. Although so commonly portrayed as such, even in my teens I never saw child-bearing as simply a private decision. As I realized how pronatal and anthropocentric our world is – regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence – it made less and less sense to me to become a mother. My journey led me to write, Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind, to support others in their decision-making process.
When it comes to making the conscious choice not to have children with a global perspective in mind, what do you want people to know?
With global warming becoming more visible before our very eyes, I want people to carefully consider the environmental and ecological implications of child-bearing and other life decisions that impact other species and the earth. We need to get beyond thinking about our rights as individuals at the cost of the rights of other species and the planet’s health.
Although not easy for me, consciously deciding to live a childfree life put the global consequences of my reproductive choice first. I want people, me included, to think more about all the decisions we make – especially the carbon hungry ones, like child-bearing, fossil-fuel consumption, plastic consumption, what we eat – and remember that whilst they seem like private decisions, they have global consequences.
“Think global, act local,” and deeply realizing “there is no planet B” is needed right now, particularly given the vacuum of leadership in this arena from our governmental leaders. As is a sea change in women no longer being defined first and foremost as mothers, which challenges the foundations of patriarchy.
What’s also needed:
- An end to the limiting typecasting of both the childless and the childfree.
- The childless, childfree and parents together focusing more on the fact that we have humanity in common!
- A stop to automatically prioritizing human life over and above all other life forms.
- A deep realization that if we ignore climate change, we do so at our peril – this isn’t simply an ‘environmental problem.’
To end, I want to celebrate the childfree, and in particular those with awareness of a global perspective in this and other decision-making. It might sound contrary, but being childfree is about life for me – it’s about staying engaged and striving to live from that magnanimous, joyful and parental mind. It’s about choosing creativity rather than procreativity. May we continue to join forces worldwide to raise awareness of these issues and campaign for change.
Thank you, Emma! Learn more about past winners Here!