The Migratory Soul (ecopsych II essay)

Mesmerized today…no thoughts all night and I float through the morning in wonderment as images of migration drift by. As if I am floating in water, I wish I could be in dream all day long, being  fascinated by the movement of birds. How could I have not noticed before how they arrive and leave and then arrive again? What is my soul’s relationship to them? I am thankful the landlord would not let me keep a cat on this pine and oak-laden land because birds, knowing my comings and goings, occasionally land on my porch to watch me. This would have been impossible if my dear cat was alive. I recall my ex-lover saying that it broke his heart to find dead birds on the doorstep of the house we lived in.

I hear a thump as a bird hits the glass window pane while I am thinking intensely about migration. I am not sure that it really happened, so a few minutes pass before I go outside to find the bird laying on the deck, struggling to breathe. I sense his being so completely shocked that he cannot move and yet I see no blood. Nothing appears broken and white poop puddles under him. I would shit, too, if I hit a window like that.  So I sing to him to have faith. His journey is not over.

He listens as our eyes gaze into each other. My melody soothes him. I notice he responds positively to a very high pitch. I can tell this by the way his little eyelids relax over his frozen eyes. His breathing slows down and his chest deflates a little as I witness his growing calmness. I do not know how long to wait but believe I should, since he may heal if he can just relax, but if I take him to the vet hospital that would be yet another shock that may lessen his chance of survival. As I am about to give up and I call the vet hospital, he manages to slowly hop off into the bushes. I think he is going to make it and so I return indoors to continue watching Winged Migration. He lived a few days in the fallen oak branches, re-visited my porch once, and then was gone.

This compelling desire to study bird migration is related to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the winds rose furiously. Not only did many birds die but people who survived the wind and water were forcefully displaced from their homes and have never returned. My fieldwork was to post stories collected several weeks after the storm and up to a year or so after the violent winds and broken levees caused a flood that not only displaced many survivors but caused the deaths of many others. I have to start my study of migration somewhere and, since I am drawn to birds now, there may be something to learn from them about migration that people after Hurricane Katrina also know.

These delicate creatures face great risks flying in the wind between continents for which powerful grace or stamina is required. A better word is heroic vision, if we are speaking of soul, although birds sense magnetic fields during migration. Magnetically sensitive bacteria with tiny magnetite crystals have been found in the nasal cavities of several species of wild birds as well as honeybees that suggest they might have a magnetic compass since they are able to orient themselves according to light frequencies which says something about how light, vision, and electromagnetic fields interact to aid bird migration (Weidensaul, 1999). While they may not imagine their travels as heroic, we humans sit stodgily in amazement at their miracles.

Why such epic journeys? We know that life is growth and change and movement and in class we spoke about water giving life to the soul. Wind, likewise, gives life to the soul. Soul is not an observer of migration but is integrally involved in its unifying nature, since migration “stitches the continents together in a way that even the great weather systems, which roar out from the poles but fizzle at the equator, fail to do” (Weidensaul, 1999). Wind carries soul, giving it freedom to move. But the duality here is that severe winds are often an obstacle during migrations to find food, nest, and give birth to their young. Winds are pervasive, un-bounded, and sometimes violent like water. Embodied souls are not indifferent to either.

Aristotle said that there is no form except a given body (mine, yours, animals, or plants) and what we call ‘soul’ is the principle of life for each of those bodies. The soul is that which is inherent in those bodies, giving them their uniqueness, their growth, their life, their actuality, their inner Gaia (Casey said energia, that energy which actualizes potential, but I like my parapraxis). Aristotle’s purpose was to show that living bodies have soul, and that there are as many kinds of souls as there are kinds of bodies, including a myriad of migrating bodies in the skies.

We must then seek out in each case what the soul of each thing is. What, for instance, is the soul of a plant, and what of a man, or a beast, and so on. This is the philosophical sanction of what we now call pan-psychism or poly-psychism as a doctrine and it is extremely important for environ-mental thought and ecopsychology in particular as it does not give to human beings the exclusive right or possession of soul, but it says there is soul in other species, other living things, every living thing and according to its kind a different kind of soul. It’s not just individuated soul, which just means your experience is unique. Aristotle argues in his basic biology that there is a whole set of beings whose soul consists in being nutritive, non-locomotive, non-perceptive, non-thinking…these are called plants. They are reproductive and nutritive and these are completely valid souls. They in no way can be subordinated to other souls, but they have about them their own sufficiency and reason for being. They are to be respected as such and we need to see there is something not merely alive, because that word in late modern biology just means a collection of cells that just happen to be efficient for the production of life, but rather some principle of form, of organization, of actualization and I am now using the terms that Aristotle uses that are crucial for having soul of any kind. (Casey, 2008)

I am reminded of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who was called the ‘weeping philosopher’ because of his concern for the world. Heraclitus said that “you could not discover the limits of soul even if you travel every road to do so, such is the depth of its meaning” (Fragment 42). Being a native Californian, I never migrated more than 100 miles in any direction, evenso, my personal vision in this essay is to explore the experience of migration from a depth psychological perspective. As an aside, the distance I have or have not traveled is irrelevant since even a bird could fly from the Antarctic to the Arctic but still not discover the limits of soul.

I think of the way matter is caught up in wind and moves through space. Not just birds, but a paper bag or autumn leaves. Space represents that freedom which is how we know we are alive…we move. Birds migrate in that freedom which is why a caged bird appears like a prisoner. Wild birds are a sign of freedom and may be one of the last in this day and age.  And although the wind they travel on is not visible, the effects of it are seen. For examplt, the storm-petrel has learned to ride these winds, as follows:

Many researchers have also noted the strong link between prevailing winds and the epic migrations of seabirds like the Wilson’s storm-petrel. A weak, fluttery flier not much larger than a swallow, this petite bird nonetheless departs each April from its breeding islands off Antarctica and moves up the coast of South America on the southeast trade winds, then clockwise across the North Atlantic during our summer…riding the sea breezes known as the westerlies. Then the storm-petrels are pushed south off Gibraltar and Africa, recrossing the Atlantic to South America on the northeast trades, and back to their islands by November, the start of the Antarctic summer and another breeding season. Over this whole, clockwise trip, which may span 18,000 miles, the petrels rarely have to buck a head wind….and so it goes for many seabirds…their journeys are molded by the global, interlocked system of wind currents, which carry them along, and sea currents whose upwellings and gyres concentrate their food. (Weidensaul, pp. 79-80)

Just like air, our breath is spirit in matter, as in pneuma or living air that moves into the empty air sacs inside of our lungs. In the same way that matter exists in places, spirit has Being in Space in contrast to being lost in space. For Jung said, “Nature is not matter only, she is also spirit” (Sabini, 2002, p. 80). Space does not just contain wind or air, but exists as the space between our cells, those molecular particles that comprise us. Does Space at the quantum level extend outwards from within matter to the heavens?  If so, we exist in Space and Place simultaneously, but Jung cautions that

I am all for working in two worlds at once… remembering that spirit is pneuma or living air, a wind that can alternately lift you up and carry you away on uncertain waves. But it is better as a rule to keep one foot on terra firma. (1958) 

So, even though bound in Place, the soul longs for freedom or spirit. My nature wants to be released and it was the German philosoper Hegel who discussed the relation between nature and freedom as he “sought to unify these dualities without eliminating either pole or reducing it to the other” (Wikipedia, 2008). This includes not only the duality of nature and/or freedom, but also place and/or space, and soul and/or spirit, and we heard Casey say that “when Jung invokes spirit as well as soul he wants to make room in depth psychology for another factor other than soul, and he is calling it spirit” (2008).

My soul’s rapture represents that unification between nature and freedom, between soul and spirit. This is because the soul of migration represents my journey through life. Birds expend a tremendous amount of energy, often traveling over vast oceans. They fly for long durations before reaching their location, with the expectation that there will be wetlands along the way to rest at with plenty of food even though they have prepared for their journey by storing extra fat. Sadly, most links between places where food, water, safety, and privacy are found are being broken due to habitat or climate changes, making the risks even greater. Just like birds, we live in perishable places, and as the landscape of bird migration is changing so the landscape of human migration is changing.

We exist alongside the birds, each of us a particular kind of matter. Although different particulars, we co-exist on earth in a matrix which Plato called a Receptacle. Every species is a ‘particular’ in the “Mother of all becoming, a fabulous and poetic word which means the always seasoned matrix which, being without qualities or properties of its own, can take on the qualities and properties of anything else” (Casey, 2008). And although particulars, we share this longing for freedom within this essentially feminine matrix that is non-competitive and maximally receptive, and yet filled with inconsistencies and problems. Casey called this matrix ‘Chore.’  But when I research the Greek suffix –chore I find that it means to spread, to disperse; to withdraw, to advance, to go; a means or agency for distribution.

Chore is the first notion of Fate in the West. It is not evenly distributed. It is going on forever but it is not positively infinite either, and you can never discover the limits of Chore even if you travel every road to take it. This is now a real match for soul for the first time. This is a living paradox. Plato, the great Rationalist, presents the first sophisticated notion of matter in the West…Chore embodies the first principles of Place, but for now let’s just say that Chore is the great Space-making Matrix of all that is, becomes, and that could be. (Casey, 2008)

But -chore also means the dispersion of matter that often happens by wind or migration. The suffix –chore is primarily attached to words such as anemochore, which means the dispersal of seeds, fruits, or other plant parts by wind. But it could also be found in anthropochory, which means dispersal by humans who discard elements of fruit on the ground. We even get the dispersal of spores, or diaspore under this definition.

Just a change of the last letter gives us another word, diaspora, which is a movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.  The root word is diaspeirein (dispersion) which means to scatter or to sow seed which comes from dia + speirein, and although not –chore, these words have similar meanings. From nature’s perspective, there may not be a huge difference between people, birds, and plants, although we would like to think we are special. Our migrations are not so unlike each others’.

Unless nomadic, large numbers of people do not usually migrate since the main purpose of migration is to find food. And just as there are people that do not migrate, there are birds that do not either. “Those birds that can continue to find enough to eat during the winter rarely migrate – why bother? – while those whose food supplies are seasonal must flee (Weidensaul, 1999, p.6). On the other hand, not all migrations represent freedom. Human migration is not always a free choice, not always about looking for better conditions. Sometimes it is a forced dispersion. This is the picture of human migration that Dr. Casey spoke of in class. He said

There is a whole program at Columbia University on issues of forced migration on the globe which is becoming increasingly massive in our time forced by many factors, political, economic, racial reasons and if not done voluntarily it is felt as punishment in the body and soul; one of the worst experiences human beings can know and yet we are inflicting this on ourselves at this time in uncountable numbers. It has been estimated that in the next 50 years forty percent of the people on the earth will be in forced migration through global warming, flooding, economic necessity, or political repression, whatever, almost half of human beings will be forced to migrate somewhere else they know not where. (Casey, 2008)

It is their fate. It could be our fate. Fate is characteristic of the Receptacle, Casey said, and we are within its choric matrix and subject to it: dispersing and being dispersed. Not only are particulars ‘becoming’ beings that occupy the Receptacle but particulars that “perish” as we get located, displaced and generally moved about in the Receptacle. And even as all forms cease as Plato says, the world of Being will continue. Like flocks of birds that do not survive the migration they are compelled to risk everything for, we can perish and the world will go on

unlike the stars, which will not perish because they live in a world of Being. Anything beneath the moon or sub-lunar life, which is earth life, is going to have to be here in this realm for the Receptacle which is populated only by that which Becomes. (Casey, 2008)

Birds risk everything because that is what freedom is worth. Their migration is a leap of faith in a world of Fate. They have no real control of their instinctive urge. Birds do not reason, just like those of us who live close to their passions. And some birds die in their migrations. These are all metaphors for our own lives. “And every year they do die, in anonymous multitudes…the northbound Gulf crossing each spring is one of the great crapshoots in bird migration” (Weidensaul, p. 252).  And they die because

[Other birds] have been born with a faulty navigational sense, their internal compass skewed a few degrees; these most often die lonely deaths in the vastness of the Pacific. Others will not survive because they couldn’t lay on enough fat for the long, nonstop flight – a fault of their physiology, perhaps, or a failing of their environment, a drought or late frost that reduced the berry crop. Storms will claim some, predators others, weakness and exhaustion and disease and all the other implacable agents of natural selection taking still more. (Weidensaul, 1999)

Although dangerous, migration represents a freedom: birds flying north, birds flying south, complete migrants who entirely vacate their breeding grounds, partial migrants leaving only part of it. This is life in Chore. There are short migrations, long migrations and routes in both longitudinal directions by air and east-to-west when on the land (yes, birds migrate on the land) always adapting to new environments as migrant birds pass through multiple habitats and ecosystems and compete for resources with the local, non-migratory population (not all birds migrate). Ironically, the ancient Greeks, believing in transformation, simply thought some birds changed species, unlike other birds such as cranes whose migration was clearly visible to them (Weidensaul, p. 23).

(SIDE NOTE: In contrast to weather systems, in New Orleans we also saw a tragically forced migration imposed as a result of the politics of the region. Migrating humans are often asylum seekers affected by violence, oppression and conflict. However, what happened in NOLA was driven by economics and gentrification.)

The working definition of economic migration that was agreed upon by the Globalization, Identity Politics and Social Conflict Project in 2002 as follows:

Migration refers to the cross-border movement of people from a homeland to a location outside that homeland, with the purpose of taking up employment and conducting a daily existence there for an extended period of time. In principle such movement need be no more than an expression of an individual desire for change or a choice of locale. But as a social phenomenon this usually arises from and reflects on economic inequality or inequality of economic opportunity between politically discrete zones – hence economic migration. Such inequalities include differences in workforce requirements, perceptions of differences in standard of living, and perceptions of difference in ideological inclination. (Gupta, 2007)

Descartes, as Casey said, reflected on Aristotle’s examination of the concept of Substance[2] as in “by the term substance we understand only a thing that exists in such a way that it needs nothing else in order to exist”. In the French edition of Principles of Human Knowledge published in 1644, Descartes says that “there can be some obscurity in explaining this phrase ‘it needs nothing else’.” Today we can see the problem of thinking that we can exist without the help of others (ever notice that birds fly in flocks?) Casey reminded us that this obscurity is the source of individualism or separatism that is “rooted in the notion portending things can exist fully and they don’t need the existence or help of others to exist” (2008). And later Spinoza, in reading Descartes, surmised that only God does not need anything else, instead of thinking there is nothing in existence that is not interdependent, and so concluded that there is only one substance and that is God. There goes the beauty of diversity down the proverbial tube. In the Cartesian world only matter and mind exist, while soul ceases to exist.

So with detachment we gather and analyze data on human migration while neglecting the fact that we are talking about souls. I understand it is necessary to objectify phenomenon in order to quantify and measure it, but that may also be a problem when it comes to how we interpret the results. Does our Cartesian analysis help us to understand what we are fearful of in regards to aspects of migration, for example, that we are unduly fearful of what is foreign, especially people of foreign origin? Yes, the data shows that we are xenophobic in regards to immigration. This is why, in public attitude surveys on human migration, we get the actual numbers wrong. The studies show, and this is the good they do in spite of their flaws, that people overestimate the actual numbers of migrants.

The British population has a highly erroneous impression concerning the number of ethnic minorities and migrants in the UK. In one poll, the average estimate of the size of the ethnic minority population in the UK was 26 per cent of the population, despite the correct figure being closer to 7 percent. In another it was 20 percent. When asked to estimate the proportion of population consisting of migrants and asylum seekers, the modal estimate was 51 percent plus, despite the real situation being closer to 4 percent. (Saggar and Drean, 2001, p. 3 in Gupta, 2007, also p. 3) Not surprisingly, data shows that economic migrations flow from less developed countries to more developed countries, typically south to north in the Americas and east to west in Europe (Gupta, 2007). Asian migrations are more diffuse and wide-spread. But these are comparatively small when compared to global displacement movements in countries like Guinea, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tanzania who hold great refugee populations (Castles, Crawley, Loughna, 2003).

From the perspective of forced migration, underdevelopment and impoverishment are not what pushes people to migrate. Notice that these conditions did not drive people out of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. These conditions only create weak conditions ripe for human rights abuse and conflicts which may force people to take flight. But even then, the displaced have some control over how and where they travel to. “That slight difference that is occurring in each and every moment when we are choosing to move in a certain direction rather than another, that slight difference is really the moment of soul” (Casey, 2008).

As long as we have choice, migration could be a moment of self-actualization. Human migration, no matter how diverse it may be, may bring the body to aliveness and not merely represent the mechanics of moving from one place to another. If it is true what the Greeks have said, that soul is the only thing we know that is capable of being self-moving, then it means that forced migration is soul destroying. The effect of displacement depends on your understanding of Place.

Part of what we want to do is begin to re-imagine Place as something powerfully penetrating anything that belongs to it, as opposed to keeping those bodies integral and intact and impermeable by their Places. Otherwise displacement becomes very tempting. Just push people all over the map, dislocate them…it does not matter where they exist. That tragedy is an object lesson to what happens when you displace people with the assumption that any place is good enough, that they will survive. How did that thinking come to be, Casey asked.

Suffice it to say being rooted as physical bodies in places also means we can be uprooted. And many of us do not get to go back home. In that case, how are our needs for safety, for security, and familiarity met? Casey said it takes a long time to accomplish re-inhabitation and those locations where people live uprooted lives are spaces that are indifferent to inhabitation by those who are forcefully introduced to them. It takes the creation of a whole local history to bring about a transformation of the mere site into something like a Place. This transformation is one of the great mysteries on the Earth. The people in this new locus have the new task of establishing a genuine place of inhabitation, called “the home place.” That is the collective task of those who are displaced. There is no recipe for this. It is very complex. (Casey, 2008) An example is the person who was re-located to Houston after Katrina. Their Place is New Orleans,even though now they are situated elsewhere. In this way, people become ‘spaced out’ with no place to be. This is not mystical, Casey reminds us, it is just the process of ‘spatialization of modern life’ that is, people become paralyzed in spaces because there is no place to be. We need to meditate on that. That is one of the worst experiences that a human being can have. Not being lost, because that is temporary by definition, but this is a deeper thing. You don’t belong anywhere: you are not even between places, rather you are without a place…placeless. We are into the other side of trauma and loss through non-place, this limbo of unplacement, according to Casey.

Although I have lived in Southern California all of my life, I have uprooted myself over a dozen times. I know the feeling of homesickness and longing. But the tragedy for migrants is that they feel there is no place to be on earth. They are feeling a gnawing absence or even the sense of being a misfit in Houston or wherever they landed. Their inner space is narrowing, and their spirit perishes. I think the difference between bird migration and human migration is that birds return to re-inhabit their place of origin. They probably do not know gnawing emptiness. And in regards to living in perishable places on the earth, another classmate remarked that

The grief and sense of loss that we attribute to a failure in our personality is actually emptiness where a beautiful and strange Otherness truly should have been encountered.”  (Steven Jones)

Can we heal the planet through curing our homesickness? We, ourselves, need to inhabit this earth wisely. We need to hold places inside of us and treasure them, and as a result re-inhabit ourselves. Let us hold swallows inside of our hearts and appreciate their songs, their beauty, and their diversity. For only now, said my fellow student, is he realizing that he is missing something that he should be experiencing just as migrants are missing something. Curing our homesickness can be done by first identifying with, and then internalizing, the presence of other species, animals in particular.

For example, when we internalize images of the life we want to sustain, we will be inspired to maintain those habitats that are under the risk of perishing. In Southeast Louisiana, for example, there are approximately 400 different species of birds that migrate through the region, of which 64 are considered year-round residents. It is a step towards re-population of those perished places, whether those images are long-distance migrants such as swallow-tailed kites or peregrine falcons. As our lifestyles spiral downwards, our appreciation of the wilds should rise to re-learn skills of survival that were once understood.  As particulars in this matrix, we face the same threats they face since we are affected by melting ice caps as well.

Back to this moment, I listen to the chorus of songbirds outside my window, and I sense yet another opportunity to internalize the presence of migrating birds in order to understand that, at least for now, all continues.

I imagine that birds wish they could sing like Kristina Stykos! The following song feels like my own soul singing and I think Kristina became animal for a moment when she wrote this:

I am the swallow.
I am in flight.
I have been flying
All of the night.

The sea is raging.
My wing is torn.
I am the swallow
of the storm.

Swallow come down.
Swallow come down,
down down
Swallow come down.

Off in the distance
is that a light?
Could there be a flame
on such a night?

My heart is weary
but my will is strong.
Could there be a Place
for me to belong?

Swallow come down.
Swallow come down,
down down
Swallow come down.

Hurricane lantern
coming in sight.
Your dancing and swinging
Is my delight.

Glistening oak tree
Weathered and true.
She is the beacon
brought me to you.

Swallow come down.
Swallow come down,
down down
Swallow come down

Lend me your branches,
let me come down.
Help me find solace
on solid ground.

Let your arms open.
Let your eyes see.
Keep the love flowing
‘tween you and me.

Swallow come down
Swallow come
down down down
Swallow come down.

-Kristina Stykos, 2005


Casey, E. (2007). Pacifica Graduate Institute. Class notes May 28-30, 2007.

Castles, Crawley, Loughna. (2003). The EU and asylum: towards strategies to reduce conflict and human rights abuses in countries of origin. Forced Migration Review.  September 2003. eds. Couldrey, M., Morris. T. UK: Oxford.

Gupta, S. (2007). Socio-cultural attitudes to migration and the academic disposition of migration studies. Gupta, S. Omoniyi, O. (eds) in The cultures of economic migration: International persepectives. Burlington, VT:

Perrin, J. (2001). Winged Migration. Galatee Films, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema, BAC Films and Les Productions de la Gueville.

Post Katrina Portraits. (2006)., and

Robertson’s Words for a Modern Age: A Dictionary of English Words Derived from Latin and Greek Sources. Retrieved online May 12, 2007.

Sabini, M. (2002). The earth has a soul: the nature writings of C. G. Jung. Berkely: North Atlantic Books.

Stykos, Kristina. In the earth’s fading light. Thunder Ridge Records. Chelsea, Vermont.

Weidensaul, S. (1999). Living on the wind across the hemisphere with migratory birds. New York: North Point Press.

Wikipedia (2008). Retrieved online May 2008.

World Bird Gallery, 1992. The Otter Side. Retrieved online June 1, 2008.


[2] Aristotle examines the concept of substance (ousia) in his Metaphysics, Book VII and he concludes that a particular substance is a combination of both matter and form. As he proceeds to the book VIII, he concludes that the matter of the substance is the substratum or the stuff of which it is composed, e.g. the matter of the house are the bricks, stones, timbers etc., or whatever constitutes the potential house. While the form of the substance, is the actual house, namely ‘covering for bodies and chattels’ or any other differentia. The formula that gives the components is the account of the matter, and the formula that gives the differentia is the account of the form. (Wikipedia)