Nature Connected Psychology:
Creating Moments That
Let Earth Teach
Michael J. Cohen
On average, a person in contemporary society lives over 99.9% of his or her life devoid of conscious sensory contact with attractions in nature. We spend over 95% of our time indoors. We think, write and build relationships while closeted from nature. This disconnected state deludes us to believe that our extreme separation from nature does not influence our intelligence, sanity or ability to relate responsibility. The state of the world says otherwise 9.
Unlike nature connected cultures, our detachment from nature's workings psychologically deprives our thinking of elements that hold life in balance. If our disconnection from nature produces problems, it makes sense to solve them by reconnecting with nature 13.
The purpose of this article is to introduce a process that helps reverse our disconnection from nature and its destructive consequences.
When I ask contemporary people to describe their fondest hopes, they usually include sanity: sustainable peace within themselves, with society, and Earth. Although contemporary society has yet to discover or use a process that produces the sanity we desire, whales use it successfully and, as if to advertise their ability, have demonstrated its power. Biologists say the demonstration was conducted by abnormal whales, that they deserved to die because the were not the fittest for survival. However, Biology is but one of many disciplines, the science of nature connected psychology tells another story.
The whale's demonstration took place in 1989 when two that were trapped in the arctic winter ice bridged the hostility between Communism and Capitalism. To save the whales, opposing nations united. So did labor and industry, corporations and environmentalists, spiritualists and scientists, technologists, peacemakers and the media. Close to a billion dollars was spent to save two whales by cutting them a path to freedom through the arctic ice while the world cheered and unified.
The whale's effects demonstrate that the attractions we feel when in contact with a whale, or nature, are but the tip of an iceberg. The hidden portion of the iceberg consists of chains of additional attractions that, like sensory roots, reach every element of our planet including people. Like whales, as part of nature we register and contain the means to live in peaceful equilibrium. What we lack is a process that enables us to think with and use this planetary ability.
Since 1951, my hypotheses has been that we can produce hope, sanity, peace and balance by engaging in a process that helps us think like nature works.
My procedure has been to experimentally improve and engage in the hypothetical process, observe its effects and improve it again. As an outdoor educator and researcher, for the past 31 years I have camped out year-round though the seasons in 83 different natural habitats while building responsible human communities. My classroom has been wild America, over 200 national and state parks, forests, shorelines and historical sites. I still, today, daily sleep outdoors in a wild area.
The results of my work speak for themselves 10.   My references here are original documents that have been reviewed and published academically and commercially. I also reference, for educational purposes, the unpublished raw experiences and thinking of those who have been involved in my process 6.
As with the whales, my teacher has been the global ecosystem as it expresses itself in local natural areas. I seldom use books and the conflicting, limited, theories of those who abstract, speculate and observe nature through machines. They seldom live in, think and build relationships in nature. I find their words often separate my thinking from truths in natural areas that otherwise register.
Most literature seldom validates the sensory/experiential while connected with nature, nor offers a doable procedure to help us immediately think more responsibly. In contrast, my social invention is a hands-on, easily available process that a person quickly learns and teaches. Its effectiveness clearly demonstrates we may benefit by creating moments in nature that let Earth teach, and then participate in these moments. Significantly, this gives natural areas added value. Through this process, in 1965, thirteen years before Lovelock published Gaia, I was living and teaching a form of Ecopsychology; it included that Earth acts like a living organism 16.
My Natural Systems Thinking Process is a nature connected psychology, a beneficial science that demands verbally shared, thoughtful, sensory contacts with attractions in nature to improve personal, social and environmental responsibility. It connects our psyche with 53 distinctly unique attractions found throughout nature, including our inner nature 26.   By "attractions" I mean things in nature that draw things together, including "gluons." This is the opposite of "abstractions," meaning to draw away from or disassociate.
Nature connected psychology is based on a form of evidence that contemporary society teaches us to ignore. It is "Self-Evidence" as in "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Self-Evidence is a missing link in how we learn to think. Its definition is: to validate what we sense and feel. It critically applies our sense of reason to what we sense and feel while in consensual contact with attractions in Nature. It compares these findings to our Cultural attachments and their effects.
By Nature I mean the non-literate, unadulterated, biological and psychological attraction process that has existed for eons before and during humanity's arrival.
By Culture I mean humanity's abstract, literate, thinking process, its stories, artifacts and effects.
Validity of Evidence
The Natural Systems Thinking Process is super objective in that it welcomes all evidence. It includes sensuous information from non-verbal, transpersonal, connections rather than dismiss this evidence as subjective, unscientific, spiritual, psychotic or fuzzy thinking. The Process enables us to choose to think and relate like whales and nature work 5.   For decades it has been taught and accredited in more than 58 Universities and published extensively 16, 6.
Self-Evidence often consists of natural attraction sensations and feelings in natural areas that, to help insure our survival, nature registers in our consciousness. Although often overlooked, Self-Evidence is valid because it is:
Self Evident Thinking
Our self-evident, non-verbal way of knowing and thinking makes up the large, anciently evolved "Old-Brain" sometimes called the horse brain. In humanity, the Old-Brain registers non-literate tensions, sensations, feelings and emotions. It makes up approximately 90% of our mentality and is the home of at least 52 different sense groups. It enables us to sensuously experience nature as nature operates and knows itself.
The remaining 10% of our mentality, the more recently evolved Cerebral Neocortex or New Brain, consists of a bonding of the senses of verbal language, consciousness and reason to produce and act out abstract stories, be they accurate or inaccurate, constructive or destructive, connective or disconnective 7.
Disuse of Self Evidence
In contemporary society, our New Brain trains itself to habitually avoid Self- Evidence. We spend over 99.9% of our thinking in abstract New Brain nature disconnected stories about how the world works and how to implement our stories. Thus, we know and manage the world with only 10% of our and the world's capacity to make sense. With respect to achieving personal, social and global sanity, the questionable results of nature-disconnected abstracting speak for themselves 9.   Our isolated New Brain ego story applauds itself for its potent conquest of nature. In denial, like a substance abuse addict, it refutes that with respect to relating responsibly, the nature disconnected way we think could define addiction, stupidity or madness 20.   As the classic quotes I include in this article testify, the idea that nature can help us heal ourselves and Earth is not foreign to the New Brain. This information alone, however, is obviously not enough.
Unlike whales, our extreme severance from our inherent, balanced, attraction fulfillments in nature produces a void in our psyche. We crave our lost sensory support, sanity and gratification in nature. In response, we artificially fulfill our cravings to provide rewards. In the process, we become victims of destructive rewards and greedy, for when we want there is never enough. Our economy often operates by further irritating our natural senses and then selling us something to stop the irritation.
Although our disconnection from nature and its destructive effects disturb our sense of reason, despite excellent evidence to the contrary, few of us think it reasonable for contemporary humanity to satisfy its cravings by thoughtfully reconnecting to attractions in nature 14.   Such denial is typical of addiction. Our problems are often psychological addictions but are seldom recognized or treated as such so they continue. We have become so bewildered (wilderness separated) that we try to resolve our problems using the same addictive, nature disconnected, thinking process that produces them.
Rationale: modeling how nature works
For the past forty years, I and many experts have tried to meet the challenge of reversing contemporary humanity's disorders. Our goal is to help the public understand and become involved in how unadulterated nature prevents our disorders from occurring in natural systems within and round us. This consists of sensory experiential learning, not verbal information alone, for nature knows and conveys itself non-verbally 6.   The warning labels on cigarette packages exemplify the ineffectiveness of verbal information alone.
Conceptually, we depict nature's web of life by letting people model it. This evokes Self-Evidence. We gather a group of people in a circle and 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.
Thoughtfully, people lean back, sense, and enjoy how the string peacefully unites, supports and interconnects them and all of life. This evokes feelings of belonging, integrity and unity, these are valid Self-Evidence. Then one strand of the web is cut signifying the loss of a species, habitat or relationship. Sadly, the weakening effect on all is noted. People tell of environmental and social trespasses they have witnessed or know about. Another and another string is cut. Soon the web's integrity, support and power disintegrates along with its spirit. Because this reflects the reality of our lives, it triggers Self Evidence feelings of hurt, despair and sadness in the activity participants. Earth and its people increasingly suffer from "cut string" disintegration, yet we continue to cut the strings. Few dispute this model.
Every part of the global life community, from the spaces between sub-atomic particles to weather systems, is part of the web of life. Everything consists of, and is relationships held together by webstring attractions. The intelligent, globally conscious, webstring process by which webstrings interact produces nature's balanced, unified ways without our runaway disorders.
When I ask web activity participants if they ever have visited a natural area and actually seen strings interconnecting things there, they say no, that would be crazy.
I respond, "If there are no strings there, what then are the actual strands that interconnect and hold the natural community together in balance?"
It becomes very, very quiet.
Are you quiet, too?
That silence flags a significant missing link in our thinking, consciousness and relationships. Without knowing, sensing or respecting the strings that make up nature and our inner nature, we break, injure and ignore them. This is the core of our most tenacious troubles. It is an addictive and destructive prejudice against the strings that only subsides when psychologically treated as such.
Until I identify the strings as natural attractions that people can sense, people don't recognize them and their value, they have no idea what they are. Once they experience the strings, people not only acknowledge them, they also acknowledge that since childhood they have always known them as sensations and feelings. Like a little red wagon painted blue, they suddenly recognize that the nature separated way we learn to think hides the strings and their benefits from our consciousness and reasoning.
The disappearance of the strings from our awareness and relationships is exemplified by Sharon, an adult woman.
As with Sharon, in contemporary society's conquest of nature, we hurt the strings as we conquer and separate them from their nurturing origins. To escape feeling the pain consciously, our inner nature reasonably places them in our pre-conscious or subconscious mind (20). Thus the strings seldom enter our thinking or restrain our destructive conquest of nature around and within us.
Webstring Attraction Loves
Webstring are natural attractions, forms of love. Nature consists of wordless webstring loves 7.   A bird's love for food (Sense of Hunger) is a webstring. So is the tree's love to grow away from gravity and its root's attraction toward it (Sense of Gravity). The fawn's loving desire for its mother and vice-versa are webstrings (Sense of Nurturing).
Every atom and its nucleus consists of, expresses and relates through webstring attractions. People inherently experience those we need for survival as 53 or more Self-Evident natural sensations 26. In contemporary society we often learn to control, injure or ignore them. They end up frustrated or hurt in our subconscious until, as with Sharon, associated experiences trigger our hurt back into consciousness. Then we may need psychological assistance.
Webstrings feelingly register in our consciousness as senses or natural love (attraction, attachment, affinity, desire,) for being reasonable, love for sight, touch, and sound; for water, color and community; for nurturing, belonging and trust; for sex, contact with nature, and wholeness and love for 41 other attractions including consciousness and verbalization 26. When supportively, safely, connected in nature, each webstring attraction is energized and fulfillingly enters, registers and plays in our awareness 5. Each becomes Self-Evidence, a truth of ourselves and the environment. The Sense of Thirst, our love for water, is a fact as correct as 2 + 2 = 4, as real and true as water, even though it is not one of the five senses that in 1500 BC Aristotle posited during the cradle of our nature disconnected civilization.
Each webstring inherently attracts to and blends with other strings forming a common sense, a globally balanced consciousness and unity as depicted in the web of life model. When we don't recognize Self-Evidence, we can't recognize that what we call Nature is a process that creates, recycles and wisely guides ecosystems and their inhabitants through more than 53 attractions in concert. To our loss, our separation from nature leaves us to think and relate using less than eight webstring senses.
Verbal language communication is a webstring enjoyed by humanity alone. The stories our literacy webstring produces are a great asset to human survival when used to help sustain sensory contact with the web and its intelligent ways. However, literacy becomes a source of our problems when we psychologically bond to nature- conquering, demeaning or disconnecting stories. Whenever we are aware of nature as a non-sensory label or story, we lose contact with sensory Self-Evidence. To our loss, this disassociates us from our biological origins and attractions in the web of life, its balance, wisdom and rewards 7.
Source Of The Strings
Webstrings are biologically of, by and from nature's proclivity to consummate attractions. Profound disbelief registers on many faces when I tell the web of life activity participants that since they are part of nature, the strings are in them and they can learn to relate to and with them through a psychological, nature reconnecting, self-improvement process. They disbelieve this because webstrings have prejudice, hurt and fear attached to them. They are often as alien to us as were the "Indians" to many frontiersmen and for similar reason: they are to be conquered along with the rest of nature. Indeed, if we did not conquer the strings, they would prevent us from conquering natural systems simply because it would not feel right.
Self-Evidence suggests that natural systems organize themselves through webstring attractions. Moment by moment they create additional webstrings and connections that increasingly weave, balance and repair the web of life. This is not done haphazardly, rather it forms a intelligence that produces nature's optimum of life, diversity, cooperation, regeneration and beauty. The process is inclusive and caring enough to globally give rise to the web of life without creating garbage, death, violence and destructive dependencies as we know them. Everything transforms to the betterment of the whole. Nothing is left out, unattached or unwanted, a way to define unconditional love. Any person who could build sustainable relationships this way would be considered to be extremely intelligent. However, in many nature-disconnected New Brain circles, calling nature intelligent is considered blasphemy.
The Natural Systems Thinking Process is effective because it identifies the source of our troubles to be our thinking's disconnection from Self-Evident webstrings in nature 10. The Process scientifically addresses this problem by
Contemporary society teaches us to fight an undeclared war against nature. We get paid to conquer ecosystems for profit 9. For this reason, conscious multisensory contact with nature's lifeweb becomes controversial or taboo, like cavorting with the enemy. Our thinking loses contact with the webstring truths that it needs to recover from the absence of these truths 13. For this reason the Natural Systems Thinking Process operates through activities that enable us to let nature, not culture alone, teach and reward us 7. This increases our sensibility, balance and wellness. Stress fades, we feel better, and our outlooks and relationships improve 7. Part of us reattaches to nature. We become empowered as individuals for once you learn how to do a nature reconnecting activity you own it and can teach it 4.
Today, globally, via the internet and local training sessions, the Natural Systems Thinking Process enables people to enjoy and promote lifeweb connected consciousness, individually, or through distance learning activities, courses and degree programs. They have shown to improve the wellness of our mentality, being, and ecosystems 10.
Along with empirical studies, thousands of email journal entries, such as the following, validate the webstring reconnection process 11.
The potential of knowing the world through Webstrings and the Natural Systems Thinking Process can be seen in counselor Larry Davies 1996-98 results from offering them to people who were considered almost impossible to reach. A study was undertaken with students who were "uneducatable," because they could not handle regular school programs 17. Each had been physically or sexually abused, were 180% below the poverty level, drug or alcohol addicted and suffered poor self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, and behavioral disorders. Some were homeless or in correctional settings.
The results were overwhelmingly positive. The students' growth was reflected in improved psychological test scores and analysis, which showed reduced stress, depression, sleeplessness and drug use along with higher self-esteem 10, 17. Every student's attendance and academic progress improved, no indications of chemical remission were observed 60 days after the program ended. The students now personally own the activities and rationale for their continued improvement by reconnecting with webstrings in each other and the environment.
Through awareness of their webstring connections the students bonded as a community. They also bonded to a trashed natural area near their forthcoming new school. To protect this area's integrity and availability for future webstring activities, these "incapable" youngsters successfully cleaned up, weeded and restored it, successfully wrote environmental protection grants, and effectively presented their work to Education Boards and Administrators who were intent on paving the natural area as a parking lot 15.
The student's sensed that the natural area, like their nature, wanted to recover from the abuse it received from society. They said that, like them, it had been: "hurt, molested, invaded and trespassed," "It wanted to become healthy or die." "It felt trashed and overwhelmed." "It had no power, it needed a fix or help to recover." They wrote: "This wilderness community is being choked by alien plants and stressed by pollution, abandonment and major loss. We, too, are being choked by drugs and alien stories that pollute our natural self. We feel abandoned by our society, treated like garbage, and cut off from nature which fills us with grief. By protecting and nurturing this ecosystem we find the strength to open our minds, hearts, and souls for the survival of our Mother Earth and ourselves " 20.
Davies' webstring-based study concluded: "The applied ecopsychology story is not to conquer nature, but to flow, dance and balance with nature and each other, as do all other species. It says that nature consists of attractions, that pain, fear and stress are natural attractions, part of nature's perfection. These natural discomforts are nature's way of telling us we don't have sensory support in this moment. They attract us to follow our other immediate natural attachments. In wilderness settings, our discomforts in nature intensified our natural attractions to nurturing, community and trust. They supported our fun and survival."
Unstructured Application: congruent abstraction
Each of us can easily begin to make psychological contributions to personal and global sanity. From this moment on, thoughtfully call each sensation and feeling you or others experience a "webstring attraction". Note how this helps stretch your New Brain thinking into a global frame of reference. Note, too, how your inborn webstring attraction to nature may have been disconnected from nature and attached to artifacts or stories. Note how it may have been stressed, or can reattach to the web of life in a natural area.
Calling webstrings by their right name helps produce a global consciousness and enables us to further discover and support nature's perfection within and about us. Additional activities and courses strengthen this skill 6.
Guided Application: a step beyond abstraction
To begin think more harmoniously with whales and the global ecosystem, any individual or group may discover and teach the Natural Systems Thinking Process by doing the following introductory webstring activity: