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July/August 2001
Rediscovering Wholeness: The Nature Connection

The Satya Interview with Michael J. Cohen


Recipient of the 1994 Distinguished World Citizen Award, Michael J. Cohen is a director of the Institute of Global Education—a NGO that advises the United Nations Economic and Social Council—where he chairs the Integrated Ecology Department and Project NatureConnect. He also serves on the faculty of Greenwich University, Portland State University and the International University of Professional Studies. Dr. Cohen is the author of a number of books, including Reconnecting With Nature (Ecopress, 1997), and Einstein’s World (Institute Of Global Education Technical Bulletin, 2000). Here he describes the philosophy of his unique programs to Angela Starks.

What is an “ecopsychologist”?
Ecopsychologists attempt to scientifically determine if there is a psychological relationship between people and ecosystems. They are often interested in the emotional effects of our severely nature-separated lives. In contemporary society over 95 percent of our time and 99.9 percent of our thinking is disconnected from contact with our inherently supportive biological, sensory and spiritual origins in nature. This significant breach produces many of our lasting discontents and unsolvable problems.

From 40 years of experience and research, I have identified 53 distinct, tangible, sensory, connections that humanity has with nature. I have produced 130 readily available, nature-connecting activities, along with readings and courses that help enable people—whether backyard or backcountry—to beneficially rejuvenate 48 of those natural senses we ordinarily learn to subdue in our nature-disconnected lives. These discoveries are the basis of what I call the Natural Systems Thinking Process, or NSTP. It brings nature’s intelligence, balance and beauty into our everyday awareness and thinking.

Tell us a little about your organization, “Project NatureConnect,” and its mission.
Project NatureConnect (PNC) researches and offers the Natural Systems Thinking Process to the public, both via the Internet and on site. Its mission is to help meet the UN manifesto for environmentally sound personal growth and social justice. It brings into our everyday emotional awareness the unifying ways of the global life community that we hold in common with each other and every species.

PNC recognizes that we cannot solve our wide-ranging problems with the same nature-disconnected process that causes them. If our psychological disconnection from nature produces many troubles, it makes perfect sense to help people psychologically reconnect with nature so that they may resolve these troubles.

You say that “self-improvement, education and healing have always been successful when they include contact with nature.” Why do you think this is?
From sub-atomic particles to weather and solar systems, nature intelligently produces its perfection through natural attractions. At least 53 of them register in us as sensations, for example: most things in nature are attracted to water. We experience that attraction as our sense of thirst. Nature’s attractions are a basic form of love that prohibits the life-deteriorating pollution, abusiveness and stress that results from our nature-disconnected way of thinking. In nature’s way, nothing is left out; this is a form of unconditional love. As part of nature, people inherit nature’s intelligence.

As part of nature, especially as children, people normally sense, feel and relish these attractions. However, our indoor lives and western conquest-of-nature thinking condition us to ignore, suppress and abuse these attractions. We logically conquer natural sensations as part of our conquest of nature. To validate and enjoy our inborn natural sensations is like having an illicit affair. It is “unscientific,” “tree hugging,” “environmental emotionalism,” and people who do it are “Earth Muffins.” Few of us can, without anxiety, state in public that we love our Planet Mother.

By honestly, objectively seeking and respecting the attractions we experience in nature, we help our psyche and spirit to naturally restore themselves to their full potential. This kind of self-improvement, education and healing empowers us to create moments that let Earth teach and regenerate natural parts of us, as only it is able to do.

What is the basic philosophy of your nature-connected education and counseling programs?
For people whose natural intelligence remains somewhat intact, Nature can be seen as an attraction process that over the eons has organized, preserved and regenerated itself. Its intelligence produces an optimum of life, diversity and balanced cooperation locally and globally. The process is intelligent enough to be able to regenerate and preserve itself and not produce garbage, madness, death or war as we know them.

Most of the unsolvable problems we encounter as contemporary human beings are caused by our denial that we are psychologically addicted to a story that says we must conquer nature to survive. Our staggering separation from nature is like an abortion of our mentality from the womb of Mother Earth. It traumatically denies us the supportive energies of our sensory loves and origins in nature. We psychologically and spiritually disconnect from nature’s unifying, attraction-balancing ability to produce balanced relationships. We are left feeling isolated and mistrustful, with a wanting void inside us. That hurt underlies our greatest personal, social and environmental.

To reach our greatest hopes and ideals, each constructive discovery we make about living in balance must be accompanied by a process that empowers the public to actually implement it, which the NSTP facilitates. And because relationships with nature must be entered by gaining consent from nature, NSTP also helps people know when they have that consent.

The Program’s philosophy recognizes the age-old purpose that sustains nature’s web of life and its members, including people. That purpose is to support life in balance. In this regard, there are no known substitutes for the real thing; therefore, people must genuinely connect to authentic nature, not substitutes for it from books, videos and visions alone. The latter abstract nature, in a similar way that we can’t survive by eating a dollar bill even though it abstractly contributes to our survival.

Uncomfortable sensations in nature are also attractions. They attract us to seek new, more comfortable situations and thereby participate in relationship-building with nature, in both the environment and people. This often-ignored process dissolves apathy and keeps our thinking connected to nature’s intelligence.

In what ways can ecopsychology offer a remedy for activists who find themselves suffering from burnout, whether from exhaustion or depression?
With respect to burnout, NSTP is helpful as a preventative, a daily emotional support, a potent educational tool in activism, and as a personal remedy for stress and depression. Those who use it find that it goes a vital step beyond meditation or environmental education. It enables us to let our natural origins rejuvenate our injured sensory attractions into our thinking and feeling. It helps us to keep life on an even keel because it can be utilized constantly and include others constructively. Because it is activity based, individuals or institutions can easily learn, use and teach it to others. Each individual discovers how the activities best work for them and each reaps the benefits they seek as long as they do the activities.

Does the destruction of—and society’s disconnection from—our natural world ever get you down?
Not really. It is always sad and disappointing. However, I recognize that we are in denial of our psychological addictions to the way we think and act. Addictions seldom change until they are treated as addictions. This [concept] is ignored with respect to our destructive social and environmental addictions. I expect our destructive ways to continue until we each reconnect with nature to help ourselves emotionally unbond from our destructive suppositions. Information alone is not enough, as exemplified by the warning labels on cigarettes for the past 30 years.

Whenever I find our abusiveness is getting to me I produce activities that help reverse the situation and I offer them to the public. It’s my contribution and I can only do my best. Then I shrug off what I can’t change. Like everybody else, I am a victim of an addicted culture that is insane enough to knowingly destroy its own life support system. I did not choose to be born and raised in this culture. I neither agree with its destructive thinking nor support its social and environmental trespasses. They are not my fault, so I refuse to get down on myself for them.

And have you ever experienced burnout on your job?
Yes, dangerously so, especially in the formative years when NSTP was more of a risk and challenge than a satisfaction, or when the support I expected and deserved was not forthcoming.

What keeps you going?
From my years of creating and teaching NSTP I think differently than most people do. I think with 53 senses that I continually energize by making contact with attractions in nature in people and places. If I’m not applying ecopsychology in the way I’m thinking or relating, and teaching others to do the same, then I am not being intelligent. I’m losing out on the input from the wisdom of my natural senses. When troubles arise I get further into developing nature-reconnecting processes to deal with them.

Do you have any favorite remedies?
Daily, I walk up a local mountain; and I sleep outdoors in a wild area near the cabin, year round. I also relax by playing and singing traditional music.

To learn more about the Natural Systems Thinking Process see For details on degree programs visit For information about Michael J. Cohen, visit To contact Dr. Cohen call 360 378-6313, or email


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