Journal of Organic Psychology /
Natural Attraction Ecology (OP/NAE)
Project NatureConnect Akamai University Institute of Applied Ecopsychology
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2011-2012 Dr. Michael J. Cohen, Editor
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Nature-Connected Education, Counseling and Healing: An Empirical Ecological Solution for Environmental Issues, Social Problems and Personal Disorders.
Industrial Society creates environmental issues and crises because it does not properly regulate itself. While enhancing some aspects of human life, it deteriorates balanced personal, social and environmental thinking and relationships. Its environmental impact leads to dilemmas and predicaments arising from us learning to excessively separate from and exploit nature for profit, prestige and power. It socializes our thinking to be prejudiced against the balanced ways of the natural environment, in and around us. It underlies most problems and produces alarming headline news.
Without nature's guidance we produce irresponsible environmental policy, global warming problems, destructive environmental impacts and our global crises along with human and ecological health problems. The omission of nature's callings in our lives detaches, on average, over 98 percent of our time and thinking from the self-correcting and restorative ecology of the web of life.
When not adulterated, the natural system attraction energies of the web of life organize themselves and the web, without producing garbage, to create nature's self-propagating optimums of life, diversity, cooperation, beauty, community, purity and well-being.
A new sensory science, Natural Attraction Ecology, helps us remedy our environmental issues and impact, our social crises and deterioration of mental health. It is an accredited, nature-connected education, counseling and relationship building process for environmental people, an experiential Applied Ecopsychology, Ecotherapy and Environmental Education tool that enhances any endeavor. Its helps people reasonably report and reduce health problems as they:
- Transform their destructive thinking into nature's regenerative ways.
- Make conscious sensory contact with the flow and spirit of natural systems
- Reduce stress and disorders and increase well-being by thinking with 53 inherent natural senses.
- Create moments that let Earth teach and reduce duality by feeling and thinking like nature works.
- Enable the healing sensitivity of our multiple natural intelligences to transform our destructive thinking into nature's healing ways.
Natural Attraction Ecology helps individuals and societies enlist nature's restorative powers to recycle any contamination in their thinking or the human body that blocks nature's purifying flow from helping them increase local and global wellness.
An Environmental Report: Natural Attraction Ecology Helps Remedy Our Personal, Social and Global Crisis.
Encouraging Children to Use Their Senses
- Tamberly Mott, MFT
Most kids are taught at an early age that human beings have five senses; they learn to recognize tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, and seeing as the primary resources their bodies can tap into. Likely, this makes sense to them because children are natural sensory learners and they have largely learned everything they know through their primary senses; which are naturally available before language learning or more complex cognitive processing begins. There is also a basic understanding that if any one of the five senses is less acute than another, people can learn to compensate by skillfully utilizing another sense more effectively (e.g. a blind person learns to listen more efficiently and can perceive, based on echolocation techniques, where a sound is coming from). However, these five senses represent less than 10% of our total senses. We have other senses, in fact, 53 senses have been identified by Dr. Michael Cohen, a pioneering ecopsychologist and author of Reconnecting With Nature (2007); which is of no surprise to many as the sagacity of the human body's sensory communication system is far too multifarious to be limited to only five senses. The purpose of this report is to briefly describe the complexity of the human nervous system and to recognize the 53 senses of our nervous system, as classified by Dr. Michael Cohen; as well as a brief acknowledgement of multisensory learning. This paper also offers highlights from the work of multiple researchers and human/nature advocates, concerned with human sensory accessibility and functioning and our human need for connecting with the natural world as an ecological solution for personal problems and environmental issues.
THE BRAIN AND OUR SENSES
The human nervous system- brain-spinal cord-nerves- is like a control tower for the body. It monitors conditions within and outside the body, sending electrical signals between the brain and the body. When you touch something hot and burn your hand, the pain does not actually come from your hand- it comes from a signal in your head (brain). The brain and the body work together. For example-- when you are outside and you see a car coming toward you, you can sense that the car is going to hit you, so you quickly get out of the way. In this scenario, your ears heard the car, your eyes saw the moving car, your brain sensed the speed of the movement, and sent signals to your muscles to move your body away from the car. Our nervous system can also sense activity inside the body. Think about breathing. When we are running our muscles require more oxygen to function properly. But we don't have to decide to send oxygen to our legs for example; our body automatically triggers the heart to work harder and faster to send the oxygenated blood to our organs and muscles and to remove the carbon dioxide waste from the body cells. Digesting our food and sweating are other examples of involuntary actions, that is, actions our body does on its own without our conscious thinking. Further, some actions are both voluntary and involuntary; blinking for example.
Typical human experience consists of a coherent stream of sensorimotor events that work together to move our bodies to produce a desired effect. The nerves and nerve cells outside the central nervous system make up the peripheral nervous system. Its task is to relay information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, and from the body to the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nerves transmit voluntary and involuntary actions; sympathetic nervous system can generate a fight or flight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system can generate a rest and digest response.
We understand that the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems oppose each other in function in order to maintain homeostasis or balanced activity in the body systems. Nonetheless, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems also work in concert (or at least they are meant to). The sympathetic system dilates the pupil of the eye, but the parasympathetic system contracts it again. The sympathetic system speeds and strengthens the heart, while the parasympathetic calms and slows the heart's activity. As I review the multifaceted actions of the central nervous system, I cannot help but wonder what happens when one system or the other becomes over- or under- used? Do all our senses work as they are meant to or do some become over or under reactive? I know our senses collect information for the body and help our bodies to respond/react to our surroundings, but what if we become less conscious of our inborn senses and sensitivities? Might this encourage a sense of separateness or of disconnect from others and the world? Perhaps even causing some of the emotional disorders that plague our culture?
In his book, The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness, Damasio (1999) explains that the senses of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell function by nerve activation patterns that correspond to the state of the external world; and emotions are nerve activation patterns that correspond to the state of the internal world. Accordingly, if a person experiences fear, then the brain will record this body state in nerve cell activation patterns obtained from neural and hormonal feedback, and this information may then be used to adapt behavior appropriately (Damasio, 1999). Our senses and nerve patterns work to connect our internal and external worlds, connect us to other life forms, and can even foster caring and empathy (Sobel, 1996). Based on his experiential field work in nature, Dr. Michael Cohen (2007) has identified and classified our senses into four general categories of senses-- radiation senses, feeling senses, chemical senses, and mental senses, all of which are designed for our survival and for our relationship to self and to other.
Just like animals, we use our senses to learn and understand the world around us, and our senses help us survive our environment. We may have varying levels in ability to recognize, understand and integrate the sensory information our bodies give to us, but one thing is clear to me-the more civilized or separated from nature we become, the more we lose touch with our senses. Many problems have been correlated to the estrangement to the senses. For example, thinking and feeling disorders, such as anxiety, depression, sleeping and eating disorders, Bipolar and Personality disorders, attention disorders, and Post Traumatic Stress disorders are frequently related to sensory miscommunication and/or sensory-related deficits or dys-regulation (Stern, 2002; Cohen, 2007). Furthermore, as citizens of an industrial society, we (our brains) have learned to separate our “self” from nature, thinking that we must conquer nature instead of seeking and honoring the sensory intelligence that the natural world has to offer us (Cohen, 2007).
The good news is that our brains have the capacity for plasticity (neuroplasticity), meaning the brain has the ability to change throughout our lives. For example, in recent studies researchers have showed that the regular practice of meditation appears to produce structural changes in areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing (Solomita, 2005). This means that we can learn to improve the way we sense, organize, and utilize our sensory intelligence simply by focused sensory exercises, including intentional relating with the natural world (Cohen, 2007). We can learn to choose or create structures for ourselves that enhance rather than dull our sensory intelligence. In fact, it is believed by many that our natural self, not the conditioned self that inhibits our senses, is indeed in tune with nature and shares the same vibrations as the natural world, and it is not a matter of learning, but of un-learning the destructive disconnecting experiences that block our natural way of being in the world (Walsh, 1990).
As human beings, we have bodies that live in situations and contexts, not just in physical space and time; therefore human activities are physical, emotional, and environmental. We experience the senses in our bodies as well as what is happening outside of our bodies. Moreover, unlike inanimate objects, we need activity in order to exist (Reed, 1996). For example, we can put a bicycle in the garage and leave it for a period of time undisturbed, and when we return we will find it the way we left it. On the other hand, human beings need relationships and daily interactions between people and the natural environment, even if it consists of merely watching fish, if they are to stay healthy (Kahn, 1999; Moore, 1997; Reed, 1996). Although this may be intuitive to some, others are surprised that children who are given consistent positive exposure to nature tend to thrive in intellectual, spiritual, and physical ways that their indoor-peers do not (Louv, 2005; Spencer, et.al., 2006). Compared to animals who clearly display awareness of external sensory stimuli, humans are additionally aware of the body and the self (Damasio, 1999).
NAE and the NATURAL SYSTEM THINKING PROCESS
Teaching children, and adults for that matter, to reconnect with nature and to tap into the vast world of sensorimotor communication not only seems self-evident, it is the naturally intelligent thing to do. This brings us fittingly to the model developed by Dr. Cohen, called the Natural System Thinking Process (NSTP). This model, based on ecopsychology, is designed to enhance our innate ability to think and feel in harmony with “self” and with the world (the natural environment). The process teaches someone how to consciously make enjoyable, non-verbal, sensory contacts with nature. These sensory contacts help us to consciously and reflexively reconnect to the natural sensory communication system (between us and the earth). Practicing this method can help us translate the natural sensory attractions we feel into comprehensive meanings that make our lives more meaningful. This action/reaction to connecting with nature can be validated in a variety of ways. For the purposes of this paper, we will consider the work of numerous human/nature advocates, who have focused their attention on children. The following list is hardly exhaustive, but summarizes many of the benefits that children can experience from regular interactions with nature:
o Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) experience improved concentration after contact with nature (Taylor et al., 2001).
o Children who have views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline; the greener the view, the better the scores (Wells, 2000; Taylor et al., 2002).
o Children who play in natural environments demonstrate advanced motor fitness, coordination, balance and agility, and become ill less often (Fjortoft, 2001).
o Children who play in natural environments, demonstrate increased diversity with imaginative and creative play (Moore & Wong, 1997; Taylor, et al., 1998; Fjortoft 2001).
o Exposure to natural settings can improve children's cognitive development in their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle, 2002).
o Children deal with adversity more skillfully, showing greater resiliency with greater amounts of nature exposure (Wells & Evans, 2003).
o Play in natural environments can reduce or eliminate bullying (Malone & Tranter, 2003).
o Nature helps children develop greater powers of observation and creativity, and can instill a sense of peace with the world (Crain, 2001).
o Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb, 1977; Louv, 2005).
o Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about other children (Moore, 1996).
o Natural environment stimulates increased social interaction between children (Moore, 1996; Bixler et al., 2002).
o Outdoor environments help children in the development of independence and autonomy (Spencer & Blades, 2006).
o Outdoor play stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments (Moore, 1996).
SENSE OF PLACE
Promoting in children a “sense of place,” is yet another benefit of teaching with NSTP. It has been suggested that one of the negative effects of growing up with the modern (often transient) urban industrial lifestyle is a lack of belonging to a particular bioregion (literally-life places). If children come to understand and connect with their local piece of the environment through active experiential learning, their understanding will not fade. It will further become the foundation for understanding broad, complex, universal issues-healthy communities and ecosystems, environmental justice, and sustainability. Encouraging this “sense of place” includes providing opportunities for children to learn about their local environment and its history (i.e., places, issues, people, and practices). This learning creates a feeling of inclusion and bonding to the community, a feeling of moral obligation to care for local environments, bringing forth a consciousness of one's embeddedness in an ecological context (Kyle, Graefe, & Manning, 2005).
Smart By Nature's web site (2009) highlights the “sense of place” in their program mission:
When people acquire a deep knowledge of a particular place, they develop a sense of caring about what happens to the landscape, creatures, and people in it. When they understand its ecology and diversity, the intricate web of relationships it supports, and the rhythm of its cycles, they also develop an appreciation for and sense of kinship with their surroundings. (see reference below)
As we consider the fact that we have over 50 senses, it seems appropriate to think about the relationship of our senses and our ability to learn. Albert Einstein once said, “Learning is experiencing. Everything else is just information.” As his insight suggests, we must experience our learning by using our multifaceted sensory systems. A child's individual learning style can be a central key for reaching his/her learning potential. While learning style is largely based upon auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile preferences, it can also encompass other learner preferences based on other sensory preferences and sensory awareness. We need to consider that some children are more apt to process information sequentially or analytically, while others will process in a holistic, simultaneous, global fashion. Other aspects of individual learning abilities, including emotional, sociological, psychological, physiological and environmental must be recognized. For example, some children learn better outdoors; with a surplus of senses engaged their learning experience can become very attractive and satisfying.
Many children experience a numbing of their senses at an early age and they begin to feel dissatisfied with living. Maladaptive behaviors, as well as a lower quality of life can be the result. When their senses are dulled, their natural attractions are also suppressed and dysfunctional behaviors emerge. By teaching and applying NSTP, we can help to guide them to begin to follow their attractions, increase their sensory awareness, and improve the quality of their life. The following process of Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP) is easy to share:
The Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP)
1. Go to an attractive natural area
The first step is to follow the attraction and stimulate the sense of awareness in the present moment.
2. Gain permission from the area to relate to it
By gaining permission, children are learning to respect nature.
3. Make non-verbal contact with your attractions while doing the activity
The dormant senses come alive to experience the exchange between the natural area and our inner nature. The non-verbal contact is full of sensations and feelings that breathe life into every cell… of our being. Teaching children that this wordless communication is a part of loving nature and loving the quiet part of ourselves (we are nature too).
4. Express appreciation for these good feelings
Gratitude is healing. The feelings of gratitude through the connection express respect and appreciation to nature.
5. Share statements describing how the activity felt and made sense to you
Sharing with others is similar to finding a voice that expresses the non-verbal connection. This step is important as it creates new connections in the brain over writing the old programming of disconnect.
Personally, I have always recognized the psychological benefits of being out in nature and the attraction of engaging my many senses as I connect with nature. In my life experience, I find that the use of NSTP in therapy with children helps to heal the suffering that comes from their sense of disconnection with one another and the alienation they experience from society in general. The very experience of being in nature and waking up the senses that have been dulled by so-called “civilized” living, combined with the philosophy of interconnectedness helps youth to develop a sense of connection with place and works to bring forth an integration of self. The feelings of being stuck or unheard begin to wane when children understand that they are naturally an important part of the interconnection of all beings. I am not alone in this experience. Melson (1990) wrote, “Experiences of interconnectedness with animals and with nature may be an important context within which more nurturing children may grow to be more nurturing adults” (p.15). I find that utilizing nature experiences in counseling can build altruism, empathy, and caring. For example, I may encourage a family with a withdrawn-depressed child by having a pet in therapy. Giving and receiving affection from pets can reduce loneliness and provide an opportunity for a child to learn how to give and receive appropriate affection. The use of nature-based activities which builds self-esteem, self-confidence and self-concept, also taps into the wisdom of our agrarian ancestors, which taught the interconnected state of all beings (Kellert & Wilson, 1993). “This proposition suggests that human identity and personal fulfillment somehow depend on our relationship to nature. The human need for nature is linked not just to the material exploitations of the environment but also to the influence of the natural world on our emotional, cognitive, aesthetic, and even spiritual development…” (1993, p. 42-43).
In conclusion… 53 Senses are better than five! Our brains are teachable…let's not under estimate what disconnecting from nature does to limit our sensory experience. Children (we) can learn from nature or children can learn from a society/culture disconnected from nature. Let's be a nature connected person in some child's life. Let's model respect and gratitude. Let's honor our “place” on this planet and demonstrate to children that we care about what we will leave to them. Let's do all we can to encourage youth to use their nature-senses to learn from nature… we can make the world a better place for children…a better place for all.
Bixler, R. D., Floyd, M.E. & Hammutt, W.E. (2002). Environmental socialization: Qualitative tests of the childhood play hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 34(6), 795-818.
Cobb, E. (1977). The ecology of imagination in childhood. New York, Columbia: University Press.
Cohen, M. (2007). Reconnecting with nature: Finding wellness through restoring your bond with the earth. 3rd Ed. Lakeville, MN: Ecopress.
Crain, William (2001). Now nature helps children develop. Montessori Life, Summer, 2001.
Damasio, A. (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Fjortoft, I. (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal 29(2), 111-117.
Kahn, P.H. (1999). The human relationship with nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Kellert, S.R. & Wilson, E.O. (Eds.) (1993). Biophilia hypothesis. Washington DC-Covelo, CA:Island Press/Shearwater Books.
Kyle,G.T., Graefe, A.R., & Manning, R.E. (2005). Tesing the dimensionality of place attachment in recreational settings. Environment and Behavior, 37, 153-177.
Louv, R. (1991). Childhood's future. New York, Doubleday.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Melson, G.F. (1990). Fostering inter-connectedness with animals and nature: the developmental benefits for children. Retrieved online at http://firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moore, R. (1996). Compact nature: The role of playing and learning gardens on children's lives. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture, 8, 72-82.
Pyle, R. (1993). The thunder trees: Lessons from an urban wildland. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Reed, E.S. (1996). The necessity of experience. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Smart By Nature (2009). Retrieved at http://www.ecoliteracy.org/programs/sbn.html
Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart of Nature Education. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.
Solomita, A. (2005). Research in brief. Retrieved on March 10, 2009, from http://www.harvardscience.harvard.edu/animal-vegetable-mineral/articles/research-brief.
Spencer, C.P. and Blades, M. (2006). Children and their environments: Learning, using and designing spaces. Cambridge University Press.
Stern, M.B. (2002). Child friendly therapy: Biopsychosocial innovations for children and families. New York, London: W.W. Norton.
Taylor, A.F., Wiley, A., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (1998). Growing up in the inner city: Green spaces as places to grow. Environment and Behavior, 30(1), 3-27.
Walsh, R. (1990). The spirit of shamanism. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Wells, N.M. and Evans, G.W. (2003). Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330.
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