“There is only one constant in life, and that is change.”
After earning her certification in ecotherapy, she and her husband Dave founded their non-profit organization. It is Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor (COME!) and is based on the natural systems principles that created and have been sustaining the planet for over two billion years.
Educator and ecotherapist Allison Ewoldt’s personal perspective was transformed
through the Natural Systems Thinking Process developed by Dr. Cohen of Project
NatureConnect. She continues to
strengthen the 53 sensory attraction relationships she shares with the rest of
the living world—allowing the wisdom that has sustained our planet for billions
of years to increasingly guide her personal life.
She invites you to do the same. For more information, you can check out projectnatureconnect.org.
PRACTICAL ARTS FOR LIVING OUT LOUD
the 53 sensory
the rest of the living world
allow the wisdom
increasingly to guide
Autumn Leaves in Spring
While helping to care for my
mother during her stay in two hospitals and three skilled nursing
rehabilitation facilities over the last three months, this article has been slowly
evolving in my mind.
One thread in the fabric of
my thoughts is that we live at a very interesting point on humanity’s timeline:
we now have the capacity to end life as we know it on the planet.
We homo sapiens are unique among the 8.7 million species on Earth (the latest biodiversity estimate, based on a new method of prediction suggesting that a staggering 86% of land species and 91% of marine species remain undiscovered*). The vast majority of other species share the flow of energy to maintain and support the web of life of which we are a part, and some indigenous cultures are still in balance with the rest of the natural world. However, human civilization has come to see our species as apart from and more important than the rest of the web, and our technological advances are allowing us to blithely and blindly work outside many of the laws of nature—including our ability to continue breathing, polluting, and consuming dwindling resources long after “quality of life” has become a distant memory. Ironically and tragically, many of what seem to us to be technological “miracles” are turning out to be global catastrophes. Our human hubris, including life-extension technology, is about to catch up with us, and the piper is on the way to demand payment.
Another thread that keeps tugging at my consciousness is this ancient wisdom:
To every thing there is a season…
[download from iTunes]
Oh, yeah? Not anymore. To heck with the fact that, for over billions of years, life has adapted to the slant of Earth’s poles in relationship to the sun in order to support and balance the web of life. Our human-constructed building temperatures are kept within tropical paradise range—as we blow up mountaintops, frack the planet, and spew immeasurable tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (or risk an irreversible radioactive catastrophe) in order to achieve this. We eat tropical and “out of season” fruit all year long--even though transporting it to us spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Snowbirds fly to the “season” of their choice, once again at the expense of the planet--because guess what jet fuel does to the atmosphere. And as for the seasons of our lives: we embrace the spring of childhood, idolize the summer of young adulthood, mask the autumn of aging, and do our damndest to forestall the winter of death -without considering what the consequences of our greed for life, no matter its quality or lack thereof, might be having on the rest of the web.
Remember The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia? Written in the early 1980’s, this simple children’s story of life/meaning/and death is timeless treasure:
"I'm afraid to die," Freddie told Daniel. "I don't know what's down there."
"We all fear what we don't know, Freddie. It's natural," Daniel reassured him. "Yet, you were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?"
"Does the tree die, too?" Freddie asked.
"Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life."
Are we brave and mature enough to open our eyes to the consequences of our defiance of death when it beckons at the end of a long life? With our aging population, countless long-term skilled nursing facilities are springing up around the world to house our ill and suffering elders who are living beyond their natural lifespans through the miracle (and greed) of modern medicine—because since we’re busy keeping a roof over our heads and raising our children and fulfilling our own purposes in life, we don’t have the time or personal skills/patience/resources to care for them in our homes.
But are our elders happy to still be alive…sitting in their wheelchairs in the halls of institutions or being entertained by a blaring idiot box, totally dependent on a staff of personnel (some caring, some not) who do not love them, segregated from the bustle and purpose and mutual reciprocity that is Life, with little left of the “best” years of their lives other than old photographs and fading memories?
As if their loneliness and suffering were not enough, the massive amount of funding necessary to maintain what often amounts to torturous circumstances for our aged population is resulting in less available funding for many vital programs such as education—thereby hurting the next generation.
Please don’t misunderstand—I’m in my sixties now and doing all I can to maximize the mental and physical health I still have so I can enjoy my life and continue to contribute in a meaningful way to my family, my community, and my world.
But when my fall colors begin to fade, and it would take unnatural effort and too many resources to keep me alive, my fervent intention is to have the love, generosity, and grace to fall to earth and, in that way, make my final contribution to the nourishment of the next generation.
Because, wouldn’t doing otherwise be like super-gluing an autumn leaf on the Tree of Life…just to lose all color, shrivel up, and prevent new leaves from sprouting and growing in the spring, thus exacerbating the other challenges the Tree is already facing?
“At dawn the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently and softly downward. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been part of its life and made him proud.
Freddie landed on a clump of snow. It somehow felt soft and even warm. In this new position he was more comfortable than he had ever been. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He did not know that Spring would follow Winter and that the snow would melt into water. He did not know that what appeared to be his useless dried self would join with the water and serve to make the tree stronger. Most of all, he did not know that there, asleep in the tree and the ground, were already plans for new leaves in the Spring.”**
As I watch my once vibrant, vivacious mother’s life waning due to the ravages of illness and time, I am reminded of the famous quote by Heraclitus, the 500 BC Greek philosopher:
“There is only one constant in life, and that is change.”
Even pure chemical elements are continuously combining and recombining with other elements to create our ever-transforming physical reality.
Change is the one certainty in this world
Change is the one certainty in this world, but is it any
wonder that we humans tend to resist it? All change, even positive, involves a
loss of something—such as the adorable baby transforming into a lovely young
adult. Where did the baby go?
Yes, change may be inevitable, but we humans do tend to have some choice in the way it unfolds. Instead of resisting it, or just staying in situations until change happens on its own (often for the worse, as in the famous excremental expression), we can deal with it proactively.
But in the case of my mother, what can I do to help her impending transition beyond life? What can I do to make it the most positive experience possible for her and her family and friends?
A major challenge for me is the fact that my ailing mother
is simply not ready to let go of life—because she does not want to leave her
children and their families, because she loves the physical beauties of the
earth, and because even though she is a devout Christian, she is afraid of the
unknown. Should her heart fail—which is a probability since she is suffering
from advanced heart failure—she wants full resuscitation efforts to keep her
But in clinging so desperately to life, I can’t help but
wonder what my mother may be missing. Perhaps as she continues to weaken and
become less mobile, she will begin to let go of some of her physical attachments
and open herself to the pure potentiality the unknown holds. Can my nature-immersed perspective help ease her
fear of the unknown and impending great loss?
Many years ago at a Project NatureConnect gathering on San Juan Island, the program’s founder, Dr. Michael J. Cohen, gave participants the powerful nature-reconnecting process he developed and a question to ask of the beautiful natural setting: “What is death?” All twenty of us came back from our diversity of experiences in the wild with the identical message from nature: There is no death, only transformation.
Or perhaps, in addition to her faith in the Bible, Mother can find comfort in the words of Wernher von Braun, father of rocket science:
"Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual experience after death."
Instead of trying
to ease my mother’s fear of death and the resulting losses, perhaps I can
simply give her more of what matters to her in this lifetime—her family. She is
currently living in a beautiful retirement/assisted living facility, and this
week she will also begin receiving private care for two hours every morning. I
am often with her several hours a day, but even though almost immediate
assistance is forthcoming with the press of a button she wears around her neck,
she has recently started saying she doesn’t want to be alone.
A choice that I
can make (with the blessing of my husband) is to offer to bring my mother into
my family’s home for her final weeks or months. Dr. Dean Ornish, in his book Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy
and Health, describes the amazing power of the relationships we have in our
lives. Although he focuses on how loving relationships can positively impact
survival, in my mother’s case it is not about increasing the quantity of her
life…but rather filling her final time in this physical realm with what holds
the most meaning for her.
Because my husband Dave and I have are living voluntarily simple lives, and Mom would not be comfortable in our tiny bungalow, we’ll have to move into a larger place if she accepts our offer. But for her sake as well as those of us who love her, I sincerely hope she does.
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When I’m 64
I, the firstborn of beautiful young film actress Gloria Marlen and her dashing WWII bomber pilot husband Malcolm White, was born at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital on January 20, 1950.
It is a well-known fact that the public loves to glorify
celebrities for their youth and beauty, and that aging actors and actresses are
typically left to fade from the spotlight… so it should come as no surprise
that my parents were victims of this mentality, or that my siblings and I were thus
raised with a heavier than average diet of stories about the importance of
youth and beauty—qualities valued above virtually all others in our home.
Gloria Marlen and Malcolm White
With my skewed perspective on aging,
the Beatle hit
on their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967.
[you can download from iTunes]
From the first time I heard this catchy tune, my highly conditioned seventeen year old psyche began dreading the inevitable day in the future that I’d turn 64, and for decades thereafter, my birthdays included a calculation of how many years I had left before that fateful day arrived.
When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?
[you can download from iTunes]
My approaching 63rd birthday next week [January 20,2013] will mark the beginning of my journey around the sun that—if I am fortunate enough to survive yet another year-- will take me to age 64. But, although a few niggling residual thoughts of dread still occasionally bubble to the surface (early childhood conditioning can be a powerful thing), the overwhelming sensations I am experiencing now are of joy and wonder. Little did I suspect back in 1967 that, instead of marking the end of my “glory days,” my early sixties would be by far the most deeply enjoyable, meaningful, and fun of my life on almost every level.
To what can I attribute this positive transformation of my feelings and values around aging?
The answer is clear to me. When I went to college in 1968, my burning passion was to understand the mind/body/spirit connection—and so I studied physiological psychology, philosophy (including religions of the world), anthropology, and other fields I thought would help me with my quest. Upon graduation, I still did not have a cohesive or satisfying understanding of reality or my place in the grand scheme of things…and my continuing search for the missing puzzle piece did not end until thirty years later when I read an article entitled “Reconnecting With Nature on Your Walk” by Maggie Spilner in Prevention Magazine.
In it, she described the work of ecopsychologist Dr. Michael J. Cohen and included a couple of his reconnecting with nature activities in the article. The first activity I tried impacted me so profoundly that I enrolled in Dr. Cohen’s Project NatureConnect graduate program—and my life has not been the same since.
began with that first activity, and my life continues to improve with each
passing year because, through the Natural Systems Thinking Process developed by
Dr. Cohen, I am able to continue to strengthen the 53 sensory attraction
relationships I share with the rest of the living world---allowing the wisdom
that has sustained our planet for billions of years to increasingly guide my
I invite you to do the same. For more information, you can check out www.projectnatureconnect.org.
A Lesson from Nature
WILD SENSE -A Lesson from Nature: Unifying Consciousness
I gained a deep understanding of the nature of consciousness through an activity developed by Project NatureConnect founder and director Dr. Michael Cohen during a PNC gathering on San Juan Island, WA many years ago. The theme for the week was "Consciousness and Natural Attractions."
Quantum physicists agree
that, from sub-atomic particles to human relationships, the creative force uses attraction energies to give rise to existence. In The Whispering Pond, quantum physicist and systems theorist Ervin Laszlo explains that leading edge scientists are also now beginning to realize that "there is a constant and intimate contact among the things that coexist and co-evolve in the universe - a sharing of bonds and messages that makes reality into a stupendous network of interaction and communication." It is this 'sharing of messages' in nature that keeps it in balance, and it is through our senses that we are able to tap nature’s balanced, life-promoting attractions.
Our senses connect us to the Web of Life
Therefore, PNC reconnecting with nature activities begin with sensing an attraction in nature. When I went to nature at this San Juan Island gathering and asked if anything in the natural world besides our human species is actually conscious, a simple truth became apparent.
Here’s what happened. A bit hungry, I was attracted to a blackberry bush filled with ripe berries. When I asked it if it was ‘conscious,’ I became intensely aware of its multiple attraction relationships giving rise to its existence in the present moment. Roots were attracted to water and minerals and gravity and burrowing. Leaves were attracted to air and sunlight as well as water from the roots so they could produce food for the bush. Berries were attracted to using the resources provided by the roots and leaves to produce seeds and sugary, moist seed containers as they attracted birds and humans for seed dispersal. There was simple Be-ingness in the present moment, no ‘thoughts’ of the past or worries about the future.
Responding to attractions—and being attractive— the focus
Responding to attractions—and being attractive—was the focus of the berry bush in each succeeding moment. Was the berry bush conscious? It was using all its senses to register and respond to its attractions. In doing so, it was not only sustaining its own life, but also the Web of Life. However, the consciousness itself seemed to be in the reciprocal attraction relationships, in the sensory awarenesses responding and shifting. Who was the ‘perceiver’ and who the ‘perceived?’ Everything in the environment was being subtly modified by a great balancing Consciousness working through reciprocal, loving attractions. I, as a sentient entity in this environment, was also part of this responsive balancing act. My attraction to this bush at this moment in time was an expression of the global intelligence that sustains the Web of Life. The berries were attracted to me (a seed carrier) as I was attracted to them (nourishment). As we each responded to our natural attractions, our lives--and the Web--were supported by Global Consciousness.
I realized then that what we humans call personal consciousness is actually more than our unique experience. Could it be that consciousness is truly an element or result of the attraction itself--so that what we are perceiving in the moment is also conscious of the relationship as much as we are--that "our' (my) consciousness is really shared Consciousness that we egocentric beings claim as our own? That the nameless, attractive, intelligent, loving force--as the source of the attractions--IS Consciousness, and we--as physical manifestations of this consciousness--experience a bit of this global consciousness too and we just claim it for ourselves?
Could it be that the personal, social and environmental atrocities of our species are a result of our disconnection from so many of our senses, which are our ‘connectors’ to Global Consciousness? Are we therefore unable to sense the attractions that would keep our lives and our earth in balance? Have we, who boast about being made in the Image of God and therefore assume we are the only truly conscious creatures, actually become the least conscious of all? The lesson of my berry bush seems clear.
The solution to the Earth’s plight...is simple
The solution to the Earth’s plight—the growing number of human-generated crises threatening the ability of life as we know it to be sustained on our planet—is simple. Quieting the neocortex—so filled with humanity’s non-life affirming cultural stories—is a first step. Next, by becoming aware of and healing our neglected multiplicity of senses, we can increase our ability to access the global consciousness. The more senses we reconnect to nature, the more consciousness we can experience. Trusting our senses, and following the positive attractions they register, will simply and naturally lead us to more conscious, loving and web-supporting behaviors.
...awareness of my own mortality
is becoming more and more acute...
As my journeys around the sun on our beautiful and amazing planet Earth add up, and as I spend a lot of time in my mother’s assisted-living facility, an awareness of my own mortality is becoming more and more acute.
But as each passing day brings me closer to my ultimate union with the rest of the Universe, the amazing perfection of the creative force becomes more and more obvious. Yes… perfection! Because if our senses connect us to the web of life and the pleasurable senses that support not only our lives, but the rest of the web as well—as we enter the last season of our natural lives, what a gift it actually is that we begin to lose the senses that keep us Earth-bound to the pleasures of life. If it is hard to see the beauty of the natural world or the glowing faces of our grandchildren, and a challenge to hear the sound of laughter and birdsong and the music of the spheres, and as we begin to lose the ability to savor the bounteous harvest of the fields, and we feel more and more pain instead of the pleasure of having our sensory longings fulfilled…it is easier to let ourselves move from corporeal beingness into whatever lies beyond death—and thus do our part to help keep Earth in balance by making way for new life.
Another comfort to me is this quote used at the beginning of Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese:
"And because I love this life
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when
From the right breast the mother
Takes it away, in the very next moment
To find in the left one
Rabindranath Tagore, from Gitanjali
So true! And when I'm asleep, I don't mourn the fact that I'm not awake. I do believe in a creative force in the universe--nameless, intelligent, attraction-based love that forms and holds it all together with energy--and somehow I trust that when it comes, death will be perfection--whatever it turns out to be.
Because nature is intelligent, and my body, heart, and soul are part of it—whether in this form, or any other.