Connecting with Nature

Interview with Mike Cohen on the power of connecting with nature.

connecting with nature

"Nature is the unseen intelligence that loved us into being."

Elbert Hubbard

Tammie: How would you describe our relationship to the earth?

Mike: People's relationship to Planet Earth is like our leg's relationship to our body. We are ecologically a product and likeness of nature, sharing "one breath" with all species.In each immediate moment of our lives exists the unadulterated creation process of the natural world. It is part of our personal biology, our natural origins and sensitivities including our faculty to register sensations, feelings and spirit. We are human and "Human" has its roots in "humus," a fertile forest soil. This is not a coincidence, biologically, we are like humus. One teaspoon of humus consists of water, minerals and hundreds of other microorganism species: five million bacteria, twenty million fungi, one million protozoa and two hundred thousand algae, all living cooperatively in balance. This coincides with our bodies containing water, minerals and ten times as many cells of non-human microorganism species as human cells, all living cooperatively in balance. Over half our body weight consists of the weight of "foreign" microorganism species in balance with us and each other. They are vital, inextricable parts of every cell in our body. Over 115 different species live on our skin alone.

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Tammie: You've observed that our loss of sensory contact with nature creates and sustains our run away disorders. How is that manifested?

Mike: Our lives don't make sense and our problems flourish because industrial society does not teach us to seek, honor and culture nature's sensory contributions to our lives. We learn instead to conquer nature, to separate from and deny the time tested love, intelligence and balance enjoyed by the natural world.

On average, in industrial society we spend over 95% of our lifetime indoors. Early on, at home and school, we learn to stay indoors, to become attached and dependent on indoor fulfillments. We spend 18,000 developmental indoor childhood hours alone doing schoolwork to become literate. During this same period, on average, through our literacy and the media, we witness 18,000 murders. Most of us grow up not recognizing that in every outdoor natural area, like the wild area in a park or backyard, natural life is not murdering life. It is nurturing it. Throughout the eons, natural life has been wise enough not to commit murder as we know it. The natural world has also learned how to nurture and sustain life and diversity without producing garbage, pollution or insensitive abusiveness. Nature is an unimaginable intelligence, a form of love that we inherit but suppress.

As it does with humus, through natural attractions the natural world constantly flows around and through us. Researchers find that every 5-7 years every molecule in our body is replaced, particle by particle, by new molecules attracted in from the environment and vice-versa. The natural environment continually becomes us and we become it; we are to nature and creation as an embryo is to its womb; we are one because we are each other.

Tammie: You've written that the natural environment governs itself with a wisdom that prevents it from producing our unsolvable problems and with an intelligence that sustains it in balance. How possible is it for human beings to acquire this wisdom and balance?

Mike: As natural beings, we genetically inherit the ability to think and feel with this global intelligence. However, from birth and before, we envelope our mentality in a process and society bent on conquering nature. We learn to separate ourselves from our biological, earth bequeathed wisdom. Our underlying problem is the attitude of industrial society. It teaches us to think in stories that emotionally know nature's intelligence as an enemy that exists in people and natural areas. Deep down we know and fear nature as evil. For example, we often portray Satan with a tail, claws, scales, fur, horns, hooves and fangs, seldom in a business suit. To our loss, as our thinking assaults and conquers nature within and around us, we deteriorate our lives and all of life, even as we say we should stop doing that.

Throughout the seasons, I have enjoyably lived the past 37 years in natural areas, researching and teaching how to responsibly relate to them. During this period, I have observed that when people feelingly make thoughtful contact with nature, they become more sensitive to life. They think, feel and build personal, social and environmental relationships in more enjoyable, caring and responsible ways. Their runaway problems subside. This is not a surprise. It results from the intelligent way nature has "wired" us and all of life to relate in supportive balance. For those who are wise enough to desire and teach life in balance, I have developed a natural systems thinking process. It consists of unique, nature connected, sensory techniques. They are activities, materials, courses and distance learning degree programs that enable anybody to beneficially reconnect with nature and teach this skill. They enable people to release themselves from their attachments to the destructive stories of industrial society. Uniquely, the Process allows youngsters or adults to feelingly tap into nature's intelligence and think with it. The beauty and integrity of nature inspires them. Their spiritual relationship with nature empowers and guides them. They let natural areas nurture them. The Process has proven to reverse many runaway troubles.

Tammie: From your perspective, how has our current educational system affected our relationship to the natural world?

Mike: In a society hell bent on conquering nature, it is normally taboo to learn or teach that each of us is born with, and contains, a multitude of intelligent natural sensitivities that wisely govern nature and our inner nature. In our society, where can an individual learn that? Education is a pawn of society. In your school or home, did they teach you how to use nature's multisensory intelligence? Even if we learn this fact cognitively, it does not mean we will actually feel the natural senses we have buried in us. We need to learn how to rejuvenate them and bring them feelingly back into our consciousness. Then we can think with them. Without them, we will continue to lose our joys, sense of wonder and responsibility.

The significant difference between us and nature is that we think and communicate in words, while nature and Earth are illiterate. The natural world achieves its perfection through self-regulating natural sensory interactions, without using or understanding words. We need to learn how to think with our natural senses, to have our thinking tap and incorporate nature's nonverbal ways and wisdom. Then we can verbalize wisely. The reconnecting with nature process teaches this skill because it practices it. Once we learn nature reconnecting techniques that root us in nature's sensory intelligence, we own the activities. We can use and teach them anywhere. Their use becomes a habit, an improved way of thinking. As it restores our deadened natural senses, it provides us with a thoughtful immunity to many of the pitfalls that ordinarily plague us.

Tammie: How does connecting with the natural world empower us?

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Mike: Have you ever sat near a roaring brook and felt refreshed, been cheered by the vibrant song of a thrush or renewed by a sea breeze? Does a wildflower's fragrance bring you joy, a whale or snow-capped peak charge your senses? Do you like pets, house plants or heart to heart talks; to be hugged and honored by others; to live in a supportive community? You did not take a class to learn to feel these innate joys. We are born with them. As natural beings, that is how we are designed to know life and our life. Dramatically, new sensory nature activities culturally support and reinforce those intelligent, feelingful natural relationships. In natural areas, backyard to back country, the activities create thoughtful nature-connected moments. In these enjoyable non-language instants our natural attraction senses safely awaken, play and intensify. Additional activities immediately validate and reinforce each natural sensation as it comes into consciousness. Still other activities guide us to speak from these feelings and thereby create nature-connected stories. These stories become part of our conscious thinking. They are as real and intelligent as 2 + 2=4. This reconnecting with nature process connects, fulfills and renews our thinking. It fills us with the natural world's beauty, wisdom and peace. We naturally feel rejuvenated, more colorful and thankful and these feelings give us additional support. They nurture us, they satisfy our deepest natural wants. As we satisfy them and speak their truth, we remove the aggravated stress and pain that fuel our disorders. Greed and disorders dissolve. The process triggers thinking that values natural sensory relationships with people and places. It empowers us to create stories that are congruent with nature. It regenerates natural connections and community within ourselves and with others and the land. We habitually feel content. We actively, safely form relationships from this resiliency. We responsibly seek and sustain our feelings of well being. We learn this by connecting with nature in natural areas and in each other.

Tammie: I'm so often aware of how even our language serves to separate us from the natural world. When we speak of nature, the words we so commonly use seem to imply that nature is one thing and we are another. I'm wondering if there's a remedy for that.

Mike: My remedy is to learn how to bring nature's sensory ways feelingly into consciousness and then think and speak from them. As I've described, this enables people to sensibly articulate from tangible sensory connections that, at will, plug them directly into local and global unity. The Process provides sensory connections, not just information. By using it, the source of how and what we say comes from nature within us in connection with the natural environment. That produces the unity you wonder about. Mind you, now that I have said this and people have read it, does not mean that other folks, or even yourself, are going to learn to use the process, even though it is readily available and makes perfect sense. If you are typical, you know about the activity process but you have not involved yourself in it. You see, information seldom changes the way we think or act. It does not release the psychological bonds that have us marching to our nature conquering drum. Today, less than .000022% of our conscious lives are spent thinking in tune with nature, that's less than 12 hours per lifetime. It's like putting a drop of ink in a swimming pool and expecting to notice a change in the color of the water. We are psychologically addicted to sustaining our polluted intellectual sea. We fear placing nature's "mental purification tablets" into it. We have been taught to think they will remove the gratifications we now depend on without replacing them with something better, however the opposite is true.

I have demonstrated that our psychological disconnectedness from nature underlies our runaway disorders and, for this reason psychologically reconnecting with nature reverses these disorders. I have shown that a relatively simple natural systems thinking process makes reconnecting a readily accessible and usable reality. However, just showing this will not produce unity. Our thinking is so prejudiced against nature that this information is about as useful as telling members of the KKK that they should invite Afro-Americans into their organization. We don't have the power to help them do that. Engaging in nature's sensory attraction process could do it. That process recycles our ununified thinking by safely replacing our destructive bonds with Earth's natural attractions in places and people. After all, no matter the incredible differences between the members of the plant, animal and mineral kingdom, nature unifies them so that nothing is left out, everything belongs. Waste like garbage and pollution is not found in unadulterated natural systems. The state of the world shows that our thinking is polluted. If nothing else, history and common sense show that polluted thinking can not unpollute itself. We need to use a purifier that works. Nature purifies.

Tammie: When you think about the future of this planet, what concerns you the most and what inspires hope?

Mike: No offense, but those are just more of the trick questions you and I have been taught to engage in and thereby, once again, avoid involvement in the process that answers them. Neither nature nor I think about the future of the planet; spirit, peace or hope, or most of the other topics that preoccupy us. What I've learned from nature is to engage in and teach a process that moment by moment produces a healthier future, a process that IS spirit, peace and hope. I have lived the latter half of my life in that process. During the earlier half I was rewarded to think about these questions. In comparing the two halves, I realize that in just thinking and talking about our disorders we trick ourselves into wasting time in arguments and mental amusements that change very little. Nature produces the perfection we seek by practicing the process that produces it. For those looking for a brighter future and hope, I suggest they do likewise. Our troubles exist because the process that resolves them has been a missing link in the way we think. That process is no longer an unknown.

Ecopsychologist, Mike Cohen is an outdoor educator, counselor, author, and traditional folk singer, musician and dancer. He utilizes his background in science, education, and counseling as well as his musical expertise "to catalyze responsible, enjoyable relationships with nature in people and places." He has one several awards including the Distinguished World Citizen Award from the University of Global Education. You can become involved his online articles, courses and degree programs at his Project Nature Connect website, or you can contact him at:

The following are comments from those who have engaged in some of Dr. Cohen's sensory ecology activities:

1. Uncontrolled consumerism/materialism:
"As I continued the special forest activity, I found myself attracted to the various songs of the birds and then gradually to the various stones and nuts and shells in the path. I would stop in the path, pick up the stone, admire its beauty and then feel clearly called to return it to its appropriate place. So often other times I have felt I needed to put it in my pocket and carry it home. Now, through the activity, I had a real sense of appreciating each rock, each shell, each leaf in its place for the time I was there. I felt suddenly freed from the need to possess something. I had a growing sense of letting things be and to just be still and glory in the fullness of the moment. As I allowed myself to connect, appreciate, thank and move on with so much of what surrounded me, I felt a letting go into being present. In this transformation, I began to feel I was part of the scene more, not my other self that needed to possess. I learned that I do not need to possess something to have the joy of it."

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2. Personal and Global Peace:
"I was never taught to ask permission to relate to people or the environment, I just take that for granted, as we all do. However, this activity required my senses to learn how to ask an attractive tree covered area for its consent for me to walk through it. The area continued to feel attractive, but something changed. It was the first time in my life that I totally felt safe. It felt like Earth's energies were in charge of my life, not me. It gave me a wonderful feeling of having more power to be myself. I felt in balance with nature and the people here because I could distinctly feel their energies consenting to support me. I never experienced nature and people that way before. It was like a powerful law that protected not only my life, but all of life. I felt very secure and nurtured as I walked under those trees and spoke to people. I learned that when I seek permission from the environment and people, I psychologically gain energy and unity, I belong."

3. Destructive stress:
"This morning I was battling the remnants of some depression I had been feeling about my family and life "stuff". I was doing the attraction activity, looking around enjoying the day, the breeze, the sun, the beautiful trees and the sounds of birds chirping. In a flash of good feeling, I realized that these feelings are what is so good about living on earth at this time. It was enough, if for no other reason, to be here, to experience the beauty of this planet. This was a major breakthrough for me, because I battle the reason for being here quite a bit in my recovery work. This happened before noon, and it is now 6 p.m., and I still feel great!!! I wanted to share this because I am so happy!!! Take care, and thanks for listening to the great news!!!"

For additional validations of the Natural Systems Thinking Process please visit: How Nature Works at the Nature Connect website or A Survey of Participants.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 29). Connecting with Nature, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 20 from

Last Updated: July 18, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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