Health and Ecology – by June Boyce-Tillman 

 June Boyce Tillman works as professor of Applied Music at the University of Winchester and is extra-ordinary Professor at North West University South Africa. She has a true passion for music, spirituality, education, and healing, cultivated with academic studies and human compassion.

Rowan Williams (2017) claims that good health depends on right relationship with the body, the environment, society and the cosmos.  This would have been a given for medicine in the Middle Ages when the Doctrine of Humours would have been the prevailing system based on Hippocrates (Boyce-Tillman 2000b).  Here human beings are seen as being made from the four elements of the natural world and in order to heal people you needed to understand this relationship and to take into account seasons, tides, moons and weather. This would be true of the systems using balance as the basis for health, such as Ayurvedic medicine. 

The need of human beings for community is to be found in many sources today – political, psychological, religious, to name but a few.  The legacy in the UK of the Thatcher years is one of fragmentation and an excessive emphasis on the individual.  This process started with the Enlightenment and its rediscovery of the Greek epic of the heroic journey. (Boyce-Tillman 2000a). The male hero narrative (based on the Odyssey and Aeneid) is of one who asserts his individuality and ‘finds himself’ through the undertaking of a journey usually overcoming elements of the natural world and women.  However, this is a journey characterised by courageous isolation and establishing a working relationship with the environment can be an antidote to such loneliness. 

The use of the word ecology coming from the Greek word for household emphasises the need for relationship.  Capra (1996) talks of the “Earth Household” to show the interlinking of human beings, plants, animals and the environment.

The internal experiential, psychological and cultural dimensions of human beings are as much a part of the ecosphere – and of human ecology – as the external effects that they generate. To split ourselves off repeats errors that have led to current excesses and imbalances. No, the real challenge is to understand how humans, in all their complexity, fit into the overall scheme of things… Questions of human development and meaningfulness are keys to such an approach which implies integration of external and internal aspects of humanity…No person is an island, sufficient solely unto themselves. We are nothing without relationship of many kinds… The more I have studied ecological and social problems in society, the more convinced I have become of the urgency of learning about the relationship in our lives between outer – ecological and social worlds – and our inner – personal and collective – worlds of motivation, meaning and value in order to move towards human sustainability, wellbeing and development.

(Maiteny 1999, pp. 1-3)

Here we see how relationship feeds our need for meaning in our lives.  This is often found in a sense of transcendence or liminality as I expressed in this poem:

It was as if

I went to the garden as the sun was descending …
It was as if the great ferns had grown longer and greener
It was as if the greening power of the earth was everywhere –
filling the world with
love and strength
It was as if the entire world was singing
It was as if I loved everything and everything loved me
It was as if I had found the place I was really meant to be
It was as if I was in the place just right – the valley of love and delight
It was as if God had made me just for this moment
It was as if I was alive for the first time
It was as if I saw the world made new
It was as if the garden enclosed me and held me safe
It was as if everything was higher than it had ever been
It was as if everything was cool
It was as if nothing mattered but this one moment of Divine promise.

(Boyce-Tillman 2018, p.9)

This links with the findings of Bruce Reed (1996), co-director of the Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies in London, who sees how human beings have an incessant need for satisfaction which links with elements in Maslow’s self-actualization.  Diessner et al (2022) examine how self-transcendent emotions enable connections with other living beings and nature itself. Moral and natural beauty have much in common (Diessner, 2019).

It is well established that when experiencing elevation people experience two behavioral tendencies: (a) a desire to become a better person and (b) an increased desire to help others.

(Diessner at al. 2022, p.72)

Koji Matsonubo sees the role of music in this:  

Shinryo Hagiyama observes that the medieval criterion of beauty in Japan…depends on the degree of unity between humans and nature, contrasting it with the modernist view of nature in which the viewer objectifies nature and appreciates it.

(Matsunobu 2014, p. 67) 

Matsunobu (2014) sees traditional art as manifesting the process of transcending subjective borders and merging one’s self into nature. In this process, one becomes nature,and flowers and trees start speaking and singing. This involves reanimating nature as vibrant and relational.

In the Book of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, Job is broken into complete despair by the loss of family, friends and property; God heals him by calling him into a relationship with nature:

The strange, wild creatures become his new community, and in them Job is afforded a new moral vision that embraces the margins, as humanly perceived of the cosmic community. No longer based on mechanical laws of creation and retribution, creation is the Creator’s cosmic ark, with all creatures living fully and freely. Job’s odyssey deliberately blurs the boundaries between the familiar and the strange in wonder’s liminality.

(Brown 2014, p. 191)

I have written more widely on the role of music in these processes but here have explored how the loss of a subjective experience of nature has resulted in many illnesses of the mind and soul; through such notions as the re-ensouling if nature and quantum entanglement this relationship in being restored and can contribute to human and Gaian wellbeing.


  • Boyce-Tillman, June (2000a). Constructing Musical Healing: The Wounds that Sing. London: Jessica Kingsley.
  • Boyce-Tillman, June (2000b). The Creative Spirit – Harmonious Living with Hildegard of Bingen. Norwich: Canterbury Press.
  • Boyce-Tillman, June (2018). Freedom Song: Faith, Abuse, Music and Spirituality: A Lived Experience of Celebration. Oxford: Peter Lang.
  • Brown, William P. (2014). Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature Wisdom’s Wonder: Character, Creation, and Crisis in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  • Capra, F. (1996). The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter. London: Harper Collins.
  • Diessner, R. (2019). Understanding the beauty appreciation trait: Empirical research on seeking beauty in all things. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Diessner, Rhett, Klebl, Christoph, Mowry, Gabe & Pohling, Rico (2022). Natural and Moral Beauty Have Indirect Effects on Proenvironmental Behavior. Ecopsychology. June, pp71-82.
  • Maiteny, Paul (1999). Balance in the Ecosphere: a Perspective. European Judaism (Holocaust/Millennium Issue) Vol. 32 No. 2. Autumn. pp. 131-138
  • Matsunobu, Koji (2013). Performing, Creating, and Listening to Nature through Music: The Art of Self-Integration. The Journal of Aesthetic Education 47 (4) December, pp64-79
  • Reed, B.D. (1996). The Psychodynamics of Life and Worship. London: Grubb Institute.
  • Williams, Rowan (2017). The Ecology of Health. Keynote lecture at Holy Rood House, Thirsk, July. 

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