Educating, Counseling and Healing With Nature: subsidized courses, degrees and careers online.
Journal of Organic Psychology and 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 And Anxiety: The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But.
- Journaled Course Evaluation by Anonymous Participant
Project NatureConnect education, counseling and healing studies.
The value of this course is simple: love. This course teaches you to appreciate and love nature and all it encompasses, including yourself. Without anxiety, it opens your heart and forces you to directly engage and reconnect with a world that our socialization has severed us from. You build a relationship with and cultivate love for yourself, the natural world and others. I enjoyed our time together on this course sooooo much!
I validate my love for nature in the naturally loving workshop I designed. In it you will be introduced to a world of love and compassion that our society separates us from. Through direct experience in nature, you will discover love and compassion that exists naturally inside of you for all living things. My love for it comes from it being a form of nature cure or treatment for social symptoms of my anxiety attacks
I first decided to participate in this course for two reasons: possible career paths and for self-benefits. Alternative psychology programs are becoming more popular as people are increasingly diagnosed with mental illnesses, including anxiety cure and depression treatment. Working with disabled and mentally ill children, such alternative methods offer more personal methods for me to give them to heal themselves. I also suffer from mental illnesses – I have anxiety and depression. Going from psychologist to psychologist and medication to medication left me with no relief from my symptoms. Wanting to try any method I would recommend or use with my kids, I signed up for this course to see if it assisted me in my healing process.
The benefits from group ecopsychology are greater than I expected. While pursuing my own transformation, it was comforting to have a supportive group who was experiencing the same things. When beginning on our journey and introducing ourselves, everyone expressed a desire to connect with nature and felt that they suffered from an undeveloped relationship with nature. Michelle yearned for a world “full of beauty and people who love and protect it” (Introduction, November 18, 2009). In addition, disconnect from nature lead people to ecopsychology out of worry for mental health. In her introduction to the group, Dehab said that she had never had time for self-reflection and believed that reconnecting with nature would give her “a good thinking ability that can help [her] to evaluate [her]self in a method that gives perfect meaning” (Introduction, November, 19, 2009). In this journey, I experienced that ecopsychology heals the damage that separation from nature causes to the psyche (Cohen, 2003). In a group setting, ecopsychology forces us not only to reconnect with nature, but observe and enjoy the natural state of people, learn from the experiences of others and share our own. In this process, compassion and love are cultivated and lasting bonds with the natural world are formed.
A great benefit of ecopsychology is that is forces you to make time and mental space for experiences in nature that our stressful and busy anxiety filled lives often cause us to miss. Through workbooks such as “The Web of Life Imperative,” participants learn to turn their attention to webstring attractions (web of life attraction sensitivities) that exist in the natural world (Cohen, 2003). The book began with lessons on webstrings and nature and our interconnectedness. The information and repetition mentally prepares one to go out and interact with the world.
Then, one enters the natural world with new eyes and more focused attention. At first, the process seems artificial and somewhat uncomfortable. For me especially, I was so disconnected from my relationship with nature that I didn’t know how to approach the activity and I felt, ironically, unnatural. Since I had mentally severed myself from my relationship with nature, I thought that it didn’t exist. However, as I continued with the activities, I opened up to the natural world and felt extremely comfortable.
While venturing out into nature, I began to feel the most significant change in my psyche when I had a particularly intimate moment with my cat. Although two of my activities were with Leia, the first was a stark change for me. As I observed Leia’s natural personality and watched her do what she felt she needed to, I could sense that she appreciated it and I was filled with overwhelming love for her. Although I had always loved and cared for her since I adopted her in August, I had never sat down and let myself feel this love and sit in it. I remember clearly that this was the first moment in a long time I had given myself a significant amount of time to just observe. Coinciding with my anxiety, I am restless and always feel like I must be doing something. If I’m sitting doing nothing, I often view it as useless. While this can be good in terms of getting work done, I am often left with no time to let my mind settle. This leads to a myriad of health issues for me, including sleeping problems because when I finally lay down, my suppressed thoughts go crazy. I felt peace in the long moments I spent observing my cat, and let her decide when she wanted to change activities.
As the assignments progressed, I expanded this love and compassion for my cat to other parts of nature. In examining my attractions to trees, birds, squirrels, spiders, a stray cat and snow, I developed countless relationships with individual parts of nature and a deep respect for the natural world as a whole. Now, whenever I walk outside, I say hello to nature in general and notice attractions wherever I go. With my new focus on webstrings, I am never alone. No matter where I go, there is something in nature that comforts me through positive attractions.
Since this first encounter with nature, I have begun down a promising road of healing. As I learned to appreciate nature, I realized that, as I was also part of nature, I had to appreciate myself. This building of self-love culminated in Chapter Seven, in which we had to apply the positive attractions that we had to a particular part of nature to ourselves. These adjectives were telling in that I realized that I am as multi-dimensional and worthy of appreciation as any other aspect of nature. If I can have positive attractions to something like fog, why can’t I find those positive attractions in myself? In cultivating a loving relationship with the world around me, I also did the same within myself. I began to allow myself space to feel sad or upset and to work on techniques to relax. To mentally pamper myself, I started doing yoga or meditation or other forms of relaxation daily. I tried to be mindful of my consumption of food and media and pollution that can lead to mental anxiety and stress. I also started taking supplements for improved mood and began to get adequate sleep. My anxiety and depression have significantly improved throughout this course and I sleep soundly. Although my road to recovery is not completed, I have made significant improvements and now have the tools to continue healing.
In addition to inner reflection, reading the mental processes of those in my group also transformed my spirit. While growing love for nature and myself, I learned through group work that other are also included in nature and have equal right to be loved and appreciated as anything else in nature. The value of having a group of people to whom you can express such realizations while knowing that they are going through the same process you is unexplainable. Watching them grow into the same sorts of relationships I was taught me a lot about human nature.
From the beginning, Michelle felt changed from discovering webstrings. In the first chapters, she discovered “the power of attraction connects the global community, the attractions in nature trigger the release of the feel good hormone dopamine, and that webstrings include me, not exclude me.” As she processed the readings, Michelle was confronted with the truth that lay right in front of her eyes: "I see the truth of this in my own neighborhood where an imbalance, caused by pollution in the wetlands, has created an imbalance in native plant growth. One or two foreign plants have become dominant suffocating and limiting the growth of the many native plants which are more susceptible to the effects of pollution.” When connecting with nature, Michelle experienced lasting satisfaction: “Offering the birds life giving water (which was immediately overwhelmed by dozens of birds) was so rewarding. I have been in a much better place since.” Towards the end of the course, Michelle experienced similar personal growth and love as I did: “This activity did enhance my sense of self-worth. It helped me realize I am as important as any other thing in nature.”
Don came into this program with much experience and knowledge of nature. However, this course helped him just as much because it forced him to analyze his moments with nature in new ways. In certain activities, he revisited and reexplored relationships with beloved natural landscapes, such as the Missouri River. In regards to the river, Don discovered that he and the Missouri have more in common than he thought. As Don delved into new depths of his love for nature by bonding with trees in his yard or going on nature hikes, Don expressed a desire to share these experiences and lessons with other environmental activists, like fellow members of the Sierra Club.Through these activities, Don's "greater self as my spirit soared and as natural areas-parts of my distill self, my more-than-individual ecological self-gained added value" (Chapter 7, January 18, 2009). Don shows us that ecopsychology benefits everyone, even those who already interact with nature.
Growing up in New York, Michael found comfort from the streets in his yard. Still living in an “urban jungle,” Michael set out on a journey to reconnect with his old friend (Chapter two part one, December 8, 2009). Despite his urban limitations, Michael found webstrings everywhere. In a small park, Michael discovered an abundance of textures, colors and shapes. During a breathing exercise in which Michael began to understand the beautiful exchange between a person and nature through breath, he found “an increased sense of calm and belonging” (Chapter Six, January 11, 2009). As Michael continued, he found connections with rain, birds, trees and other aspects of nature. The knowledge empowered Michael and, as he became more trustful of nature, Michael developed a great inner peace (Chapter 7, January 18, 2009). Although he once started out with “home [as his] refuge from society,” Michael now has comfort outside his home in webstring attractions (Chapter two part two, December 15, 2009).
Dehab lives in Ethiopia, and teaches us that everyone in the world is affected by disconnects from natural webstring attractions. Seeking an inner-peace and self-reflection, Dehab started on her ecopsychology journey. Knowing the importance of restoring such webstrings, she quickly realized and openly accepted that she was an ecozombie (Chapter two part one, December 7, 2009). As Dehab learned about webstrings and 9-leg intelligence, she experienced an awakening – “Frankly speaking, till this moment, I have never thought about the issue in this direction” (Chapter two part two, December 15, 2009). Dehab’s nature experience brought her closer to grass, a dog named Lucky, yellow flowers and the sky. Now, Dehab has a sanctuary to retreat to in times of stress. During one particular activity, Dehab experienced this release for the first time: “When I first started doing this activity, I was stressed, tired, unhappy, and very concerned. Yet, after being in mutually supportive moment with nature, I sensed completely different feelings; I was fresh, bright and strong” (Chapter Four, December 29, 2009).
Although different reasons brought us all to ecopsychology, each one of us have benefitted from it. We experience new-found confidence and self-worth. We have many new friends and a whole new network of support in nature. Although stress will come, we can approach how we deal with it differently now. I know I will continue to go outside and say hello to the world and continue to delve deeper into my relationship with my cat. And each time I do this, I know I will feel rejuvenated. Knowing that ALL of nature has taken the place of my therapist’s chair is insanely comforting. All expressing a sure depression and anger if our webstring knowledge was taken away from us, we now set off into the world that once scared us and now is a source of comfort. Although our journeys took place on inner and natural landscapes, the benefits of the group activities are without words. As we shared our deepest thoughts over each weekly activity, we developed intimate webstrings with people. Without even meeting, the words of others helped to solidify our experiences and stretch our thoughts to new places. Without this group environment, the benefits of ecopsychology might be more difficult to attain.
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