Nature connected education and counseling is a missing link in the way we think. It enables people to peacefully restore 53 natural senses that improve our thinking, wellness and relationship with the environment, other people, and ourselves.


Institute of Global Education
Special NGO consultant to United Nations Economic and Social Council



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The Natural Systems Thinking Process: how our attractions in Nature are intelligent, healing, and promote peace.


"Nurture your felt love for nature; never deny it. In our Nature conquering society it is an unconquered vestige of your inherent connection with nature's unifying essence. That essence peacefully organizes, preserves and regenerates life relationships in balance. Its loss in our thinking produces our destructiveness and imbalance.

Our Nature estranged culture teaches us to suppress our inherent love of Nature and its ways. They disappear from our consciousness creating the emotional void we often feel. Those of us who do not choose to restore this void by learning how to nurture what remains of our love of Nature have been brainwashed into producing the problems we suffer personally, locally, and globally."

Michael J. Cohen


Consider this mathematics intelligence test question: "If you count a dog's tail as one of its legs, how many legs does a dog have?"

"Five," of course, is the answer. Intelligent people say "five" because it's mathematically valid. However, our sense of reason only recognizes five as correct until we additionally validate what we know from our, or other people's, contact with a real dog. Then, many of our multitude of natural senses come into play: sight, touch, motion, color, texture, language, sound, smell, consciousness, contrast, and love. They each help our sense of reason make more sense and recognize that a tail is different than a leg; a dog has four legs, not five (16C).


"Aristotle thought there were eight legs on a fly and wrote it down. For centuries scholars were content to quote his authority. Apparently, not one of them was curious enough to impale a fly and count its six legs."
- Stuart Chase

Scientists and other knowledgeable people recognize that just as our arm "loves" to be attached to our body, all people are biologically, psychologically and spiritually part of, and thereby attached to —ature We inherit for survival a basic love of nature's resources, -sunshine, food, water, soil, air, beauty. We hold this love in common with each other and all of nature. However, we socially and educationally become detached and desensitized. We mostly learn to know nature from 5-leg, disconnected,, "as if," stories about how to relate to nature, rather than from authentic sensory contact with nature. It is as if our inherent, sensory way of knowing has no value or makes no sense.

Be amazed! On average, we spend over 95% of our time indoors.

Be more amazed! Over 99.99% of our thinking, is 5-legged; it is separated from and out of tune with nature.

BE ASTOUNDED! Our nature-estranged 5-leg intelligence calls the extreme disconnection of our psyche from its womb in nature "normal," "progress," and "excellence in education" rather than "desensitizing psychological and spiritual dismemberment." As a society we emotionally suffer from this extreme dismemberment.

With rare exception, we are born whole. However, our profound disconnection from nature tears our whole brain into its different left and right parts. Destructively, although normal in our society, this subdivides the way we perceive and relate to the world and ourselves. It also prevents us from recognizing that with respect to nature, what we have learned to call normal "cultural adjustment and achievement" can also be called a disconnecting form of brainwashing about 4-leg knowledge and feelings about how nature works and our relationship to Nature.

We emotionally hurt from the dismemberment of our psyche. Just as tearing an arm from a body is agonizing, so is our psyche's dismemberment. With respect to Mother Nature, we feel and are abandoned.

In our subconscious our sentient psyche silently suffers its separation from its nurturing sensory and sensibility roots in nature's ways and intelligence. Any word or incident that reminds us of our childhood dismemberment experience brings the emotional pain of it back into consciousness. We suffer until we temporarily reduce the pain but it returns when a new experience brings it to mind..

As reflected by the state of the world, indoors or outdoors, our mentality is hurt, guarded, stressed, ill, angry and destructive due to our 4-leg dismemberment of nature's peace, wisdom, and beauty from our thinking (10, 16F). Although artifically subduing the pain fuels the economics of consumerism, addiction and psychotherapy, our unsolvable problems persist because our thinking remains detached from nature. We have lost genuine contact with "4-legs" and it shows.

Most 5-leg thinkers seem unconcerned about the dismemberment of our psyche and its destructive environmental and social impacts. This is to be expected. They have had little 4-leg contact that enter their thinking. No matter, the important question is this: are you concerned? You can make a significant difference.

For the past 32 years my students and I have lived, taught and researched in natural areas, sleeping outdoors year round. That makes me "abnormal." This is not necessarily a bad thing. In our environmentally insane society this kind of abnormal can be a form of sanity.

From my 4-leg contact with nature, unlike the norm, I have not learned to know nature as something fearful to be conquered in the name of civilization, safety and economic growth. Instead, as I learn to treat Nature's peace with respect, I enjoy Nature as a powerful friend and teacher. Significantly, the major problems our society faces seldom exist in intact natural systems or genuinely nature connected people. As a twig is bent, so grows the tree.

Contemporary society is in denial. On one hand we addictively can't stop engaging in our senseless, hurtful relationships that trigger our dismemberment pain. On the other hand, we deny that we are psychologically addicted to these relationships. It is our denial of our addiction that produces our unsolvable problems because we neither see or treat them as addictions. Psychological problems demand psychological solutions.

"It is difficult to get people to understand something when their salary depends upon them not understanding it."

- Upton Sinclair

My forty years in natural systems show, and research agrees, that we inherit and contain not just five, as Aristotle said, but at least 53 inborn senses, natural loves through which we can relate sensibly to the environment and each other (4A). To our loss, our alienation from nature de-energizes these senses to the point that we seldom consciously register or think with them (2). We are bewildered meaning: "destructively separated from wilderness/nature. (16A)"

Since 1952 I have researched, applied, and taught people to incorporate a Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP) into their personal and professional lives (11B). NSTP enables a child or adult to 1) recognize our addictive, nature-dismemberment, sensory, problems, 2) make genuine 4-leg sensory reconnections with nature, and 3) reap the rewarding benefits of restoring our 53 natural senses into our thinking by teaching others to do likewise. For this reason, NSTP is part of several advanced University training and degree programs (11A).

Using the Natural Systems Thinking Process enables us to reattach our dismembered psyche to its origins in Nature in exactly the same way that a surgeon reattaches a dismembered arm to a person's body. The surgeon brings the arm and body together. This allows Nature to biologically heal the separation as only nature can. To our cost, our 5-leg thinking seldom recognizes that nature connected healing occurs on mental levels, too, rather it is often called something akin to "tree hugging woo woo."

The history of NSTP.

In 1959, I founded a camp and school program based on reconnecting with nature. The National Audubon Society and many others called it "utopian," the most revolutionary school in America; they said it was on the side of the angels. Participants traveled and thrived by camping out in 83 different natural habitats throughout the seasons. They learned to live out their commitment to have open, honest relationships with the natural environment, each other and with indigenous people(s), researchers, ecologists, the Amish, organic farmers, anthropologists, folk musicians, naturalists, shamans, administrators, historians and many others close to the land. The experience deeply reconnected their 53 sense inner nature to its origins and self in the whole of nature.

As a result of the participants' romance with educating themselves this way, in the school community:

Chemical dependencies, including alcohol and tobacco, disappeared as did destructive social relationships.

Personality and eating disorders subsided

Violence, crime and prejudice were unknown in the group.

Academics improved because they were applicable, hands-on and fun.

Loneliness, hostility and depression subsided. Group interactions allowed for stress release and management; each day was fulfilling and relatively peaceful.

Students using meditation found they no longer needed to use it. They learned how to sustain a nature-connected community that more effectively helped them improve their resiliency to stress and disease.

Participants knew each other better than they knew their families or best friends.

Participants felt safe. They risked expressing and acting from their deeper thoughts and feelings. A profound sense of social and environmental responsibility guided their decisions.

When vacation periods arrived, neither staff nor student wanted to go home. Each person enjoyably worked to build this supportive, balanced living and learning utopia. They were home.

Students sought and entered right livelihood professions.

All this occurred simply because every community member made sense of their lives by sustaining supportive, multisensory relationships that helped them restore thoughtful, sensory, contact with the natural systems within and around them.

The 4-leg secret to each participant's success was to learn how to learn through natural sensations and feelings that arose from their newly regrown sensory roots in ecosystems (9). This freed the participants' 53 senses from their bonding to questionable 5-leg stories and re-bonded them to the 4-leg sense of reason in congress with 47 other rejuvenated natural senses.

From 30 years of travel and study in over 260 national parks, forests and subcultures, I developed a repeatable learning process and psychology. It unleashes our 4-leg ability to grow and survive responsibly with the natural world. By documenting that it worked and could be taught, I earned my doctoral degree and the school became a nationally recognized graduate and undergraduate degree program.

From 1985-92, I translated my nature-connected psychology program into s readily available Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP) for public use via the internet or on site (13). Through NSTP, backyard or backcountry, people recover their natural senses from readings and sensory 4-leg reconnection activities at home, work or school (4A).

We can't resolve our problems using the same nature disconnected thinking that produces them (23). The critical contribution of NSTP is that it empowers individuals to create moments that let Earth teach us and restore us.

NSTP helps people energize their 53 naturally intelligent sensory loves into their consciousness and think with them. However, you can only learn NSTP by engaging in it and teaching it. Because Nature does not operate solely on a 5-leg basis, neither does NSTP (4B).


Some Effects of Disconnection From Nature

Our radical disconnection of our psyche from nature limits our thinking so that we often can't answer the questions below:

What is your 12th or 18th natural sense?
You can go outside now and subconsciously register most of the 53 natural senses. However, due to our learned disconnectedness, you probably can't feel or identify them or believe that, with training, you, or other people, can learn to re-experience them.

Do you recognize that a natural sense and sensation, such as Thirst, is a distinct intelligence?
Thirst, a love for water, is intelligent in that it knows to turn itself on and bring to our awareness that our body needs water, or to turn off when we have had enough water.

Are you aware that Thirst is not one of the five senses, that, since Aristotle, we have been taught that people know, think and learn with?
Without validating Thirst or 47 other natural senses our thinking loses contact with them.

Is it important for our psyche to be connected to Earth's essence?
Living in water, a fish may have no need to experience the sense of Thirst. Nature invented Thirst so that some land animals could intelligently be conscious of when they needed water and therefore obtain some.

Is the global ecosystem, -from sub-atomic particles to weather systems- conscious of and in communication with itself?
In order to be part of a system any "thing" must on some level be in communication with and aware of the system, otherwise it goes out of synch/balance with its environment.

Is Nature a perfection?
Nature can be seen as an attraction process that organizes, preserves and regenerates itself to produce an optimum of life, diversity, cooperation and peace. It accomplishes this in balance, without producing pollution, excessive abusiveness or garbage; nothing is left out, an attribute of unconditional love. Seldom do war, insanity or death as we know them, exist in natural systems.

Do we need Nature in our lives?
Pulitzer-Prize winning sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D., of Harvard, along with many others, including myself, have found much evidence that people have an inherent biological need to be in contact with the out-of-doors. Wilson agrees with my findings. He says we hold a love of nature whose instructive and healing properties are key for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction (1).

Don't people learn, or recover from illness, faster and better when in contact with attractions in Nature?
Much evidence suggests this is true but our conquer nature prejudice leads us to largely ignore it.

What other important questions about Nature do we too often ignore?
Many of these questions are found on entry pages to the Free Exploration Course and Orientation Course

A 5-leg demonstration model:

To help integrate 5-leg learning with how the world and natural systems work, caring experts accurately model nature and the web of life by gathering a group of people in a circle. Each person is asked to represent some part of nature, a bird, soil, water, etc. A large ball of string then demonstrates the interconnecting relationships between things in nature. For example the bird eats insects so the string is passed from the "bird person" to the "insect person." That is their connection. The insect lives in a flower, so the string is further unrolled across the circle to the "flower person." Soon a web of string is formed interconnecting all members of the group, including somebody representing a person.

Every part and particle of the global life system is part of this lifeweb. Their webstring interconnectedness produces nature's perfection and prevents runaway disorders. Dramatically, people gently lean back. They sense, enjoy and validate the webstring model. They experience how the delicate string peacefully yet powerfully unites, supports and interconnects them and all of life. It feels good and right.

In this model, to represent destructive 5-leg thinking, a facilitator cuts one strand of the web signifying the loss of a species, habitat or relationship. Sadly, the weakening effect of web deterioration on all is noted. Another and another string is cut. Soon the web's integrity, support and power disintegrates along with its spirit. Because this reflects the disconnection reality of our lives, it hooks the feelings of hurt, despair and sadness in many activity participants. Participants recognize that the whole of the web sustains Nature's perfection. Earth and its people increasingly suffer from "cut string" disintegration, yet we addictively continue to cut the strings (4C).

Recently, I asked some web of life activity participants if they ever went into a natural area in a 4-leg way and actually saw or sensed strings interconnecting things there. They said no, that would be crazy. I responded, "If there are no strings there, then what and where are the actual strands that hold the natural community together in balance and diversity?"
It became very, very quiet.
Too quiet.
Are you quiet, too?
Pay close attention to this silence. It flags the missing link in our troubled thinking, perceptions and relationships. The web strings are a vital part of survival, just as real and important as the plants, animals and minerals that they interconnect, including people. The strings are as true as 2 + 2 = 4, facts as genuine as the sensation of thirst.

Like a powerful vacuum cleaner, our excessively nature separated ways painfully dismember and suck the strings out of our awareness and into our subconscious. We mostly think in a webstring vacuum. We get paid and praised to do so.

As part of nature we are born with the natural survival ability to sense and feel at least 53 webstrings. Inherently, these webstrings register in our psyche as intelligent natural attraction senses, as basic loves whose fulfillment in nature is rewarded by nature as a personal joy and the joy of helping nature sustain life. A bird's love for food (sense of hunger) is a webstring. So is the tree's attraction to grow away from gravity and its root's attraction toward gravity. The fawn's sensual desire for its mother and vice-versa are webstrings. Every atom and its nucleus consists of, expresses and relates through webstring attractions. All things, including us, consist of these attractions. They are a vital essence of nature and our nature; in concert they hold us and Earth intact and in balance.

People can consciously, emotionally, sense and feel 53 webstrings that we need for our survival. They are our 4-leg way of knowing Nature. As previously mentioned, we learn to ignore and disconnect these attractions; they end up hurt and frustrated in our subconscious. Things that remind us of our webstring disconnections hook our disconnection hurt into our awareness and we require psychotherapy of some sort. Over 70% of the population presently seeks relief this way. All of us find relief, constructively or, to our cost, destructively. For example, when webstrings attractions are fulfilled/rewarded by good feelings from Heroin, we addict to Heroin. When webstrings are fulfilled/rewarded by 5-leg stories we psychologically addict to the stories, be they scientific, cultural, religious or fashion. We sometimes fight to the death over the differences in our stories.

We learn to forget that the natural world works its perfection without verbal stories. With the exception of humanity, no member of the lifeweb relates or thinks through the webstring sense of verbal language stories. Nature's web is an intelligent, non-verbal, non-literate attraction experience. It consists of 4-leg webstring attraction loves that unify things, not 5-leg words that abstract (pull apart) how the world works.

Be concerned: most energies we know, including rational, spiritual, psychic, meditation and wellness energies, seldom do all they can do simply because our intelligence disconnects them from their supportive energies in the web of life. In substitution for this loss, we reward ourselves for excellence in 5-leg thinking using three senses: verbal #39, reason #42 and consciousness #43. However, if disconnected from nature, the stories these three senses produce further the addictive, destructive, economic and social forces that reward us for remaining disconnected.

Simply becoming aware of our disconnection short circuit is as ineffective in resolving it as are the warning labels on cigarettes. Awareness alone usually activates greater denial. Nor do I encourage verbally identifying the 53 natural senses out of context. Too often it fools our 5-leg story into thinking that it knows the 53 senses without having sensuously experiened them in their lifeweb reality. That's our problem, not its solution. Any intelligent solution includes 4-leg sensory reconnection with nature, as when reattaching a dismembered arm to a body (1). Interestingly, 5-leg thinking seldom believes this is possible or even reasonable even though most people have had at least one good webstring attraction experience in Nature.

We live in the shadow of a 5-leg lie of omission. We omit that:
1) with respect to nature's eons of perfection, there is no known substitute for Nature, the real thing, and the power of its webstring attractions.
2) with nature's consent, shared, thoughtful, sensory contacts with genuine webstring attractions in safe natural areas help us think with nature's intelligence. This process enables us to use the power of webstrings to replace our destructive addiction bonds with constructive attraction relationships.
3) we improve the environment through 4-leg nature attractions because this helps nature increasingly become more attractive. We fight hardest to save what we love.
4) authentic contact with webstrings occurs outdoors, not indoors. Most webstrings are not intact indoors. They are born and sustained by genuine contact with their origins in authentic nature.

To help people reasonably improve their lives and all of life, Project NatureConnect offers a readily available, enjoyable, five week NSTP Orientation Course via the internet (7). It increases a person's intelligence by enabling them to:
1) Obtain skills and permission to make genuine contact with webstrings in local natural areas and each other,
2) gain support for so doing,
3) teach this skill,
4) responsibly unify 5-leg and 4-leg thinking.

The Orientation Course is always effective in teaching NSTP because its prerequisites limit participation in it to people who are attracted to NSTP and its results. The course consists of participants enjoying 4-leg webstring reconnecting experiences and, via 5-leg email communication, using them to help other attracted people do likewise. Additional skill development in this grassroots process leads to academic degrees, responsible livelihoods and futher improved social and environmental relationships

"Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table."

- D. H. Lawrence


"We have repressed far more than our sexuality: our very organic nature is now unconscious to most of us, most of the time, and we have become shrunken into two dimensional social or cultural beings, aware of only five of the hundreds of senses that link us to the rich biological nature that underlies and nourishes these more symbolic and recent aspects of ourselves. "

- Norman 0. Brown


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The parenthesized numbers in this article refer to NSTP books and online articles, courses and subsidized degree programs that are described on the NSTP reference page at


An Invitation
If the Orientation Course is not a possibility for you at this time you are invited to invitation to take a free course online that samples some of its information and process.



Recipient of the 1994 Distinguished World Citizen Award, Ecopsychologist Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D. is a Director of the Institute of Global Education, where he coordinates its Integrated Ecology Department and Project NatureConnect. He also serves on the faculty of Portland State University, Akamai University and the International University of Professional Studies. Dr. Cohen has founded sensory environmental education programs independently and for the National Audubon Society and Lesley University (AEI), conceived the National Audubon Conference "Is the Earth a Living Organism," and is the award winning author of The Web of Life Imperative, Reconnecting With Nature, Einstein's World, and How Nature Works. He is an accomplished folk song artist and contra dancer who presents traditional music programs for the U.S. National Park Service and Elderhostel on San Juan Island, Washington.
CONTACT: 360-378-6313, Pacific Time Zone


Institute of Global Education
Integrated Ecology/Project NatureConnnect
Dr. Michael J. Cohen, Director
..Chair: Akamai University Applied Ecopsychology
..Faculty: Portland State University Extended Studies
...Founder: Natural Systems Thinking Process ©copyright 1996

P. O. Box 1605,
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
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  REMINDER: The best way to learn the nature-reconnecting process is to engage in it through our short, online Orientation Course. From ten sessions over 35 days you will enjoy the benefits it holds for you and the world you love.