A Sensory Nature Reconnecting
Process Helps Us Reverse
Personal, Social and Environmental Troubles
- F. Richard Schneider, Ph.D.
Upon completing Michael J.
Cohen's (MJC) book Reconnecting
With Nature, in 1998, Dr. Daniel Levine, (DL), Superintendent of Schools
of the Lopez Island School District in Washington State, phoned
Dr. Cohen and, for use by his faculty, he transcribed the author's
responses to questions about the book.
In June, 2010, an additional interview with Cohen by Thomas Dougherty was published in the Ecopsychology Journal
DL: In Reconnecting With
Nature you say that for 35 years, through the Natural Systems Thinking Process, you have been an innovative outdoor
educator and counselor. What do you see as the present state
of our relationship to Planet Earth and each other?
MJC: A majority of the world is discouraged by the
costly isolation, violence, and hatred growing in industrial
society. War and the destruction of our forests, wildlife and
oceans distresses most people. Each of us would like to help
heal the wounds we inflict on our planet, communities and selves.
Our vast discontent constitutes a major motivating force for
recovery if we empower and guide it wisely.
DL: What is the human potential
for a model society?
MJC: My work shows that people have the innate ability
to co-create with nature and sustain responsible relationships
one step at a time. Because we are part of nature we can build
a way of relating that is organic, that stems from nature, that,
like nature, organizes, preserves and regenerates itself to produce
an optimum of life, diversity and beauty. As part of nature,
we can do this without producing excessive garbage or pollution.
People and things need not be left out or toxified. Society does
not have to produce our war, insanity or excessive violence.
Doesn't that model sound worthwhile?
DL: Of course, but it's
extremely idealistic. We would need to gain some magical wisdom
MJC: It's neither idealistic nor magical. That organic
wisdom is available. In fact we already have it, we just don't
DL: Oh? Where is it?
MJC: The natural world itself operates like this model.
It neither creates nor suffers our runaway problems. The global
life community has sustained the model's integrity over the millennia.
It has, it is, intelligent, thoughtful, "magical" healing
powers. It is nature, and since we are part of nature, it is
DL: But if that were true,
we would not be having our problems.
MJC: We are born as natural beings. We are born in
and with that intelligence. It is in our soul. But in our rush
to conquer and replace nature, we educate ourselves to relate
through exploitive stories that discount nature and its systems
rather than to treasure, culture and apply them.
DL: Why do we do this?
MJC: Although we are part of nature, just as every
species is different from each other, we are different, too.
The major difference between humanity and nature is that people
have the natural capacity to think, communicate and relate verbally.
We interact through spoken and written language that abstracts
nature. Abstractions are shortcuts that leave out "unimportant"
things. However, nothing in nature is unimportant; that's the
key to nature's perfection, that's why it produces no garbage.
Nature achieves its beauty, grace and balance through genuine
natural attractions, non-language communication and relationships,
DL: Isn't our language capacity
a gift from nature?
MJC: Absolutely, but contemporary society uses that
gift to create stories that separate us from nature. We actually
teach ourselves to think verbally while every other species,
and many other cultures, think in non-verbal ways, too. We don't
learn to think the way nature works, even though we are born
with that capacity. Our personal and global problems result because
we emotionally attach ourselves to verbal stories and they define
our destiny. However, because our stories are abstracts and arise
out of our nature separated lives, they are not organic. They
are disconnected from, and encourage us to disconnect from, nature's
intelligence to the extent that we become conditioned to them.
We bond to these stories as belief systems, be they proven right
DL: Can you give me an example
of this phenomenon?
MJC: I'm sure one will appear in this conversation
simply because we are disconnected from nature as we sit in this
room. Do you recognize that we live, teach and emotionally attach
to a story that says to survive we must separate from and conquer
nature? That story is not organic. Rather, it educates us to
spend, on average, over 95% of our time indoors. We are conditioned
to think in indoor, nature disconnected terms 99.9% of our lives.
We learn to spend less than twelve hours per lifetime in conscious
non-language contact with nature. That's like expecting an infant
to grow normally after it has been abandoned by its family. It
is similar to an arm that is 95% torn from a body. The arm senses
disconnection that it can't identify because it is disconnected
from the cognizant mind in the torso.
DL: But isn't that the human
MJC: No, it is learned. Through natural attractions,
natural beings, including nature-connected people, stay connected
with nature. They continuously make tangible non-verbal attraction
contacts with natural areas. They exercise and think with nature's
wisdom and integrity in their daily lives so they neither produce
nor suffer our runaway personal, social and environmental problems.
DL: This makes sense idealistically,
but we are not going to return to gathering and hunting in nature,
so it seems impractical.
MJC: I didn't say we should return to living outdoors,
did I? You see, our indoor story and thinking tends to conclude
that we must be like "Indigenous" people. I suggest,
and the Organic Psychology of my Natural System Thinking Process
demonstrates, that we can learn to reconnect with nature and
incorporate nature's balanced ways in our thinking. We
can learn to think like nature works. As our surveys
show, the benefits are dramatic. What is idealistic about that?
DL: So you suggest that
we learn to hunt, gather and incorporate knowledge of how nature
works, of the global life process?
MJC: Exactly. Some people already know this is possible
because they sense nature's peace and healing when they visit
natural areas. However, often the nature-disconnected bias of
our stories won't let us validate what we experience in nature.
We become ecozombies.
We call the benefits of sensory connecting with nature an escape
from "real life," recreation rather than re-creation.
DL: Can you give me a example
of the significance of our detachment?
MJC: Consider this event concerning the ingrained
ways of a deeply rooted, theoretically unchangeable group of
hard core killers. In the West Virginia mountains, an isolated,
dedicated hunting club found a month old male fawn whose mother
had been killed by a car.
For a week, these middle aged
men, each with decades of devoted deer killing expertise, were
attracted to feed the fawn formula from a bottle, which it suckled
with half shut eyes of ecstasy. In return the fawn licked their
hands, sucked their earlobes and sang them little whining sounds
of delight from deep within.
When the hunt broke up, these
men dispersed leaving the fawn eating grass and craving its bottle.
They made vague promises to return to this remote place. They
said they would, if time permitted, trek the mountain and feed
the fawn. A few weeks later, one of the hunters phoned the others
to see if anybody knew if the fawn has been fed or had survived.
He discovered that without each other knowing it, five of the
hunters often visited the fawn and fed it, so it was actually
getting fat. Although the fawn might be shot by someone who did
not know who the deer was, it lifted his heart to think that
the fawn had a chance at life because some hardened deer hunters
had gone out of their way to give it to him. Significantly, he
knew for sure that none of his hunt club members would shoot
DL: What do you think made
MJC: Obviously, neither a teacher, preacher or politician
was present to educate the hunters about the value of the fawn's
life and supporting it. Although it said not a word, the fawn,
nature itself, was that educator. Non-verbal sensory attraction
factors within the integrity of its life touched these same factors
in the lives of the hunters. The connection sparked into their
consciousness their inherent natural feelings of love in the
form of nurturing, empathy, community, friendship, power, humility,
reasoning, place, time and a score of others. Reconnecting moments
with nature engaged and nourished a battery of their natural
senses. These inborn senses led a group of deer hunters to support
rather than deny the life of a deer, and to bring new joy to
their personal and collective lives.
DL: But relatively few people
live in a natural setting that would offer them this profound
MJC: Through the Organic
Psychology of the Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP)
any attraction in nature, backyard or back country, that we become
conscious of can help us produce the same results that the fawn
produced. A weed growing through the pavement can do it. A garden
or a potted plant can do it. For example, I recently participated
in a hurried, almost stressful training program for people whose
differences kept them arguing amongst themselves. They had little
interest or time to hear an explanation from me of the unifying
and healing benefits of the reconnecting with nature process
and they therefore omitted it from their agenda. In the midst
of this hubbub, a young bird flew into the meeting room through
the door. It could not find its way out. Without a word, the
behind-schedule, argumentative meeting screeched to a halt. Deep
natural attraction feelings for life and hope filled each person
for the moment. For ten minutes that frightened, desperate little
bird triggered those seventy people to harmoniously, supportively
organize and unify with each other to safely help it find its
way back home. Yet when they accomplished this feat, they cheered
their role, not the role of the bird. They felt like hero's for
the moment and congratulated their humanity for its wisdom and
compassion. In their story of the incident, the role and impact
of the bird went unnoticed. They returned to the hubbub of the
meeting, as if nothing special had happened. They completely
overlooked that the bird had united them while it was there,
something they could not do without its presence.
DL: Did you point out to
them that non-verbal, sensory impact of the bird, of nature,
MJC: I wanted to say something about the effect of
the bird but I didn't. People would have scoffed. They would
have said what you said, that what happened was not important
or useful for it was uncommon to have a wild bird interrupt their
lives. It was their "human spirit" that they applauded,
not its orgins and existance in nature.
DL: I think I'd agree with
MJC: Would you agree that reconnecting with nature
during that incident brought a special joy and integrity to their
lives, as with the deer hunters? The individual and collective
benefits were evident. It is the continual gross lack of such
natural attraction contacts that creates our disorders. People
feel distraught, yet helpless, about Earth's life and their lives
being at risk, like the fawn and bird. Yet, if you use my Natural
Systems Thinking Process, even an aquarium or pet can produce
the same benefits. I've seen it unify couples, families, individuals
in conflict with themselves or others. It is an organic stress-management
DL: Yes, but isn't this
a vicious circle? We are radically separated from nature and
lose its benefits, so how can we use nature to gain them?
MJC: That is the heart of the matter. My work addresses
it. It takes place in tangible contact with nature, in backyards,
parks, even with potted plants, and wilderness, too. In any natural
setting NSTP helps people learn to do, own and teach simple nature-reconnecting
activities that impliment and share conscious sensory contacts
with attractions in authentic nature. This elicits an essence
of cooperative life relationships. The activities are fun and
interesting. They provide, at will, the nature-reconnected moments
missing from our lives. People learn to make them happen. The
process is uplifting and responsible. It helps us nurture as
many as 53 natural senses we genetically inherit and share to
bring about consensus within and around us. NSTP helps us connect
with nature at anytime to produce the same profound effects catalyzed
by the fawn and bird.
DL: You mean, by choice,
any individual can reconnect with nature?
MJC: Yes, our readily available published methods
and materials make this possible. We teach people how to do this
and share their experiences internationally by e-mail on the
internet at www.ecopsych.com. Most of us take the amazing effects
of sensory contact with nature for granted because we have been
trained to believe the story that we are going to somehow find
a substitute for nature, for the womb of life. There is no substitute
for nature, the real thing, the process that has creatively supported
life in balance throughout the eons. Doesn't it make sense to
tap into nature's wisdom with these activities rather than, as
we destroy natural systems within and around us, hope that someday
we can reinvent the wheel?
DL: So the activities are
easily available. How do they work?
MJC: As the fawn and bird incidents show, our mentality
consists of many non-verbal natural attraction senses and feelings.
Each of these 53 senses are by and from nature. They make up
over 85% of our human mentality, of how we learn, know and relate.
The activities enable us to tangibly connect with natural areas
in at least 53 natural sensory non-verbal attraction ways. Just
as importantly, they also teach us how to speak and reason from
these attractive nature-connected moments. The process incorporates
nature's cooperative wisdom in our thinking. It profoundly alters
the destructive stories that we are taught to believe.
DL: I learned we only have
five senses; what do the others do?
MJC: I'll use thirst as an example, it's not one of
the five: To sensibly remind us to drink water when we need it,
nature intelligently created the sensation we call thirst. Thirst
feelingly makes sense. It makes us aware of the dehydrated state
of our being and it attracts us to water. When we drink water,
we tangibly connect with part of nature. It flows through us
and we feel enjoyably unstressed, organically rewarded, quenched,
fulfilled and satisfied. In addition, food for other species, not pollution
is an outcome when we excrete. Similarly, thoughtfully connecting
with nature through each of our 52 other natural attraction senses
produces the same results. Each connection unstresses us and
enjoyably fulfills us sensibly. In congress, these many senses
blend in our mentality and thinking. They create, promote and
sustain our inner nature's integrity just as they sustain the
integrity and vitality of wild populations, for example: wolf
communities or ant colonies. We learn to resonate and self-regulate
with the global life community. As with the bird and fawn, we
deeply feel part of something immensely important, part of life
in nature, each other and ourselves. That psychologically supports
us so we can enter and build relationships with more confidence.
We feel less vulnerable so we can participate more fully. Because
this process empowers us, fear and apathy fade while sensitivity
to nature within and around us increases.
DL: What results have you
observed from the reconnecting activities?
MJC: I've seen people detach from their destructive
stories and attach to thoughtful fulfillments they share. The
activities help us responsibly dissolve stress and discontent.
They defuel and decrease stress related medical and emotional
symptoms. Wellness, self-esteem and mental health increase. Greed
wanes, for we don't continually want. That's why the activities
are used in counseling, recovery, environmental and educational
settings as well as conflict resolution. The result is that we
learn to feel good by relating to the whole of community, to
natural places and things as well as people. Participants feel
healthy and part of something vital when they do the activities.
They always belong. As our students at risk study shows, the
effect is immediate. Using the Natural Systems Thinking Process
makes it last.
DL: How can nature-reconnecting
activities create responsible change?
MJC: We love sanity, peace and responsible relationships
because they feel good and make sense. When something we love
is endangered, we act. It is the right and natural thing to do.
The activities make us conscious of how sanity and peace are
available to us in nature, and this includes us as part of nature.
These activities help us reinforce our love for being responsible,
and for natural areas too.
DL: What is their practical
MJC: Consider this: at least 600 million people internationally
can learn to do and teach these activities through the Internet
alone. Think about it. What would our world be like if 600 million
people daily enjoyed and shared nature reconnecting experiences
that triggered effects similar to those from contact with the
fawn and bird? How wonderful! These activities induce cooperative
acts and internal responses that establish personal, environmental
and global consensus and sanity. The challenge is to stop thinking
in disconnection from nature. As with reading this interview,
information alone seldom changes behavior. In experiencing the
life through NSTP ecopsychology
activities lies hope.
* * * * *
F. Richard Schneider is a former Director of Social Work
in Alaska and presently CEO of the Institute of Global Education,
a special NGO consultant to the United Nations Economic and Social
NOTE: The above article may
be released at will as a book review/summary of Reconnecting
With Nature, The Web of Life Imperative and Educating Counseling and Healing with Nature Additional
reviews are available