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Nature's Healing Grace
by Janet Thomas

"It is quite clear to me after several years in the environmental movement that all physical problems of man's impact on the environment - pollution of the air and waters, the desecration of the land, the contamination of the food chain - all start within the environment of man's mind."

~ Maurice Strong, Founder or the United Nations Environment Program and Co-chair of the Commission on Global Governance

We are all part of nature. It is how we think and feel, personally and collectively, about our relationship with nature that determines our sanity, our future and the future of the earth. Much has been written about how we need to save the planet but the deeper truth is that it is essential if we are to save ourselves. What is the natural environment of our mind? How conscious are we about our interactions with the natural world? How passionately do we incorporate nature's intrinsic health into our sense of self, other and livelihood? Do we acknowledge this penetrating therapeutic partnership in a way that serves both people and the environment?

These are compelling questions for environmental education as we face a most precarious future. Answering them is the mission of Project NatureConnect, a pioneering process in environmental education, developed by educator and author, Michael J. Cohen. For over 50 years he has been studying, teaching, writing about, and experiencing the regenerative power of our natural experience in the natural world. Project NatureConnect is an ecopsychology program committed to helping restore our sensory connection to nature's transcending grace. It is this sense of grace that gets lost in the science of things. But if this grace isn't felt, our ability to transcend the consumer-based materialism that wreaks havoc on the environment will be impossible. Facts don't change our behavior; it is our feelings about the facts, about nature, about one another individually and collectively that bring about personal changes in behavior.

Yet we are estranged almost beyond the breaking point. As nature's resources are diminished so is the quality of our lives. As the quality of our lives diminish, we become fearful and desensitized. We lose touch with our natural ability to connect to the web of life within which we are so intricately bound. It becomes a cycle of loss. The nurturing link between our human lives and our earthly home gets broken. We get frustrated, and emotionally driven to seek more and more satisfaction in the material world; which means we consume more and more of the very resources we need to sustain our love of the natural world. We get further and further away from our innate sense of meaning and being. We lose what we most love--about ourselves, the world to which we belong and our sense of the sacred in everyday life.

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Mike Cohen has been fighting this nature-connect battle ever since he started out as an environmental educator with Dr. Paul Brandewine in 1953. He went on to get his Ed.D. in environmental psychology and in 1959 he originated the program that became the National Audubon Society Expedition Institute. Through the science of its sensory nature-connecting activities, Project NatureConnect teaches counselors and healers and their clients how to genuinely reunite our thinking to the web of life that is always around us, always nurturing us, always waiting for us to wake up. We re-learn how to bond to living in awareness and equilibrium with the environment and each other.

In these difficult times, we are virtually on the edge of losing our ability to save both ourselves - and our earthly home. Yet the saving grace is simple: We will save what we love. And when we stop long enough everyday to reconnect our ability to love to the nurturing sustenance of nature, we emotionally reconnect to what is most deeply satisfying in our human experience-belonging. We re-learn to love the very essence of who we are as living breathing perfect beings on a living breathing perfect planet. It is a generative partnership that happens when we enliven all our senses with the awareness of nature's grace, intelligence and sustenance. We find and feel that we, too, are part of the very grace and intelligence we celebrate in nature.

Through both science and art, Cohen's work engages both human service workers-and their clients-as environmental educators. Project NatureConnect is special because it is doable. It offers a web of possibilities--for everything from personal growth to environmental renewal to professional gain. The NatureConnect online educational program enables anyone to tap into the intelligence and regenerative healing powers of nature and transform our excessively destructive lives into constructive relationships. A process that is a sadly missing element in education, science and medicine.

It is time for all human service processes to help people come out from behind the addictive socializing and economic forces that keep us disconnected from the Earth and each other. It is time to re-learn how to let the wisdom and renewing energies of nature transform our destructive emotional patterns into balanced and loving relationships that help us restore both personal worth and global harmony. Cohen has first-hand insight into what makes this both possible, and more important, doable. Today, as an internet-based learning process it is easily accessible to 500 million people.

"The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature-of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter-such health, such cheer, they afford forever!"

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Janet Thomas is a critically thinking playwright, author and editor
who deals with issues of abortion, abuse, nuclear war and environmental degradation.
Her latest title is The Battle In Seattle

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