A Lesson From Nature Wealth
by Allison Weeks
At a Project NatureConnect
gathering on San Juan Island in the spring of 00, our group was
interviewed by resident island author Janet Thomas. She was in
the process of writing her well- researched and thought-provoking
book "Battle in Seattle," and wanted to know how we
thought the then-recent WTO protests might impact the future.
Mid-way through the interview someone suggested that Janet actually
do a nature-connecting activity with us, so PNC founder and director
Dr. Michael Cohen suggaested we go to Nature with a question
that captured the essence of the WTO
protests: "What is wealth?
Reconnecting with Nature activities
begin with sensing an attraction
n nature. Usually something claims my attention right away,
but this time was different. As I walked alone along a forest
permission from nature to learn from it about wealth, I waited
for something to attract me. Everything looked beautiful, but
particular caught my attention. As time went by I began to realize
that this time my attraction was not the vibrant color of a flower,
beautiful song of a bird, the strength of a massive tree, or
the softness of the moss on a rock. It was the forest in its
entirety. My attraction held, so I sat on a small boulder to
listen, as the wordless lesson began.
How does one express a non-verbal,
purely sensory experience in words? Something is always lost
in the translation, but I will try. As I watched, the attraction
energies giving rise to the diverse and teeming life before me
became apparent: The insect attracted by the flower, gaining
sustenance from it as it helped it in kind by assisting pollination.
The plants reaching for the life-giving energy of the sun and
sharing it with the caterpillar. Roots attracted to the damp,
moist earth while holding the earth in place. The dead, leaves
and trees transforming before my very eyes into new earth for
new life. As I began to become aware of the exquisite interconnectness
of it all, my consciousness shifted and I stopped seeing separate
entities. Instead, the physical reality before me became a beautiful,
continuous flow of energy attractions that gave rise to Life.
Everything received just enough energy to sustain itself in health,
returning energy in like kind back to the web. Even death of
the individual gave rise to the health of the whole. I began
to sense myself as part of this whole--and I, too, experienced
the seamless flow of energy, the joyous fulfillment of mutual
"Ah, said my rational
brain, never too happy to be wordless for long, and determined
to translate my nonverbal awareness. "This is
the lesson about wealth you were seeking. True wealth is the
seamless flow of energy attractions in mutual support and reciprocity.
When a sense of separation, resulting in fear, blocks this flow,
the result is greed. Blocking the flow disrupts the intricate
and exquisite balance of the web of life, and soon many problems
arise"poverty, crime, degradation of the environment which
sustains our very lives The list of negative consequences is
almost endless. Even those who take and hoard more than they
need without giving back equally to the web, thinking this makes
them "wealthy, are really impoverished of spirit and bereft
of true joy and fulfillment. Energy flow, besides being the basis
of wealth, is also necessary for health"individual, social,
and environmental. When energy is blocked"again, because
of fear, which is the major symptom of disconnection, and trauma"the
result is illness. Health and wealth are really identical, the
result of seamless energy flow"mutual support and reciprocity.
I returned to the group at
the appointed time. As we shared the wisdom of global consciousness
that we had experienced through our attractions in nature, our
personal values shifted closer yet to those of the Web of Life
of which we are a part. And we felt wealthy beyond measure.
The Nature of Life-In Which Wealth
Has Nothing To Do With Money
by Janet Thomas
Battle In Seattle, Fulcrum)
"Nature is doing her best
each moment to make us well."
-Henry David Thoreau
..........Over the holidays of the new millennium,
Dr. Michael Cohen wrote a book about the vital missing link in
the WTO. He wrote it because he was unable to be there in person
on N30; and because his partner, Serena, went to her family home
for Christmas without him. He had time on his holiday hands so
he put them to work. The result was Einstein's World-Educating
and Counseling with Nature. A Scientific Integration of Economics,
Nature and Psychology, Peace, Wellness and Spirit. Cohen
is an applied ecopsychologist. His work is rooted in the belief
that nature's intelligence is missing from the way we have been
taught to think. That we have essentially bitten the hand that
feeds us and if we don't wake up and smell the seaweed, we're
done for as a human species.
..........There's lots of growing scientific
evidence to support the dire effects of our distorted thinking:
global warming and its devastating consequences has already started.
The relentless connectedness of everything and everyone on the
planet is evident in just the few degrees of climate change that
it will take to forever change life as we have come to know it.
Species are dropping like flies. Our great rain forests, a big
source of oxygen on the planet, are losing their lives, and therefore
putting our own in jeopardy, let alone all those of the indigenous
people throughout the world to whom the forests are truly home.
We're screwing up. We're messing with the web of life, with the
way things work naturally-which has only taken a few billion
years to perfect.
..........Lots of people are telling us these
things. Why aren't we listening?
..........Because, says Cohen, we have learned
not to feel and think with all our senses. And not just our five
well-worn senses, but the unlimited experiences offered by our
53 (at last count) natural senses, from our sense of time to
our sense of play. From our sense of gravity to a sense of our
emotional life. From our senses of reason, language and consciousness
to our senses of humility, humidity and humor. We are awash in
sensory experience-most of which we've managed to nip in the
bud, so to speak. Cohen, who's somewhere in his seventies and
still sleeps outside at night, has a pretty little plant growing
out of his car door hinge. And he didn't plant it. Life will
find it's way, indeed. But will human life? That is the question.
..........I first met Mike Cohen on the dance
floor. Every Tuesday evening on our island, Bob and Barbara Dann,
who are both somewhere very gracefully occupying their seventy-somethings,
have folk dancing at their house, which was built for the occasion.
Their living room is 15 feet by 40 feet and ever since they retired
here, the world has been welcomed at their door to dance-as long
as you don't track crap in on your shoes. Every Tuesday, we go
to the corner table where Bob has listed dances from all over
the world on cards and arranged them according to country. We
each pick a few for the evening, or not, if we don't feel like it, and for a few
hours we enter into the dancing spirits that come as gifts from
around the world. It's fun. And it's a great way to get touched
if you're not getting enough.
..........Mike Cohen knows all the dances and
is very light on his feet. He also sings folk songs, too many
to count. So I knew him as a playful spirit, a man who seemed
to land lightly wherever he went. His 35 years of teaching the
psychology of the natural world and our place in it, is something
I learned about only when I told him at the Danns one night that
I was working on this book. "Oh," he said. "I
just wrote a book about the WTO," and within a few days
I had a copy of Einstein's World, and one of his earlier books,
Reconnecting with Nature-Finding wellness through restoring
your bond with the Earth. The WTO synchronicity strikes again.
..........Einstein's World is an obsessed little book, quickly written,
self-published, spiral-bound, passed out free to all takers,
an act of love in a time of desperation. Cohen's earlier book,
Reconnecting with Nature, is the one with blurbs on the
back by best-selling author Dr. Larry Dossey, and Dr. Robert
Muller, the winner of the Albert Schweitzer Peace Prize, who
was the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. It's
through a distinct, practical process in this book that Cohen
brings us to our expanded senses and to the natural law of attraction
that is at the very foundation of our existence.
..........Cohen is a renegade. Although he has
founded environmental psychology degree programs with the Lesley
College Graduate School, Greenwich University, and the Institute
of Global Education (a nongovernmental organization that does
consulting to the United Nations Economic and Social Council),
he unteaches. Sitting outside in one of his nature-reconnecting
classes (called Project NatureConnect) is a study in forgetting
what we've learned and getting intimate with what we know. This,
he documents, is the way home to sanity on this planet, where
we are going completely and self-destructively crazy. And the
key is not so simple as stopping to sniff the nearest flower,
it's also in learning how to ask permission of the flower to
sniff it in the first place. It's in acknowledging
the astonishing force of life in all its glory on this planet,
and our partnership with it. Which in turn heals the spirit,
restores the senses and brings meaning back to the natural world-where
we always belong. So go tell that to the World Bank.
..........One of Cohen's doctoral students is
doing precisely that. Gerry Eitner is introducing Cohen's Natural
System Thinking Process (NSTP) into the training programs offered
by the World Bank. The goal is to raise awareness of the need
for responsible relationships with Earth's people and ecosystems,
right in the place where the buck both starts and stops.
On the other side of the WTO coin, another doctoral student,
Allison Weeks, is bringing Cohen's natural systems thinking to
WTO protest organizers and organizations in the northwest. They,
too, get tired and forget to smell the seaweed, forget to get
nourished back as they go about the business of encouraging global
fair trade and freedom in the human marketplace.
..........Cohen's other students are doing likewise
in a variety of environments: James Rowe with Outward Bound,
Dr. Kevin Bethel with the American Medical Association, Kurtland
Davies with counseling programs, Peggy Garrigues-Cortelyou with
pastoral ministry, Larry Gray with environmental education, Mardi
Jones and JaneAnne Jeffries with teacher education, Chuck McClintock
with holistic medicine, Theresa Sweeney with mental health, the
list grows daily.
..........Cohen started his first official outdoor
program for youngsters in 1959 in Killington, Vermont because
he wanted to live the outdoor life; it eventually became the
National Audubon Society Expedition Institute. Before that he
was the Director of American Youth Hostels in New York. Before
that he was a camp leader in the progressive camping movement
under the tutelage of Josh Lieberman. His exposure to folk dancing
happened through his parents participation in the Settlement
Houses established by Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s and 30s
where people coming to the United States for the first time could
go to keep alive "the old time ways."
..........Cohen's mother and both his father's
parents, who were born in Russia, came to the U.S. to escape
the pogroms. For the most part, Cohen was left alone to decide
how to grow-up, which to him meant growing up outside. For fifty
years he has taught people how to connect to the natural world,
and feel naturally connected. His theory, in an acorn shell,
is that if we feel connected to nature, and our intimate partnership
with it, we will not need a garage full of stuff to feel connected
to our lives. Power will prevail, but it will be the power of
natural attraction. A state of inherent grace, where we fit in
to the web of life and keep our inherent sensory awareness well-tuned
for the occasion.
It's this awareness of attraction that Cohen tries to get us
to recognize. The very first thing he teaches is "Go out
and find something in nature that attracts you, obtain permission
to be there and find out what it has to tell you." Pretty
weird stuff. Even the Ph.D. students who have worked with his
concepts for years, have to struggle through their addiction
to the intellect before they can allow a more sensory receptivity
to take over. "No matter how often I've done it before,
it's always a challenge," said Larry Gray who comes from
northern Canada to take Cohen's workshops. "And it always
..........In Einstein's World, which-surprise,
surprise-quotes copiously from Einstein, we are led down the
path of science and economics at play, where if we could just
get the WTO to put "webstrings" on its agenda, we could
all get back to work on the real stuff of our lives-enjoying
the ride. The being here. Together.
"Webstrings" is the word Cohen has coined to describe
the far reaching effect of our connections to one another, to
place, to planet, to planetary possibilities, and on out there
forever. "To see the world in a grain of sand." (William
Blake) To think with Nature: "The unseen intelligence that
loved us into being." (Elbert Hubbard). This does not endear
him to the scientific community, most of whom are working to
isolate, not integrate. Most of whom are suspect of such off-the-grid
goals as recognizing our attraction to the motion of the grasses
in the wind, seeking permission to be there and then sitting
quietly to receive the wisdom waving around in the breeze. The
mind, of course, goes quickly to metaphor, the vulnerability, strength
and flexibility of the grasses; the power of being rooted to
the earth but open to the brilliant changes of each moment; the
wonder of wind-where does it come from? The sky wide, the wide
mind, the moment that it's all in this together. That we're all
in this together. Tell that to the scientists fighting with each
other about mapping the human genome.
..........But Cohen is making headway. The United
Nations recognizes his work, and his courses are officially and
unofficially on traditional campuses via the Internet or trained
instructors. In 1985, when he founded the Gaia Conference, "Is
the Earth a Living Organism?" he was called a maverick genius.
In 1996, he was awarded the U.N.'s Distinguished World Citizen
..........I was invited to sit in on one of Cohen's
graduate seminars. He does lots of his teaching via the Internet
but a couple of times a year his students come to-unbelievably,
my own backyard yet again-San Juan Island for five days of deep
nature study. This particular session was held in a big log cabin
at Lakedale, a middle of the island rustic retreat and lakeside
resort. He introduced me around, told them about the WTO book,
and asked me if I was willing to participate in a nature activity.
"Sure," I said, not really wanting to at all.
..........Throughout my life I have cultivated
a profound sense of nature snobbery. I like my nature to myself.
I've considered it a private matter, a non-verbal experience
that cannot be shared. A sacred place where I feel better. An
oasis of purity in a defiled world. I have gone to great lengths
to preserve my solitary experiences in nature. Now I was being
asked to get communal about it all and I felt a huge resistance.
But Cohen had yet another question. "What are you here for?
What do you want from us?"
..........I had been thinking about David Korten's
talk at St. Mark's Cathedral, about the difference between being
rich and being wealthy. His ideas were familiar yet the two positions seemed
so incompatible as to be irreconcilable. "What is wealth?"
I blurted out. Cohen shrugged, "Okay, what is wealth?"
he asked everybody. And sent us off with an activity in the natural
surroundings to find out.
..........About twenty minutes later we all gathered
back together to share our findings. There were twelve people
in the room, from all parts of the U.S. and Canada, all with
professional backgrounds, all linked together through their work
with Project NatureConnect. Wealth, it turned out, was a lot
of things: the feeling of a cedar branch against the face; a
small tree planted by hand that needs attention to survive; the
flow of connection, when we stop it with greed, all our addictions
come back; knowing the right to exist in the network of sentient
beings; waking up to my own experience and knowing that "no-one
can tell me I didn't have it; when I come to this place I feet
wealth supporting me; the courage to stand alone; getting into
deep water; the berry that is ripe enough to just drop by itself
into my waiting hand, then I know it is meant just for me; a
large, mossy, mother rock; forgetting myself.
..........One woman was quiet, and spoke last.
"I've been sitting here for twenty minutes mulling over
what I got," she said, in tears. "I went to the water,
to a tree, to a slug, to the earth, and I'm not getting it right
now." What she got was grief from being disconnected. "The
wealth," she said, "is the answers you get from nature.
Even when they hurt."
..........Somebody also had a realization about
being rich. "I followed the sound of a bird as it went from
place to place in the woods, but I couldn't quite catch up. It
was like going after money. Pretty soon I didn't even watch where
I was going."
..........The reductive challenge we face everyday
in contemporary life to describe, weigh and measure the secrets
of our lives means that they lose their power, their numinous
nature, their stature. "The most beautiful thing we can
experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science," says Albert
Einstein. There is nothing mysterious about money, but try sitting
with a cedar tree for ten minutes and listening to what it has
to tell you.
..........The truth is that nature is always
restoring. Always attracting, recovering, healing. It is our
biological and psychological ability to regenerate. And when
we connect to the natural world with our reasoning, consciousness
and language, together with all our other senses, we are opened
up to real power. A power far beyond the almighty dollar, a power
that we can both take with us and leave behind, the power of
peace and the legacy of peace.
.........."The more alive we are,"
said Michael Cohen, "the more rewarded we are by the wisdom
of earth and nature, the less dependent we are on the power of
money and prestige, and the less damage we do to one another
and to the planet. When are we going to learn this in contemporary