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."
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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
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).
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?
Thirst or 47 other natural senses our thinking loses contact
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
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
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
Much evidence suggests
this is true but our conquer nature prejudice leads us to largely
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 http://www.ecopsych.com/references.html.
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. http://www.ecopsych.com/gift.html.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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: www.ecopsych.com/mjcohen.html firstname.lastname@example.org 360-378-6313,
Pacific Time Zone