Institute of Global Education
Special NGO consultant to United Nations Economic and Social Council
DEPARTMENT OF INTEGRATED ECOLOGY

Project NatureConnect

 

 

Michael J. Cohen: Maverick Genius at Work


by Mardi Jones, Ph.D.

 

In 1955 neither an art nor science was available that explained how or why you could make conscious sensory contact with nature and increase mental health, stress relief, learning ability, conflict resolution and personal and environmental wellness. Then, as today, most great thinkers and leaders expounded on what should be done about our important social and environmental problems. However, they seldom offered a tool or process that enabled us to accomplish what their brilliance suggested so these problems have persisted.

Dr. Michael J. Cohen's genius is exceptional in this regard. He has not only acknowledged the problems but has, in addition, identified their ordinarily invisible source and created a nature-connecting solution for them. It is doable and available for anybody interested in reaping its benefits.

In the 1985 Bureau of Applied Sciences International Symposium on the Promotion of Unconventional Ideas in Science, Medicine and Sociology, the so called "Maverick Genius Conference" in England identified Dr. Cohen as a maverick genius because genius has been described as "One who shoots at something no one else can see, and hits it" (13). Dr. Bruce Denness, the conference convener, partially in jest suggested that Cohen, who still today sleeps outdoors year round, might be the reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau as a Psychologist.


Throughout his adult life, Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D. has devoted his energies to bring into consciousness, identify and think with webstrings, unifying energy substances in nature that are far more common than air. While all species and minerals enjoy webstrings and their benefits, contemporary thinking in its conquest of nature has been taught to ignore, conquer or transform them from their natural status. This has led to the deterioration of natural systems in the environment and people

Cohen has successfully demonstrated the power we have to use unadulterated webstrings to regenerate the purity of nature's balance, beauty and peace around and within us (2). His work is an act of genius for it enables anyone to use webstrings to help resolve "unsolvable" personal, social and environmental problems (1).

Cohen has largely been ignored because contemporary thinking neither believes in nor respects webstrings and their potential for good. To our loss, our history has been to destroy or inadequately substitute for webstring relationships (3). For this reason, webstrings in their pure beneficial form remain foreign to most of us, even though they are right before our eyes. It is similiar to your consciousness registering the words you are now reading but not registering the air that sits between your eyes and this screen at this moment (until you are now reminded of it.)

WEBSTRINGS DESCRIBED:
Environmental experts accurately portray webstrings, nature and the web of life 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 string represents 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, from minerals to the solar system, including somebody representing a person. In this model each of the connecting strands is a webstring (4).

Every aspect of the global life community, from the space between sub-atomic particles to weather systems, is part of the web of life. The diversity of natural system webstring interconnections produces nature's regenerative balance that prevents runaway disorders. For this reason, undulterated natural systems neither create garbage nor display our mental health problems or our abusiveness, stress and isolation. Everything that is part of nature, including people, belongs and is supported in nature.

In the web of life activity, dramatically, people pull back, sense, and enjoy how the strings of the web peacefully unite, support and interconnect them and all of life. Then one strand of the web is cut signifying the loss of a species, habitat or natural relationship. Sadly, the weakening effect on all is noted. Another and another string is cut. Soon the web's integrity, unifying ability and power disintegrates along with its spirit. Because this deterioration and loss of support from the wholeness of the web of life reflects the reality of our nature-separated lives, it triggers feelings of hurt, despair and sadness in many activity participants. In reality, Earth and its people increasingly suffer from "cut string" disintegration (5).

With respect to the webstring model, Dr. Cohen asks people if they ever went into a natural area and actually saw strings interconnecting things there. Usually their answer is something like, "No, if I saw them I'd be hallucinating or psychotic." Cohen has responded, "If you see no strings there, what then are the actual strands that hold the natural community together in its perfection and beauty?"
It becomes very, very quiet.
Too quiet.
Are you quiet, too?
Pay close attention to this silence.
It flags a vital but missing element in our thinking, perceptions and relationships whose loss results in many troubles (6).

Natural beings sustain their own and nature's wellness while in contact with the whole of the web through webstrings. As part of nature, we are born with this ability. Pulitzer-Prize winning sociobiologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson, of Harvard, affirms that nature's web of life holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction (7). Albert Einstein noted that, "Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people....Our task must be to free ourselves from (our) prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty" (8).

Webstrings are part of survival, just as authentic and important as the plants, animals and minerals that they interconnect, including ourselves. The strings are as real and true as 2 + 2 = 4; they are facts as genuine as water or thirst. We ask for our troubles by ignoring them.

Cohen has demonstrated that as part of nature we are born with the natural ability for our mentality to sense, register and respond to at least 53 different webstrings that we need for survival. However, contemporary thinking learns to neither acknowledge nor exercise this ability. Instead, we usually subdue it along with nature. Our troubles and discontents result from thinking and relationships based on our use of less than ten, rather than 53 natural webstring senses.

Without seeing, sensing or respecting the webstrings in nature and our inner nature, we break, injure or ignore them so they no longer register in our consciousness and thinking. Cohen reports that their disappearance produces Natural System Dysfunction, an unnatural void, a discomforting sensory emptiness in our psyche and spirit that we constantly try to fill. This emotional vacuum prevents us from registering and thinking with attractions that otherwise help us, as part of nature, produce unpolluted balance, wellness and peace. The void prevents the formation of many vital relationships; this causes depression and stress in us; we unnecessarily want, and when we want there is never enough. We become greedy, abusive and reckless while trying to artificially replace our missing 43 webstring fulfillments. This dysfunction places ourselves, others and Earth at risk for with respect to the perfection of the web of life there are few, if any, known substitutes for nature's webstrings that do not produce destructive side effects in people and places (9).

Cohen's quest to understand and utilize webstrings has brought him, for the last 40 years, to live and teach in natural areas year round. This led to his Grand Canyon discovery in 1966 that Planet Earth acted like, and could be related to, as a living organism, a fact substantiated twelve years later by James Lovelock in the Gaia Hypotheses (10). From this realization Cohen personally risked founding the Trailside Country School and National Audubon Society Expedition Institute along with other organic webstring education programs, books, curricula, psychologies, therapies, courses, schools, institutions and processes. These include the Whole Life Factor, Organic Psychology, the Natural Systems Thinking Process and the 9-leg thinking model that helps us offset our addictive, nature-disconnected 5-leg thinking (2, 16). Each or these tools is part of Cohen's nature-reconnecting process that helps us build balanced relationships and wellness. The process provides us with empirical evidence and genuine contact with webstrings in natural areas that express themselves in us as 53 natural attraction senses (17, 11). Each sense gives people a unique means to make more sense and implement their deeper hopes and ideals (15).

Because, on average, over 95% of our time and 99% of our thinking is separated from nature, Cohen demonstrates that the crux of our troubles is that our mind is uprooted from nature's purifying webstring balance around and within us. He says,

"Like a deer severed by the wheels of a train, our extreme separation from nature psychologically severs us from our mentality's sensory connections and support in nature. This hurtful disconnection ungrounds us; it disconnects our thinking from many inherent natural ways of thinking, knowing and relating. This numbs our mentality to most of the sensory connections that produce nature's perfection and recuperative powers in our mind and body. Disconnected from webstrings inside and around us, our stricken psyche thinks that our nature-separated lives are 'normal' so we deny our mental dysfunctions rather than address them as such. Our disconnection is so severe that even though most of us have had wonderful restorative experiences in nature, our thinking negates rather than welcomes exercises that enable us to increase and strengthen these experiences.

Webstring sensory reconnection activities help us reduce our troubles by enabling us, at will, to genuinely connect our thinking with authentic nature, backyard or back country, and use its recuperative powers to restore our sensibilities and wellness. This also helps us strengthen our love of nature which is important because we don't fight to preserve what we don't love."

In the 1985 Bureau of Applied Sciences International Symposium on the Promotion of Unconventional Ideas in Science, Medicine and Sociology, the so called "Maverick Genius Conference" in England identified Dr. Cohen as a maverick genius because genius has been described as "One who shoots at something no one else can see, and hits it" (13). Dr. Bruce Denness, the conference convener, partially in jest suggested that Cohen, who still today sleeps outdoors year round, might be the reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau as a Psychologist.

If our society was dedicated to living in peace and balance with people and the environment, "genius" would accurately describe Dr. Cohen and his work's contribution, for which he received the 1994 Distinguished World Citizen Award (12, 14). However, in our nature-conquering society where profit, power and exploiting nature are often rewarded, Cohen's webstring learning and relationship building tools go against the grain. His nature-connecting art makes him a maverick, a genius who tries to teach the science of co-creating with nature to an "anti-nature" society (2, 16). He argues, "With respect to the Web of Life, we are part of the whole; when connected to the whole, webstrings renew themselves and thereby us. In our nature-separated society, a person who succeeds in helping us sustain personal and environmental wellness by genuinely reconnecting injured parts of us with nature must be, by definition, a maverick. It is strange to realize that our thinking is our destiny yet one is a maverick if they recognize that we can't isolate our thinking from nature's perfection and healing powers and not suffer from that loss."

 

"Mike Cohen is a legend in the North American Environmental Education (EE) field. A film about him alone would be of interest to folks engaged in this area of work, and who teach it in universities and colleges.

A film about his method of teaching and engaging people with nature through the develpment of sensory awareness is long overdue. I am sure that educators would be interested in being able to integrate Mike's book with a video that shows how he approaches the issues of his concern. Mike presents an approach that is significantly different from many of the more traditional approaches to environmental education, and his work has not received the kind of attentoin that it really deserves.

I look forward to seeing your film when it is completed, and would be happy to review it for the EE journals etc. once it is out.

Rick Kool

Dr. Richard Kool, Director (Acting)
Environmental Education and Communication Program
Royal Roads University
Victoria, BC Canada

 

 

References:

1. Descriptions of genius to which Cohen's work applies:

"When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The principal mark of a genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers."
Arthur Koestler

"Genius not only diagnoses the situation but supplies the answers."
Robert Graves

"Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple."
C. W. Ceran

"It takes immense genius to represent, simply and sincerely, what we see in front of us."
Edmond Duranty

"Genius . . . is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one."
Ezra Pound

"A genius is one who shoots at something no one else can see, and hits it."
Author unknown

"Genius is the capacity for productive reaction against one's training."
Bernard Berenson

"True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information."
Winston Churchill

"Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored."
Abraham Lincoln

Creative genius: "Individuals credited with creative ideas or products that have left a large impression on a particular domain of intellectual or aesthetic activity."
Author unknown

"Persons of genius, and those who are most capable of art, are always most fond of nature: as such they are chiefly sensible, that all art consists in the imitation and study of nature."
Pope

"What makes men of genius, or rather, what they make, is not new ideas, it is that idea - possessing them - that what has been said has still not been said enough."
Eugene Delacroix

"Some superior minds are unrecognized because there is no standard by which to weigh them."
Joseph Joubert

"A good criteria to determine a genius is to see whether he has caused a paradigm shift in his time."
Author unknown

"My father taught me that a symphony was an edifice of sound, and I learned pretty soon that it was built by the same kind of mind in much the same way that a building was built.... Even the very word 'organic' means that nothing is of value except as it is naturally related to the whole in the direction of some living purpose, a true part of entity."
-Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted in Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing

Genius: "Those individuals that rise to the particular challenges of emerging in a civilization when it is in some way endangered and who make a response to ensure the continuity of the civilization."
Arnold Toynbee

"The willingness and ability to challenge conventional wisdom. Perhaps even more importantly, scientific genius depends on an instinct for invention, an ability to focus on the problem at hand, and a determination to pursue that problem to a successful conclusion."
Author unknown

"What is called genius is the abundance of life and health."
Henry David Thoreau

"A genius adds to every equation our inborn love of nature and its global intelligence."
Michael J. Cohen

2. Cohen, M. J. (2003). The Web of Life Imperative, Trafford, Victoria, B.C. Canada and (1997) Reconnecting With Nature, Ecopress, Corvalis, Oregon, and Einstein's World, Project NatureConnect, Friday Harbor, WA. Also see Nature Connected Psychology: creating moments that let Earth teach. Greenwich Journal of Science and Technology, July, 2000.
http://www.ecopsych.com/natpsych.html

3. McKibben, W. (1999). The End of Nature Anchor Books/Doubleday.

4. Storer, J. Title: The Web of Life. Devin-Adair 1953.

5. Cohen, M. J. (2000). Einstein's World, Institute of Global Education, Friday Harbor, WA

6. Cohen, M. J. (1997). The Natural Systms Thinking Process, How Applied Ecopsychlogy Brings People to their Senses. PROCEEDINGS, 26th Annual Conference of North American Association For Environmental Education, Vancouver, British Columbia.

7, Wilson (1984). The Biophilia Hypothesis, Harvard Univ Press,

8. Einstein, A. (1997) in Neligh, R.D. The Grand Unification: A Unified Field Theory of Social Order, New Constellation Press

9. Pearce, J. (1980). Magical Child. New York, NY: Bantam.

10. Cohen, M. J.(ed.) and Lovelock, J. (1986). PROCEEDINGS of the 1985 international symposium Is The Earth A Living Organism? Sharon, Connecticut: The National Audubon Society.

11. Cohen, M. J. (2003). The personal page of an innovative scientist-counselor-ecopsychologist
http://www.ecopsych.com/mjcohen.html

12. Jones, M. A. Genius at Work. http://www.ecopsych.com/think3genius.html

13. Cohen, M. J.(1985). Education as of Nature Mattered: Reaffirming Kinship with the Living Earth. in Denness, B., Editor, PROCEEDINGS of "The Maverick Genius Conference" The International Symposium on the Promotion of Unconventional Ideas in Science, Medicine and Sociology. Bureau of Applied Sciences, Isle of Wight, England.

14. Kofalk, H (1995) The Distinguished World Citizen Award, Taproots, Journal of the Coalition for Education in the Out of Doors, Cortland, N.Y.
http://www.ecopsych.com/overview.html

15. Evaluation and Testimonials http://www.ecopsych.com/testeval1.html

16. Cohen, M.J. The Stairway to Personal and Global Sanity Institute of Global Education http://www.ecopsych.com/wholeness2.html

17. Cohen, M.J. (2002) Organic Psychology.com The Organic Psychology Revolution: an environmentally friendly, nature-based, therapeutic tool.

18. Cohen, M.J. (1997) Reconnecting With Nature: finding wellness through restoring your bond with the Earth, Eugene OR. Ecopress

 

 

 

 

 
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