Intimacy Expert Teaches Green Relationships

Arms reaching from behind green curtain

Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

The Eagles, “Desperado”

It's not easy being green, says relationship coach Steve Torma. “Sustainability is not just an environmental challenge. It’s a psychological and spiritual one.” Welcome to what Torma calls “holistic ecology.”

Who chopped down the cherry tree?

Torma is one of a number of “earth spirituality” teachers pioneering a new kind of environmental education, one that includes our internal landscape. Torma runs The REAL Center in Asheville, where classes include “Being Yourself with Others,” "What's Up with Him?" and “The Magic of Conflict.” But what does this all have to do with saving the earth? According to Torma, everything.

“Just as guns don’t kill people, it’s not bulldozers, chainsaws, and plastic bags that are trashing the planet. People do the damage we’re seeing.” That much is obvious, but the question is why, and what can we do about it?

Torma says he’s committed to stemming the tide of ecological destruction, and to do this, he has devoted the better part of thirty years to understanding what makes people tick. He’s a senior member of Earthaven Ecovillage, an intentional community near Asheville devoted to demonstrating environmental stewardship. Since 1995, Torma has been working to build a model community from the inside out.

Teenager texting himself“We all know that demand drives supply,” says Torma. “And people like Eckhart Tolle are pointing out what drives us to buy so much. It’s a sense of lack, one that advertising companies are all too happy to exploit and intensify.” What is it we’re lacking? More than anything, community itself.

Don’t you want somebody to love?

A key part of Torma’s teaching is Compassionate Connection, also known as Nonviolent Communication or NVC. He explains that NVC is more about how we think than how we talk. “It's a cooperative approach to life, one in which we try to meet everybody's needs, not just our own.” So it turns out that what we’re lacking as individuals is precisely what we’re needing as a species, and that’s compassion: caring about others, and others caring for us.

“Relatively few people care about the environment because they or the people they work for don’t see that we're all in this together,” says Torma. “It's rampant individualism that got us here, and that’s what keeps us on this path. So ‘going green’ by merely reducing your energy consumption, your waste, etc., is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. While you are reusing shopping bags, studies show that the rest of the country is throwing 90% of what they bought in the past six months in the trash. For most people here and around the world who are just barely getting by, green living is not a high priority.”

Big dinner

   “What if Christmas doesn't come from a store?”

                Dr. Seuss, How The Grinch Stole Christmas

We can’t change people’s circumstances overnight, says Torma, but we can get our priorities straight. “We need to address the root cause of environmental devastation and other forms of exploitation. And that’s our individual isolation. Everyone’s out for themselves, looking out for number one. Meanwhile, we’re all desperately looking for companionship, for meaning in our lives, and for ways to make our lives a little easier. We can find all this in the same place: community.”


Recycle your soul

This extreme selfishness is learned, not instinctual, says Torma. While it’s hard to reprogram ourselves, we do have a natural desire to give and receive with compassion; it’s just a matter of re-awakening that tendency. “All of us deep down inside want to contribute. We want to help. We want to touch others, and not just physically.” According to Torma, community provides that connection, along with that sense of support that many of us get from family: the knowledge that we’re not alone and on our own in the world.

If Torma’s right, then the root of the problem runs deep. But we can water those roots and watch community grow. When what we do for the earth feeds our deepest needs, then green living is truly sustainable.


Alan Muskat
, author and educator, is co-founder of The REAL Center in Asheville.
His website is