Natural Intelligence is the essential intelligence of the universe. It is the essential genetic code – the blueprint of authentic being that is inherent in every living creature. It is the continuous creative result of compassion and communion of life, with life, to beget life. Natural Intelligence is the operation’s manual for how life (the biosphere as a whole) has organically, dynamically exploded, fragmented, and differentiated itself into a biosphere of species– adapted to an ever-changing environment and evolved over geologic time through the process of natural selection.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Essential intelligence is our shared genetic code and the unique natural expression of our biological selves. Geneticists are discovering more and more that every creature on the phylogenic tree of life is related to one another… and that means also to us. However distant or near, every species naturally selected on earth appears to be kin– right back to the first cyanobacteria, who converted sunlight into carbon energy and produced oxygen—precipitating the proliferation of life, a blossoming that began nearly 3.8 billions years ago. And, the human genome research shows that we, Homo sapiens (wise humans) share over 98% of our genetic code with our closest primate cousins—Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee) and Pan paniscus (bonobo), 87% of our genetic code with the simplest chordate (sea squirt), and even 50% of our genetic code with species in the plant kingdom. (Pocket History of Human Evolution, Silvana Condemi, Francois Savatier, 2020) Amazing, right? Could it be then, that the over 8.7 million species now alive (recorded today) are all genetically related? If so, then we are all family. You and I and every organism alive are part of one incredibly biologically diverse universe. And together we can thrive if we, as humans, can learn from our animal kin how to fit in—how to create community, how to maintain equitable, mutually beneficial relationships, how to reciprocate, and how to identify and to activate our natural character traits that improve the symbiotic ecosystem state. If the rest of the species in the natural world barters and deals and cooperates, why can’t we find another mode for our societies to operate? If other species only take what they need and give back what they take from the ecosystem from which they borrowed to mind the gate, close the loop, and in a circular way, regenerate; then why can’t we also learn to cooperate? Basically, every other species in the animal kingdom inhabiting every ecological nook in our Garden of Eden can teach us this essential intelligence if we slow down and stay present long enough to watch, observe, listen, and learn their lifestyles, behaviors, and community dynamics that give back and precipitate nature’s infinite return.   

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

“There are no free-loading (bank) brokers or billionaire (hoarders) in a natural ecosystem. Everyone is an essential worker, a collaborator, a contributor and a beneficiary of a mutualistic system. Everyone uses only what he needs, takes no more, and gives back.” My summary and reiteration of Janine Benyus’ commentary (Sustainable Brands, June 2020)

And when we do learn from our human mistake– to separate and to isolate; we will realize that essential intelligence dictates that as part of the natural order, to survive and for all of life to thrive, we must reciprocate. And anyway, to protect even the least of our brethren and animal kin only serves to build greater resilience in our diversity from within; enabling us to best adapt to our changing world environment, so when crisis strikes we don’t go into another self-destructive tailspin. Janine Benyus reminds us that we never know when a certain gene or gene expression is going to come in handy to respond to some anomalous, unexpected environmental threat or viral attack, right!? Fortunately, this essential intelligence that lives within us and links us to the legacy of life can protect us and save us from future disturbance… if in our quest for efficiency we don’t strip away what some scientists erroneously call, junk DNA. And anyway, here’s another reason not to reject divergent life. When we express our naturally intelligent selves-biologically, emotionally, physically, socially in right alignment with our authentic selves (not our wealth or physical assets) and essential intelligence (our connection to the natural world), then life becomes less a struggle, more an experience of joy in accordance with nature’s laws.

“Money is a proxy for exchange of value. It’s a symbol, a human creation that originally was meant to facilitate the flow of goods and services in a growing community, so everyone could get what they needed and participate in the economy (management of one’s home). But when we created the banking system and the system became perturbed such that we exchanged money to create value, instead of using money to facilitate the exchange of value; we lost our way.” My reiteration and summary of Lynn Twist’s commentary (Sustainable Brands, June 2020)

How do we awaken essential intelligence? We attune to nature and await her wisdom.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Scrambling a beautiful, glacially-carved granite mountain in the High Sierras, I marveled at the grace and skill with which a native California ground squirrel (Otospermaphilus beecheyi) scurried past me to then scale up the stem of a limber pine (Pinus flexilis), bending over the edge of a cliff with thick roots exposed. The entire scene was so precarious, and yet the squirrel was supremely nimble, quick, and calm. And, now he sat perched in the nook of the pine branch–happily cracking open a protein-rich cone. Fascinated, I reflected on what I had learned about our ancient, early primate ancestors. Homo sapiens evolved from the Ardipithecus (arboreal quadruped)– adapted to life swinging from branch to vine to branch in the fruit-rich tropical tree canopies to the Australopithecus (the first true imperfect biped)—who walked the earth and hunted for game. (How We Became Sapiens, Silvana Condemi, 2019) Could it be true that we were also once agile, nimble, and fearless high-rise forest dwellers, like the squirrels, literally hanging out in nature’s precarious paradise enjoying her fruits, regenerating nature, recycling back, creating closed loops? One could argue that we are still nimble and quick; but with hands-heads-hearts buried in our wireless, lifeless, electronic smart phones; texting about the current pandemic panic and the next now socio-economic dynamic. Have we successfully adapted to our natural world and learned to appreciate nature’s gifts or have we abandoned the body of the biosphere, become less attuned to our own, practiced little resilience, and demonstrated less agility in balancing our consumptive desires with nature’s need for regeneration?

As I pondered our ancestral tree of life and connection to the squirrel; I thought — how far we’ve come in our evolution, and yet how much we’ve forgotten in our devolution. The industrial revolution, especially, was a time when our perspective on nature and our relationship to our essential intelligence took a dangerous turn. And oh now, we’ve a lot from nature to learn. We began to view all other species and nature’s services of air, water, earth, and minerals as infinite resources divined for our extractive purposes, rather than as potential energy exchanges that required reciprocal dialect—essential intelligence operating on an ethic of respect.

Nature Now—the continuous, graceful dance between abiotic forces of the environment and the natural biotic responses of different species perched on life’s phylogenic tree—has much to teach us about how to live as healthy branches clinging to one another on life’s stem, well-rooted to Earth’s ground for to this planet we are bound. There’s no other place in space or planet in this galaxy that supports life like here that we’ve found. So, perhaps now is a good time to linger long outdoors, reconnect to home, and observe the ways of our ancestors and our animal kin, awaken our natural intelligence within.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

Natural Intelligence: Do we Dare to Become Aware, to Care, and to Share?

If we dare to observe nature without force and without desiring to know in order to control; but rather to see, in order to learn to really be in harmony like the birds, the bees, the snakes, the frogs, and the raccoons; then we might touch grace and relax the fear in our face. When I was without food and facing yet another unmarked, snow-filled, high mountain pass before I could down climb the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains during that unusual heavy snow year; there was a small yellow-bellied mountain bird (the junco), who kept appearing on my path, chirping away, happily. He didn’t appear particularly concerned with where he might find his next insect meal. Conversely, I was calculating in my mind how long I could realistically, energetically afford to travel without a few energy bars and trying to imagine myself as Katnis (Hunger Games) clipping and cooking a squirrel for dinner. Every time I lost the route and felt a tinge of despair that little golden light – the junco, appeared again in my path, singing away. I finally got the message… everything’s going to be OK.  The sparrow flies effortlessly in unison with its flock; the mule deer finds its forage; the fox, its den; and the ant, her hill and home community… and so will we, find our way down the mountain.  Don’t despair. The universe does care. Learn to trust.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

This is what I learned from nature.

If we dare to slow down, actually stop, and embrace the pure silence of nature without force and without desiring to hear in order to capture and to contain the sound; but rather to just listen and let go; then we might touch grace and relax our ears to truly hear the peace in nature’s pace. When I was out walking through the fields of tall prairie grasses a few nights ago at dusk, I was in perfect time with the setting sun to glimpse a pool of golden light radiate out from the solar life force and immerse perhaps 50 different species of grasses, reeds, sedges, and grains in her regal glow. Silent–amidst a community of new shoots emerging from old dry shafts, jabbering away to one another, and wafting in unison to the irregular beat of sky’s wind—I stood in awe and in stillness.

We humans are so obsessed with naming, defining, sifting, sorting, differentiating, discriminating…. and ultimately, separating. Yet the truth is that all of life originates from and is bathed in that pool of golden light. All life vibrates in a dialectic life-death flow, sourced from the sun– the catalyst of photosynthesis and the first frequency to set in motion a web-like, wave-like ocean of co-motion among all living beings. Myself aglow with the setting sun’s rich golden light, I finally got the message… Nature is controlled chaos. There are no straight lines. There are actually no lines at all in nature. Nature is boundless. There exists no black or white; all are shades of golden light. Nor is nature discrete. And by the way, the earth is our home for all to retreat. We humans share the sun’s radiance and rhythm with the golden grass, whose heads now bob and sparkle as stems sway in sky’s wind en mass. We share this light with the butterflies swooping in and out of dusk’s magic mood in silhouette. We share this light and life with the insects hopping from blade to blade, adding another layer of sparkle to the now crimson, rolling hill glade. We are light. We are one, nature. We are never alone. We are the web of life. Learn to be peace.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

This is what I learned from nature.

If we dare to really see the more profound truth of life and choose to accept the inevitability of nature’s changing events without force and without desire to avert or to avoid or to prevent a disruptive, emotionally challenging, seemingly catastrophic event; but rather to simply and serenely acknowledge change as part of life’s game; then we might touch grace and relax our eyes to truly see nature’s transformative power in any time or place. I seldom drive in my region, but one spring morning I needed to refill my water jugs at the mountain’s source. When I drive, I seldom drive fast because I am keenly aware that wildlife make up 35% of those who live here. My neighbors comprise small mammals, flocking birds, slithering reptiles, and large bounding ungulates, prancing these spring days with pride, showing off their new velvety antlers and hide. But this particular morning– quite an unpredictable, sadly-not uncommon, but unavoidable event occurred. One moment I was winding around the serene lagoon and another moment I was struck by the flash of a young female doe leaping onto the hood of my car. I had no time to swerve or to stop. I could only scream and pull over and pray that this deer had disappeared into the forest, away. But there she lay, peacefully, innocently, and lovingly looking me in the eyes; as if to say…It’s no one’s fault that this crash occurred; it’s just my time, it’s just my day… and then her spirit flew away. Hysterical tears, petitions to the Sky Woman, and even rescue efforts by the local fire department could not revive this precious life. I was told that local hunters would not get there in time to bleed the animal in order to cure the deer; so the whole event seemed such a tragic loss…until the local wildlife relief team offered to carry the deer to a safe place in nature, in order to be reclaimed by her. Somehow, it gave me great solace to envision all the small critters and birds, who would now feast on this young doe, this sacrificial beast. Somehow, it also gave me solace to take my car to the auto repair team, hungry also for work—lacking now during these COVID-19 times, and be the catalyst for a week of employment and value exchange.

That said, I am still quite sad by the event as I have never taken a life in that way—even though I eat chicken-fish-or occasionally beef nearly every third day, but I finally got the message. Every moment, every event that is meant to be will be; and it’s right and good for all eternity. I am not fated nor trapped, just part of life’s natural balance and harmony. To the reality that is, I am just going to have to adapt. There is no blame or need for shame, life and death are part of the game. So, whether or not I have the eyes to clearly see is a choice that’s 100% up to me. I can choose to walk within a greater light and expand the range of my sight to include both the black and the white…and all the gray reasoning and muddy seasoning that naturally exists between our toes, as well as, the hoofs of our dearest does. Everything is as it should be. Learn to accept, freely.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

This is what I learned from nature.

If we dare to truly smell the ocean’s mineral-rich, healing air; then we might touch grace and relax our nose to truly, courageously breathe in the endless wisdom of even nature’s darkest, deepest, yet largely unexplored place.

I’ve recently stumbled upon a treasure, a grotto along the remote northern shores of California’s coast. It’s a special, quiet ecological niche, created from the calcite-laden, sedimentary rock that dominates the crumbling cliff. Water that percolates through this geologic lattice creates pools of calcite crystals and slow moving streams that florescent green algae capture and absorb into their spongy hair-like threads. From the center of this little oasis, I watch the waves approach the shore, crisscrossing one another, weaving foamy primordial water along this geologically charged subduction zone called the San Andreas Fault. The scent of the entire cave-ocean scene is Paleolithic, volcanic, active, alive, and abundant with colorful tidepool creatures.

Always, the richest biological zones exist along the ecotones- edges where one ecosystem crosses another—an estuary (the edge of a freshwater system and an ocean tidal zone) or a forest and a meadow. And curiously, these hotspots of biodiversity are often very turbulent, dynamic habitats where the climate and environment are highly unpredictable. My hypothesis to the question of biodiversity in these dynamic zones is that in changing environments and in unpredictable times life knows that it must draw on a larger, more diverse range of character traits and keep an agile, adaptable attitude to maintain a certain aptitude for success in these zones. The sea anemone, for example, has to be comfortable covered completely in sand and living in total darkness one day, while content submerged in a sea of undulating salty waves or fully exposed to direct 100% UV sunlight; the next day. Clearly the sea anemone’s home is not predictable, nor is her future. But she doesn’t moan because she’s not evolutionarily adapted to roam. She adapts to her environment and humbly plays her role, rather than pretending to have any control. Perhaps she’s aware of the infinite ocean within which she is a part or perhaps not; but she has still learned that it is futile to fight the current, so chooses to continue to squat. Reflecting on both the infinite dynamic nature of the ocean and the finite reality of the sea anenome’s positive and accepting emotion; I finally got the message.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2020

When we let go our egos and false control of our life journey, exactly at that moment of release, we are filled with peace–the divine will of the universe. Suddenly we know our way, so we can then play. When we release our fear and false perception that struggling is the key to survival, to being accepted, to feeling love or to being protected… to be safe, to feel worthy, to be prosperous and joyful, then we can relax into our tide pool saunas.  We can observe the water and sand come and to go, and marvel at the perfect order, simply grateful to be part of nature’s flow. Learn to adapt, joyfully.

This is what I learned from nature.

“In divine order and purpose, as in nature; life unfolds with effortless ease.” Oprah Winfrey

Photo by Dudley de Saint Phalle, June 2020

PS All lives matter. And every life-death has his purpose. Did George Floyd (remembered as the “gentle giant”) or his family, who continue to stand for peace– know that George would be the catalyst for a revolution in repairing racial tension that has festered in parts of our country for hundreds of years? Tonight, over hundred people from our village paddled out into the ocean to honor and remember George Floyd and the end of violence against any other human and non-human being his death memorializes. Following the native Hawaiian tradition, we formed a very large circle, tossed flowers in the circle center, pounded our paddles and surfboards on the water’s surface creating a common hum; calling on life to support life, reform the circle of life, and repair the rip in humane humanity wrought by a few lost souls. May George rest in peace; and may we all find peace and purpose in promoting the truth that all lives matter.


  • Catherine Cunningham, PhD

    Mission Possible: Awaken Natural Intelligence in Our World

    Natural Intelligence

    Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD is an ecologist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and media host producing films, interactive experiences, and online multimedia for international clients who are focused on positive economic, social, and environmental win-win-win solutions to global conservation and climate change.

    Catherine has travelled, written, photographed, and filmed in 70 countries, producing creative films and music videos in support the UN Global Goals and the human+nature planetary health narrative. Visit Natural to see where her work has premiered internationally. Over 20 years, she has interviewed hundreds of global thought leaders to promote sustainable solutions to climate change and conservation in creative ways. Catherine has written numerous articles on climate change, nature, and regeneration. She’s currently writing two books: “Naturally Intelligent by Design” — a fine art science and culture book for families and “Natural Intelligence”— a guidebook for well-navigating a post COVID-19 world by following nature’s principles. Partnering with Eurovision News and Events, Catherine is also an independent media host— producing content on nature, climate, and regeneration; syndicated globally by EuroVision’s News Direct. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and Medium. She currently produces communications for the Prince Albert II Foundation and participates in programming @ the World Economic Forum on Climate Change, Nature, and Biodiversity. As an university educator, Catherine taught undergraduate and masters courses in corporate sustainability communications at Arizona State University; global sustainability at Chapman University; biology, ecology, botany, and environmental science at Denver State College and Front Range College. In 2016, she designed one of the first university courses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also online), contributing to youth action on the UN Global Goals. She also created a post-graduate program with UNESCO on the MAB (Man the Biosphere) reserves. Catherine earned her PhD in Ecosystem Science at ETHZ in Switzerland, studying climate impacts on mountain ecosystems. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters degree from Utah State in Ecology. Catherine speaks fluent English and conversational Italian. She loves creative collaboration, media production, mountaineering, outdoor sports, yoga, wellness, and travel.