F. Richard Schneider, Ph.D.
A review of Dr. Micheal J. Cohen's new book RECONNECTING WITH
NATURE: A Restoration of the Missing Link in Western Thinking
The inquisitive mind can be a wonderful force for good.
Recently, upon completing Michael J. Cohen's (MJC) new book
Reconnecting With Nature, Dr. Daniel Levine, (DL),
Superintendent of Schools of the Lopez Island School District
in Washington State, phoned Dr. Cohen and, for use by his
faculty, he transcribed the author's responses to questions
about the book.
DL: In Reconnecting With Nature you say that for 35 years you
have been an innovative outdoor educator and counselor. What
do you see as the present state of our relationship to Planet
Earth and each other?
MJC: A majority of the world is discouraged by the costly
violence, discontent and hatred growing in industrial society.
The destruction of our forests, wildlife and oceans distresses
most people. Each of us would like to help heal the wounds we
inflict on our planet, economics and selves. Our discontent
constitutes a major motivating force for recovery if we
empower and support it wisely.
DL: What is the human potential for a model society?
MJC: In my work I observe that people have the innate ability
to co-create with nature and sustain responsible
relationships. We can produce a way of relating that
organizes, preserves and regenerates itself to produce an
optimum of life, diversity and beauty. We can do this without
producing garbage or pollution. No person or thing need be
left out or toxified. Society does not have to produce war,
insanity or excessive violence. Doesn't that model sound
DL: Of course, but it's extremely idealistic. We would need
to gain some magical wisdom.
MJC: It's neither idealistic nor magical. That wisdom is
available. In fact we already have it, we just don't use it.
DL: Oh? Where is it ?
MJC: The natural world itself operates like this model. It
neither creates nor suffers our problems. The global life
community has sustained the model's integrity over the
millennia. It has intelligent, thoughtful, "magical" healing
powers. It is nature, and since we are part of nature, it is
DL: But if that were true, we would not be having our
MJC: We are born as natural beings. We are born in and with
that wisdom. It is in our soul. But we educate ourselves to
discount it rather than treasure, culture and apply it.
DL: Why don't we use it?
MJC: Although we are part of nature, just as every species is
different from each other, we are different, too. The major
difference between humanity and nature is that people have the
natural capacity to communicate and relate verbally. We
interact through spoken and written language. The remainder
of Nature achieves its beauty and perfection through
non-language communication and relationships.
DL: Isn't our language capacity a gift from nature?
MJC: Absolutely, but industrial society uses that gift to
create stories that separate us from nature. We teach
ourselves to think in language while every other species, and
many other cultures, think in non-language ways. We don't
learn to think the way nature works, even though we are born
with that capacity. Our personal and global problems result
because our language stories define our destiny and they are
disconnected from nature's wisdom.
DL: Can you give me an example of this phenomenon?
MJC: We live, teach and emotionally attach to a story that
says to survive we must separate from and conquer nature.
That story educates us to spend, on average, over 95% of our
time indoors. We learn to think in indoor, nature
disconnected terms. We learn to spend less than one day per
lifetime in conscious non-language contact with nature. That's
like expecting an infant to grow normally after it has been
abandoned by its family. It is similar to an arm that is 95%
torn from a body; the arm feels pain that it can't identify
because it is so disconnected from the cognizant mind in the
DL: But isn't that the human condition?
MJC: No, it is learned. Natural beings, including
nature-connected people stay connected with nature. They
continuously make tangible non-verbal contact with natural
areas. They incorporate nature's wisdom and integrity in
their daily lives and they neither produce nor suffer our
personal, social and environmental problems.
DL: This makes sense idealistically, but we are not going to
return to gathering and hunting in nature, so it seems
MJC: I didn't say we should do that, did I? You see, our
indoor story and thinking tends to conclude that we must live
like the first nation people. I suggest, and my reconnecting
with nature process demonstrates, that we can learn to
reconnect with nature and incorporate nature's wisdom in our
thinking. The benefits are dramatic. What is idealistic about
DL: So you suggest that we learn to hunt, gather and
incorporate knowledge of how nature works?
MJC: Exactly. Some people already know this is possible
because they sense nature's peace and healing when they visit
natural areas. However, often the nature-disconnected bias of
our stories won't let us validate what we experience in
DL: Can you give me a example of the significance of our
MJC: Consider this event concerning the ingrained ways of a
deeply rooted, theoretically unchangeable group of hard core
killers. In the West Virginia mountains, an isolated,
dedicated hunting club found a month old male fawn whose
mother had been killed by a car. For a week, these middle aged
men, each with decades of devoted deer killing expertise,
decided to feed the fawn formula from a bottle, which it
suckled with half shut eyes of ecstasy. In return the fawn
licked their hands, sucked their earlobes and sang them little
whining sounds of delight from deep within. When the hunt
broke up, these men dispersed leaving the fawn eating grass
and craving its bottle. They made vague promises to return to
this remote place. They said they would, as time permitted,
trek the mountain and feed the fawn. A few weeks later, one of
the hunters phoned the others to see if anybody knew if the
fawn has been fed or had survived. He discovered that without
each other knowing it, five of the hunters often visited the
fawn and fed it, so it was actually getting fat. Although the
fawn might be shot by someone who did not know who the deer
was, it lifted his heart to think that the fawn had a chance
at life because some hardened deer hunters had gone out of
their way to give it to him. Significantly, he knew for sure
that none of his hunt club members would shoot it.
DL: What do you think made this happen?
MJC: Obviously, neither a teacher, preacher or politician was
present to educate the hunters about the value of the fawn's
life and supporting it. Although it said not a word, the fawn,
nature itself, was that educator. Non-verbal sensory factors
within the integrity of its life touched these same factors in
the lives of the hunters. The connection sparked into their
consciousness their inherent natural feelings of love in the
form of nurturing, empathy, community, friendship, power,
humility, reasoning, place, time and a score of others.
Reconnecting moments with nature engaged and nourished a
battery of their natural senses. These inborn senses led a
group of deer hunters to support rather than deny the life of
a deer, and to bring new joy to their personal and collective
DL: But relatively few people live in a natural setting that
would offer them this profound experience.
MJC: We have other contacts with nature that do the same
thing. For example, I recently participated in a hurried,
almost stressful training schedule for people whose
differences kept them arguing amongst themselves. They had
little interest or time to hear an explanation from me of the
unifying and healing benefits of the reconnecting with nature
process. In the midst of this hubbub, a young bird flew into
the meeting room through the door. It could not find its way
out. Without a word, the behind-schedule meeting screeched to
a halt. Deep natural feelings for life and hope filled each
person for the moment. For ten minutes that frightened,
desperate little bird catalyzed those seventy people to
harmoniously, supportively organize and unify with each other
to safely help it find its way back home. Yet when they
accomplished this feat, they cheered their role, not the role
of the bird. In their story of the incident, the role and
impact of the bird went unnoticed. They returned to the hubbub
of the meeting, as if nothing special had happened.
DL: Did you point out to them the impact of the bird, of
nature, upon them?
MJC: I wanted to say something about the powerful effect of
the bird but I didn't. People would have scoffed. They would
have said what you said, that what happened was not important
or useful for it was uncommon to have a wild bird interrupt
DL: I think I'd agree with them.
MJC: Would you agree that reconnecting with nature during that
incident brought a special joy and integrity to their lives,
as with the deer hunters? The individual and collective
benefits were evident. It is the continual lack of such
contact that creates our disorders. People feel distraught,
yet helpless, about Earth's life and their lives being at
risk, like the fawn and bird.
DL: Yes, but isn't this a vicious circle? We are radically
separated from nature and lose its benefits, so how can we
possibly use nature to gain them?
MJC: That is the heart of the matter. My work addresses it.
It takes place in tangible contact with nature, in backyards,
parks, even with potted plants, and wilderness, too. In any
natural setting my books and courses help people learn to do,
own and teach simple nature-reconnecting activities. The
activities are fun and interesting. They provide, at will,
the nature-reconnected moments missing from our lives. The
process is uplifting and responsible. It nurtures many
natural senses. It produces the same profound effects
catalyzed by the fawn and bird.
DL: You mean, by choice, any individual can reconnect with
MJC: Project NatureConnect has published methods and materials
that make this possible. We even teach people how to do this
and share their experiences internationally by E-mail on the
Internet at http://www.pacificrim.net/~nature/
DL: So the activities are easily available. How do they work?
MJC: As the fawn and bird incidents show, our mentality
consists of many non-verbal senses and feelings. Each of
these senses are by and from nature and they make up over 85%
of our human mentality, of how we learn, know and relate. The
activities enable us to tangibly connect with natural areas in
at least 53 natural sensory ways. Just as importantly, they
also teach us how to speak and reason from these
nature-connected moments. The process incorporates nature's
cooperative wisdom in our thinking. It profoundly alters the
destructive stories that we are taught to believe.
DL: I learned we only have five senses; what do the others do?
MJC: I'll use thirst as an example, it's not one of the five:
To sensibly remind us to drink water when we need it, nature
intelligently created the sensation we call thirst. Thirst
feelingly makes sense, It makes us aware of the dehydrated
state of our being and it attracts us to water. When we drink
water, we tangibly connect with part of nature. It flows
through us and we feel enjoyably unstressed rewarded,
quenched, fulfilled, satisfied. Similarly, thoughtfully
connecting with nature through each of our 52 other natural
senses produces the same results. Each connection unstresses
us and enjoyably fulfills us sensibly. In congress, these
many senses blend. They promote and sustain our inner
nature's integrity just as they sustain the integrity and
vitality of wild populations, for example: wolf communities or
ant colonies. We learn to resonate and self-regulate with the
global life community. We deeply feel part of something
immensely important, part of life in nature and each other.
DL: What results have you observed from the reconnecting
MJC: Detachment from destructive stories and attachment to
thoughtful fulfillments. The activities responsibly dissolve stress
and discontent. They defuel and decrease stress related medical
and emotional symptoms as well as apathy. Wellness,
self-esteem and mental health increase. Greed wanes, for we
don't continually want. That's why the activities are used in
counseling, recovery, environmental and educational settings. The
result is that we learn to feel good by relating to the whole of
community, to natural places and things as well as people.
Participants feel healthy when they do the activities.
DL: How can nature-reconnecting activities create responsible
MJC: We love sanity, peace and responsible relationships
because they feel good and they make sense. When something we
love is endangered, we act. It is the right and natural thing
to do. The activities make us conscious of how sanity and
peace are available to us in nature. Doing them reinforces
our love for being responsible, and for natural areas too.
DL: What is their practical contribution?
MJC: Consider this: at least 600 million people
internationally can learn to do and teach these activities.
Think about it. What would our world be like if 600 million
people daily enjoyed and shared nature reconnecting
experiences that triggered effects similar to those from
contact with the fawn and bird? How wonderful! These
activities induce acts and internal responses that establish
personal, environmental and global sanity. Therein lies hope.
DL: How can people get in touch with you?
MJC: Call me at (360) 378-6413 or write POB 1605,
Friday Harbor WA 98250 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Internet
* * * * *
F. Richard Schneider is the Chancellor of the University of
Global Education, a United Nations Non-Governmental
-- Tangible reconnections with nature satisfy deep natural wants; when unsatisfied, these wants disrupt inner peace and fuel runaway disorders.
Dr. Michael J. Cohen, Chair Department of Integrated Ecology Box 1605 Friday Harbor, WA 98250 (360) 378-6313 University of Global Education, A United Nations Non-Governmental Organization http://www.pacificrim.net/~nature/