......... .........VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2011-2012 ,, Dr. Michael J. Cohen, Editor Journal of Organic Psychology and Natural Attraction Ecology (OP/NAE)
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I Have Yet to Meet a Scholarly Tree: Today I Asked the Forest For One.
from the journal of an Anonymous Participant
OP/NAE educating, counseling and healing studies.
On this course I would like to attribute everything that appears in this essay and every part of my current being to nature, in and around us, as a deeply appreciated gift giver. Thank you all for a wonderful experience.
I almost fell out of my chair when I read this exercise assignment! I love writing, so being asked to write a 3 page paper is exciting to me, but I found the suggestion to be completely out of line with the common theme of this class, especially when I read the word “scholarly”! So I left the questions to ponder and went out on a wonderful nature walk today with my 4 year old son. This felt like the proper procedure to stay in line with this class. I ditched my job and pulled him out of his daycare, and we spend 3 hours tracking white tail deer, balancing on fallen trees, creating the perfect walking sticks, examining various animal droppings and foot prints, learning all about thorns (ouch), and using our imaginations. I occasionally reflected on the exercise at hand.
I’m not a professional woodsman, but I was paying quite a bit of attention today, and throughout my lifetime of nature experiences, and I have yet to meet a scholarly tree, river, animal, cloud, mountain, cave, star, flower, sunbeam, rain drop, or mud pie. In fact, I was having lots of trouble determining what the word scholarly meant, so I asked the forest today. The trees explained that it is a word for the impatient and inattentive. “If you take time to know us then you will know our level of expertise and there will be no reason to wear a label for it”. "Scholarly" also seems to imply that there is some point at which learning has reached a satisfactory level, and the 3 deer that my son and I encountered today taught me that this simply is not true.
We spent the day following their carefully crafted trails, but we were ill-prepared for three of these beautiful scholarly animals to come bounding right toward us at full speed. As the first deer saw us, they were only 30 feet away. Their approach was carefree since they know these trails and their destination so well, but their senses are poised for the unexpected, and the message comes through the first deer’s eyes that there are two humans in their way!! I feel their instincts spring and their bodies follow. I want to bring Gavin to attention but I don’t want to distract from the wonderment of this 2 second encounter. I try my best at both. I’m utterly amazed by their keenness and reaction time, and how effortlessly they move through the cluttered forest floor. I am saddened at the same time for their genetically learned response of fear at seeing humans, but I live the experience through the eyes of a 4 year old. I see their white under tails whip downward upon takeoff of each of their effortless leaps, and I know that Gavin is recognizing this exact detail as well. Then they teach me about the word scholar. The deer approached us from the south east heading north west and when they see us they immediately veer straight west. They bound away until they are almost out of sight, but then they turn around and head back across our path again. They head straight east, so even though there was plenty of forest to our west, enough to get the deer far out of sight and range from us intruders and threats, they realize that in haste they have made a mistake which has left them insecure. So they double back toward us again, willing to take a second risk to find a place of deeper security! Because of these three beautiful animals my original sensitivity to the word “scholarly” has been vindicated and enhanced. I find it to be an unnecessary and somewhat elitist word.
After reading the parameters of this writing assignment and taking my walk for reflection time, I sat at the computer a bit overwhelmed. I started to try to organize all that has happened to me on the subjects of nature and culture since they have become my primary interest. The thoughts and experiences as well as the outside forces which have guided them are endless and multi-dimensional, as well as the emotions they have inspired and still do. We are never the same, moment to moment. In knowing this, I have a hard time writing anything at all, unless I first say that what appears here is only a reflection of me at the time stamped moment it was written. I have no allegiance to these words once they leave my mind and become frozen on this screen or on a printed page. I guess that this is what journaling is meant for, so I would like this paper to be a pouring out of cumulative expression, and of what it means to me at this instant to reconnect with nature.
My in-mind outline brought 9 words to mind, that may coincidentally represent the 9 metaphorical legs of Project NatureConnect connecting .e. To be a bit more precise though, they represent my cumulative repertoire of emotions guiding my current being. I have learned to view my life as a journey, and I define this journey as a desire for awareness. These emotions are my traveling companions, and often act as my only true resources.
When I was a teenager I started to read and enjoy books that broadened my perspective of the world. The first two that I can remember were the Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield and Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It helped me start to understand that nothing is what it is being told/sold to be. I believe that the natural response to uncovering deception or misdirection is anger, and that is what I felt. This emotion has not just simply grown since my teenage years, but I truly believe it has evolved and matured. Often times it seems that I am angry at just about everything. There may be an immediate concern felt when hearing this, but understand that anger is only one occasional way in which I perceive the world around me. I find fascination with the cultural desire to rid individuals of their anger, for I feel that as much as anger can be destructive, it can also be very productive. I am opening to anger, and exploring the purity of it in me.
As I explore my personal anger it seems to always lead back to containment. Initially I was enraged to learn of how deceived I had been, and so I lashed out with hatred at all who deceived me. I found blame everywhere, even in myself, but I quickly learned that this blame game led to nothing productive. This process was long for me, but the deceptions have all been forgiven and a freedom arose from doing so, but the anger didn’t go away. What I found was that I was being deceived through the creation of illusions, but the creation of illusions was protection from the reality of imprisonment. So my illusions were know and the deceptions were forgiven, but the imprisonment was still there and still very real. Still today these two forces are inseparable, and so I work to own the anger to keep me challenging the imprisonment.
I find myself attracted to nature for the freedom that it clearly displays, and the closer I get to it the more I seem to recognize a deep smoldering hatred and anger toward the consumer culture and the life pilfering power of greed and dirty competition that money inspires. Debt and credit are unnatural, and they choke and consume life. My experiences in nature have never once been able to successfully reflect or emulate my anger. The only thing close is a thunder storm, but I never get a sense that nature lashes out against imprisonment or deception, and this has become evident as the true source of my anger. In nature every action is directed toward life perpetuation. I want to live that somehow some day; a life free of exploitation and entitlement.
I like to think of myself as fearless, and I have been characterized as such, but this simply is not true. The more alive I become, the more I realize how scary life is. I now feel like people would call me fearless just because I didn’t seem to share in their easily detected and common fears. Things like fear of social interaction and fear of trying something new. I find that I am pretty resilient to most common social fears. I feel that most common fears, even the instinctual fears, come from a self centered place. We are scared of that which may physically, mentally or psychologically harm us or kill us. It is natural to be scared of harm and death, so this is how I know that fear is alright for me to feel. It seems unhealthy to attempt to completely eliminate fear, so I am opening up to fear and exploring the purity of it in me.
As I explore my fear it seems to lead me in two directions. On one side I find a fear of the unknown, a fear that my life has been spent embracing. What is around the next corner, or over the next hill? What will my life mean, and what will I become when it is over? What am I capable of? How will I be known and remembered? I sense this as a redeeming fear, one which propels me through my great journey in this world. On the other side is a far different fear, and when I trace its roots I find a fear of compression from external forces. I fear a vision of machinery rolling over my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community and me. I fear an unsympathetic ever present robotic monster that crushes lives and hopes at will. I pinch myself everyday, but each day I am awake and watching in every direction, living with ears perked, poised for a quick and foolproof escape, and constantly thinking; who can I save? I see the evidence of this beast everywhere and I know that I can never stop this beast because I feel, and it simply does not. I am far too vulnerable to aggressively try, but I wonder how many people with how many clever ideas that it would take to test this monster’s armor, and learn to defeat him?
I feel more and more like I will never know, but then I connect with nature. I walk in a blizzard and I feel power that ultimately must be stronger then this monster I fear. I want to feel that this monster will someday see its void of love, or that being void of love is the one weakness it possesses. I can’t say for sure, so this unproductive fear owns what seems to be a growing portion of me and I must stay aware.
Confusion by definition is the absence of connectedness, and confusion is almost always used in reference to thinking. So confusion is disconnected thinking, or how I like to view it is a failure to connect behaviors, feelings, senses and actions toward one specific purpose. What is my purpose? I am 33, and the most relevant place to begin my examination of confusion is how I spent 33 years without a clear answer to this question!
As I explore nature and natural areas I don’t seem to see or sense confusion. I have been very naturally attracted to water and each and every time that I share space with it I am reminded just how much certainty is involved in its existence. Certainly nothing on earth has a more clearly defined purpose then water. So whenever I visit with water I ask it to teach me what it knows and I always get the same answer to be who you are, and be unstoppable. I’ve come to know that this is my attraction to water, and although I hear and love its lesson, I don’t feel and live what it teaches me. I am confused. I don’t know how to be who I am and I don’t feel unstoppable. So I open to confusion and explore its roots within me.
My confusion traces back to my place in this world, and how I have learned to perceive and behave upon it. I have learned that my confusion holds hands tightly with my anger and my anger with my fear. Although my illusions are known, they continue to guide me and to confuse me. I know deeply the true costs of the industrialized consumer culture, yet I still participate in it on a daily basis, perhaps without viable alternative choice. I know the exploitation and degradation that is caused so that we may purchase food and consumer goods, but I feel the need for store bought food and consumer goods. Nature has taught me to understand the foundational building blocks of life are love and connectedness, yet I feel jealousy toward my neighbors because they owe less on their homes or have better paying jobs then I do. I want to provide a service with my work that is needed and necessary to my customers, but if it is not in their best interests I still need them to buy it so I can financially survive. And to “survive” is the word that harbors my deepest confusions. What does this word mean and why does it confuse me so?
So I connect with nature and I learn very clearly about purpose and the meaning of survival. I see fallen trees in the forest, and when I explore them I find insects feasting, I find mosses growing, I find animals living inside their hollowed out trunks. I see squirrels gathering nuts and burying them in the ground and then I see saplings growing from the ground. I see small leaves and branches covering the floor of the forest and at the tops of the forest I see bunched together sticks and leaves pressed into nests for the birds. I see and feel the rain and the snow, and I watch it absorb into the ground and disperse the nutrients upon its surface. Some days I see dead things and I see animal droppings, but the next day, the next week, the next month, or the next year they are gone. I see what to me looks like waste, but it never seems to end up wasted. I see tracks to the water and I am thirsty too. I smell the water and I feel alive. In there place, as in all natural places there is well defined purpose. It is a united and interconnected purpose to exist within the embrace of life perpetuated. I feel no confusion about that.
I put sadness at the bottom of what would be classified as the negative emotions not because it is the emotion that I feel the least, but because it is the emotion that I am the least in touch with. In have also learned that sadness is the most natural of these four dark emotions along with perhaps fear. I also decided to put sadness last because it seems to be the emotion that lingers the longest in me. We live in a culture that seeks to avoid sadness at any cost, and through nature connectedness I learned this effort to be a protective illusion. So I am learning to embrace sadness and I am opening to it, but this proves to be the emotion I am having the most trouble deeply knowing.
My earlier experiences with sadness were naturally the ego-centric type. I would feel sad when things didn’t go as I planned or hoped, or when I didn’t get the right attention and reactions from people around me. My experiences with reconnection to nature have evolved and matured my sadness into a more soul-centric emotion which now connects to me by the webstings of sympathy and empathy. I’m feeling such a deepening capacity for experiencing the feelings of not just other people, but all other things, and there is often sadness which pierces its way into me. The forest preserves I visit feel condensed and cut off on all sides. They feel lacking in wildlife and suffering to maintain symbiosis due to missing components. Either the trees are weaker from lack of nutrition in the soil, or the storms are stronger from climate change, but there are so many trees fallen and I hurt for the loss of the old growth ones especially. I see them be intruded upon time and time again for programs called “restoration”. I see them encumbered by power lines and cell phone towers, and inundated with traffic from their neighboring highways. I see them being “preserved” because they are flood plains, and when they can be drained and maintained successfully the will become “developed” or even more enraging, “improved”, because they are far too valuable simply to house trees and animals. I feel the suffering of the refugees of “development”.
I also feel a tremendous sadness when I see that the institutions put in place to protect these places do nothing of the sort. I hurt deeply when I see signs about the electric company teaming with the Department of Forestry to clear cut four miles of wooded land in order to “restore native prairie”. It’s so sad because there is nothing that can be done, and it is so so terribly sad because most people believe the sign! I’m sad when I hear a friend tell a story about her dog being sprayed by a skunk and being asked by others if she shot the skunk. I almost cried today when I read an article in Bloomberg about how selling permits to kill endangered Rhinos could help to save the species. This article was the sickest thing I have ever read as one quote said, “ I shot it because it was one of the biggest compliments I could give to the black rhino.”
I could explore these daily triggers for sadness for hours and hours and never get through just the events of this year, but this is the easy part. What I feel that I need to explore is how deeply it affects me. Only one time in the last 20 years have I cried to the capacity of my expectations of opening to sadness. I was in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it was the deepest moment of connectedness I have ever felt. I will discuss the experience more in the sections of love and euphoria, but part of the experience was a feeling of sadness toward the ignorantly destructive behavior of humans, and the defiant lack of humility humans display toward their creator and sustainer nature. With every other experience of empathetic and sympathetic sadness, I can’t fully open and cry, and this is simply not acceptable.
Balance can be in no place but the middle of my nine point essay, and it is the perfect emotion to transition from negative into positive feelings. I have always felt that I had a solid understanding of the meaning of this word, but as I stumble and struggle right now to find the correct words I realize how different understanding and experiencing something is. I have learned by the literal pain in my neck that balance is the cure to stress. As the front of my body hunches forward and my head spends most of its time looking downward throughout the day, the weight is out of balance causing the muscles in my upper back and neck to overcompensate. They become tired and soar in the attempt to remind my body to be balanced. My skeletal system is designed to easily support my weight if I maintain good posture, but it only works when in balance. I have learned that balance is not just ideal in the physical world either. My days are a mess with obligation and lack of order. There are so many moving parts to my life and so many undefined commitments. I have become like a child’s top toy, holding balance only by spinning rapidly. But in this condition there can be no peace. I recognize that balance can be obtained in a better way, so I open up to my imbalance and find that like the top, I am top heavy and lack foundation for support.
As I reconnect to nature I realize the ground beneath me. I stop spinning, and I halt all motion. This is supposed to cause me to tumble, or at least that is what I have been taught to believe throughout my life. Ever fiber of my upbringing and schooling tells me that we are not designed to stand still, and that ever since tricycles and training wheels we are meant to achieve balance through constant motion. The forest teaches me differently. The forest teaches me that the earth is my ground and foundation. It teaches me that there is ground and foundation enough to anchor all life in an upright position if we just stop and believe it. When I reconnect with nature my back pain and neck pain disappear as if they only existed within the illusion that my feet and trunk are all that support me.
I go back over all of the assignments from this wonderful program and I see week six pop off the page with regard to finding balance with nature. During that week I struggled mightily with handling a chaotic week of overlapping and unpredictable commitments. I found balance for a short time in exploring a relationship between two incredible trees. Then the next day back in my home, things got overwhelming again to the point where I became physically sick. I lay in bed, and suddenly I was gifted with an incredible connectedness to the world. The foundation that I became aware of at that moment allowed me to stop and be completely secure, and the sickness disappeared. I was taught that our lack of balance is brought on by our own decisions to spin like the top and stay supported by a pin head through rapid motion, so I work to accept the ground as me.
Peace is the perfect follower to balance for it is balance that opens the door to welcome peace inside. For many, peace is an emotion that is more sought after then even love, and it is often times found in solitude at least from other human beings. It is a far easier emotion to understand then love. It is felt through the combination of balance and security and often intensified by silence and motionlessness. This emotion has always been very elusive to me, and for some time I was perfectly comfortable without it. I was raised in the embrace of constant motion, and I learned to realize that not only motion, but constant acceleration is required to keep our culture in balance. This makes finding peace on a global scale impossible, but eventually on an individual level we simply fail to continue accelerating and peace becomes an attractive exception. As much as I know and appreciate peace, I constantly fail to live within its warm embrace for more then a moment. I struggle to find the long term physical place where silence and motionlessness can assist me in developing a relationship with peace. So I open to perpetual motion and I explore its significance to me.
If I lay a dollar bill on the table, it doesn’t move, but it can certainly cause motion. If someone were to open the window of a tall city building on a windy day and throw a bunch of dollars into the air, people would move very quickly to catch them and chase them down the street. Their minds would race pondering where the money came from and if they should wait there for more. Some may even think of how to get the money from others. I write this story because when I examine the perpetual motion in me I find no way to disconnect it from the same trait in others, and the motivation is money, the life giving force of our artificial lives. If I were on that street I would behave exactly the same. I find that all of my time spent neglecting peace is spent chasing money and losing it, and this no longer feels right.
So I attempt to reconnect with nature, but on my way I stop to get the mail and open it over my recycle bin, which is where most all of it ends up. As I leave I pass neat rows of 55 gallon garbage cans lining my neighborhood streets and bursting full. Then I am stopped by a train with over 100 coal cars brimming with jet black coal on their way to the power plants. I pass a gas station with a tanker truck refilling the storage tanks below the concrete. I pass a construction crew ripping up road to fix a sewer main. I am stopped again by an eighteen wheel truck backing into the loading dock of a mega supermarket. The stop lights and cars all seem to dance wildly and it exhausts me. I get to the forest preserve and I walk in my beloved woods. I am sadly gripped by the reality that this place is now under construction as well, but the sign enlightens me that this project is a “restoration project”. Before it started I noticed nothing wrong with this place which would require restoration, and I thought that nature has always been pretty good with restoration all on its own. As I look around there only seems to be destruction going on, but I am no professional. It is now dark and after seeking permission, I stand high up on a giant tree that has fallen. From 10 feet off the ground now the world looks far different, and I begin to feel that I am far enough away here from the crazy motion happening everywhere on the earth. I decide to stand still as this tree once did and search eyes closed for peace, and before long it grips me soothingly. I stretch my arms out to the sides like branches to increase my balance, and I feel my mind clear completely. I feel the breeze on my face and the light snow/rain that has been falling the entire time but I am only now realizing. I feel my breathing and I feel the cold air. I feel alive, but then my phone rings. I decide against my better judgment to answer and it is the forest preserve police. They are wondering if I know that my car is parked in the preserve lot. When I tell them I am here they inform me that the preserve is closed for construction and closed at night. I need to leave immediately. In my haste to return the mile and half back to my car I think that Walmart is open, and will be all night 365 days a year. My car is being guarded by an officer and he has several questions for me. As I answer stupid and invasive questions about my intentions at such a strange hour my peace becomes a very distant memory, but I learn a profound lesson about a fine balance between activity and motionlessness, silence and noise, work and play, control and submission. Our culture never sleeps, is never quiet, is never collectively at play, and clings to a deeply rooted belief that everything can be controlled. There simply is no balance, and therefore there can never be peace. I am so sorry for that, but I can be, have been and will be at peace again for as many moments as I can. Perhaps I can show others as well.
The curser blinks here for a long moment which feels like eternity, as I try to wrap my thoughts and language skills around a description of love. I believe that we all are blessed with it from conception, but feeling it and knowing it are two completely different experiences. I know that they are different yet I find myself at this moment incapable of explaining why. I didn’t know love until my son was born 4 years ago. It is a very long story, but I have nature to thank for that realization as well. The experience for me was the shattering of my protective field of ego-centrism, and the realization that there was something in the world that was more important them myself. This one single experience re-established my awareness to all other emotions and the depth of them I was able to be conscious of. It was a moment that changed everything, and it taught me to want, need, seek, give and live for love, as well as to explore its meaning in me. So for all that is lacking in me I open up to love, the most mysterious of emotions.
As I walk in nature I am taught that to love is to give, and to receive there must be love returned. I find that this is how love connects with balance and is often accompanied by peace. My strongest sensations of love tend to grip me when I am at my weakest, or perhaps when I need to sense it the most. As I walk in the forest I feel and know everything around me is a gift, but more importantly, a community. There is a balance in every step, in every ray of light, in every snow flake and every breath. There is a gift in everything dead and everything blooming. There is a gift in every sound and smell. It is love animated, and the more I knowingly give back the more I receive. This is most noticeable during interactions with my children in nature. I feel love so deeply when I see and sense them connecting to the wonderful calm and balance in nature! I feel purpose and I feel validation. I love the gift of these children and I love the earth that they need so deeply to be clean and plentiful. In the forest I am graced with a question which binds all of these emotions together: What is there not to love of a place that takes your pressures, fears, and anxieties for just a little attention, respect and admiration? I want to give more.
My desire to give more needs something to fuel it, and this is what I call inspiration. Inspiration must follow love for it is love’s offspring. Inspiration is the act of taking love’s gift and using it. Everyone needs inspiration, unfortunately inspiration can be accompanied far too often by misdirection. In my experience, misdirection is caused by disconnection to the larger source of love, which I have found to be nature. I am inspired by love each and every day. I have been for a long time, but I look back now and find that there are many instances of misdirection in my life. So I open to the moments in me where inspiration became misdirected, and I explore them.
Nature is the ultimate teacher and nurturer. I find myself becoming more aware of the growing difference between my feelings indoors and my feelings outdoors. I especially notice the shortage of good feelings I experience when inside of my own home. Even as I write this paper, I feel inspired by my experiences away from this computer, but I feel them fading the moment I get inside to record them. I enjoy pondering the memories of past connections in nature and of my past assignments, but even those have lost some of their inspirational luster and can’t compare to what I have done today. The problem is that what I have done today was all indoors and pressure filled. How do I write a paper on inspiration after a completely uninspiring day? So I go outside for a late walk. I visit my trees next to my wellspring. I fail to give it the time and patients required because I can’t get past the late time, the cold, and the mountain of obligations building in front of me. I recognize my misguided perspective and my lack of balance, and I see my tree mirror back my disfigurement. But I am still alive, and nothing in my past has been able to take that. Spring is coming and I feel the sun’s energy growing each day. There is nothing more inspirational then that.
Moments characterized by an abundance of inspiration define my euphoria. By ending this essay with euphoria I recognize that somehow my general character still remains hopeful. I have learned on countless occasions that in life and nature there are simply no guarantees, so all that we can do is remain hopeful that past good feelings can be replicated. This requires careful consideration to the environment that afforded these gifts as well, and so to preserve that environment for the future offers purpose to one’s existence. I am starting to feel connection and clarity, so I open to euphoria, but more specifically I open as the spaces in between and search for their meaning in me.
I know euphoria. I felt it lift me off of my feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. I felt it 600 feet up the side of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I felt it on the summits of Long’s Peak, Mt. Massive, Mt. Elbert, Torrey’s Peak, Grey’s Peak, Quandary Peak, and Father Dyer’s Peak. I felt it in the Badlands and on top of the Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills. I felt it in the Hot Springs of Tabacon Volcano in Costa Rica. I felt it watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. I felt it while staring up at the stars on Lake Superior’s Pancake Bay in Canada. I feel it when I hold my family, and we all let the moment in. I cherish these moments, but there are simply not enough of them. They remind me of what life can and should be. Their memory and the yearning that they produce in me seem to wrap all these other eight emotions all up together. They inspire the purpose that drives me. They produce the anger, confusion, fear and sadness because they are just moments, and they seem so illusive to everyone. Let us all reconnect to Euphoria and perhaps everything else will find a way to be okay. It seems to me to be a worthy and very attainable place to start.
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