Psychology, Nature and Soul:
The Self as if Earth Matters
by Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D.
When I ask people to describe their fondest hopes, they always include sanity: peace and balance within themselves, with their
neighbors, and on Earth. By touching our soul, Nature knows how to accomplish sanity and, as if to advertise its ability,
demonstrates it with spectacular sunsets, wondrous skys and mountain grandeur. We know they bring peace to our soul
because we feel it. We are part of and the same as nature. However Biological scientists tell me the demonstrations don't mean
that our soul is part of nature nor that Earth may be alive and therefore may have a soul. They say feelings are not valid
evidence. Fortunately, Biology is but one of many disciplines, the science of Applied Ecopsychology tells quite another story.
As if Planet Earth has a soul that savors peace, in 1989 two whales trapped in the arctic winter ice bridged the Iron Curtain
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. People felt better
about themselves and each other. Close to a billion dollars was cooperatively spent to save two whales by cutting them a path
to freedom through the arctic ice. The incident suggests that the attractions to nature that touch our soul are but the tip of an
iceberg. The hidden portion of the iceberg consists of chains of additional attractions that reach every element of our planet
including the mineral kingdom and other people. This seamless continuum hints that we don't really own our soul, rather, we
share it with Earth.
The absence of the global soul and its attractions in our thinking denies us the peace we seek. Experts often demonstrate how
nature's attractions and the web of life work by gathering a group of people in a circle. 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.
Dramatically, people lean back, sense, and enjoy how the string peacefully unites, supports and interconnects them and all of
life. It feels as if we have a soul in common. 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. 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 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. Very few people dispute this model.
Every part of the global life community, from sub-atomic particles to weather systems, is part of the web of life and held
together by webstring attractions. The intelligent webstring process by which they interact produces nature's peace, wellness
and purity. Significantly, our unresolvable violence, chemical abuse, physical abuse, destructive dependencies, pollution and
mental health troubles are not found there. To be part of a system one must in some way be in communication with the system. As part of nature, we are born with this
attribute. Our troubles result when we disconnect it, deny its existence or injure it.
Recently, I asked web activity participants if they ever went into a natural area and actually saw strings interconnecting things
there. They said no, that would be crazy. I responded, "If there are no strings there, what then are the actual strands that hold
the natural community together in balance?"
It became very, very quiet.
Are you quiet, too?
Warning. That silence flags a significant missing link in our thinking, consciousness and relationships. Without knowing, sensing
or respecting the attraction strings that make up nature and our inner nature, we break, injure and ignore them. That is the core
of our most tenacious disorders and the despair our soul too often feels. We hold an addictive, destructive prejudice against the
strings that only subsides when psychologically treated as
such Most of us have no idea what the strings are. Do you? When I ask, people say: "They are hereditary. They don't really exist."
"They are a metaphors or instincts." "That's a metaphysical or spiritual question." "We don't study them in my field." "They are
the light of enlightenment or God." "Divas." "Angels." "Christ consciousness." "Spirit Lines."
Notice that each thing mentioned need not be directly connected to nature to be experienced. Note, too, that people never call
the strings "Intelligences," "Sensations," "Attractions," or "Loves." Nobody says they are part of our soul.
Once I demonstrate what the strings are, people not only acknowledge the nature of webstrings, they also acknowledge their
awareness of them since childhood and how their soul has experienced them many times. They also recognize how our nature
separated ways remove the strings from our awareness. We learn to spend less than twelve hours of our total lifetime with our
soul in conscious sensory contact with nature and the strings. Like a little red wagon painted blue, people suddenly recognize
that the nature disconnected way we learn to think hides the strings and their attributes from our thinking.
Webstrings are wordless attractions in nature. The web is a non-verbal, illiterate, experience consisting of webstring attractions,
not words. A bird's love for food (hunger) is a webstring. So is the tree's attraction to grow away from gravity and its root's
attraction toward it. The fawn's loving desire for its mother and vice-versa are webstrings. All of nature, including us, contains
these attractions. People inherently experience them as 53 or more natural senses, loves that we often learn to injure or ignore.
They end up frustrated or hurt in our subconscious until associated experiences trigger our pain back into awareness and disturb
Webstrings feelingly register in our consciousness as sensations we call senses. For example: as natural loves for sight, touch,
and sound; as our attractions to water (including thirst), color and community; as attachments for nurturing, belonging and trust,
as affinities for contact with nature, for wholeness. By these webstrings some of us know our soul. To our loss, our separation
from nature brainwashes us to think and relate with less than eight webstring senses. This produces our major environmental
and social problems. They are not found in intact natural systems because they "think" with at least 53 webstrings.
A new science, the Natural Systems Thinking Process, reverses many of our personal, social and environmental troubles
because it addresses their source, our disconnection from nature. The process starts by validating webstrings and engaging in
sensory nature reconnecting webstring activities. The activities enable us to safely, non-invasively, make enjoyable, non-verbal,
sensory contacts directly with webstrings and lifeweb members. It helps our souls rejoin.
Webstring attractions in natural areas reattach the strings within us to their nurturing origins in nature, the strings in the web of
life. We sense, enjoy and trust the connection, it feels real, because it is. The Process then helps us safely translate these
sensory attraction feelings into verbal language, share them with other people, and grow from what we learn in the process. We
learn how to let webstring connections feelingly validate themselves in intelligent words that illuminate our soul, reasoning and
relationships. Restored webstring energies enable us to think and relate like nature works. They have shown to reduce stress
and its many related disorders.. We enjoy good feelings and greater sense of self. Supportive grounding in nature replaces
destructive competition, dependencies and greed.
In the Natural Systems Thinking Process, nature, backyard or backcountry, becomes a classroom, therapist and cathedral.
There, webstrings help us peacefully co-create a sustainable future with the global life community and each other.
Confucius and many others observe that "The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right name." Each of us can easily
begin to contribute to personal and global sanity. From this moment on, whenever you are in a natural area, backyard to
backcountry, thoughtfully call each attraction sensation and feeling you or others experience a "webstring," a manifest of the soul
we share with Earth. Note how this begins to stretch your thinking into a global frame of reference and beneficially reattaches
you to the web of life. It enables you to continue what the trapped whales started: you improve your personal and
environmental relationships and help others do the same.
The following ecopsychology activity will help you make further contact with the soul that we and Earth hold in common:
1. Go to the most attractive natural area that is accessible to you and find something natural there that you find especially
attractive, a flower, rock, scene, sensation or animal.
2. Wait ten seconds and see if the attraction remains attractive. If it doesn't, or another attraction interrupts, stay with the new
one or find another natural attraction that remains for ten seconds.
3. If it seems reasonable to you, somehow thank that webstring attraction for being attractive and giving you some joy.
4. Wait and see what thoughts and feelings come to mind immediately, and after a good night's sleep.
5. Share with a friend what happened, what you think and feel about your experience.
Applied Ecopsychologist Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D. founded and coordinates Project NatureConnect and the Natural Systems
Thinking Process. They are accredited, online distance learning activities, courses and degree programs of Greenwich
University and the Institute of Global Education, a special consultant to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Dr.
Cohen is the author of the self-guiding book Reconnecting With Nature and the recipient of the Distinguished World Citizen
Award. He may be reached at 360-378-6313, www.ecopsych.com, email:
Natural Systems Thinking P.O. Box 1605, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 360-378-6313