An Introduction

If 2020 has taught us anything about our earthly existence it is that we live connected—physically, biologically, mentally, economically, spiritually connected to each other and to all life on earth. Indeed, the underlying principle of life is that there is an inherent integrity to the biosphere and we, humans, are an integral part of that phylogenetic tree. Our skin is pretty thin when it comes to creating a dividing line between the foreign microbes that live inside and outside the shells of our bodies. We are inescapably part of nature and nature is inescapably part of us.

So, isn’t it smart to remain watchful that our modern culture doesn’t powerfully pull us away from the practical and pure source of nature’s force (living foods, natural medicines & fibers) and suck us too deeply into the vortex of a virtual global marketplace of synthetic, stylish stuff, such that we forget our organic roots? Isn’t it smart nearly one year into the pandemic to guard against hyper-reacting to CV19 by sterilizing, disinfecting, and feebly attempting to isolate ourselves from all microbial life with excessive cleaning rituals and chemical recipes that may actually destroy the biological biodiversity at nature’s base, ironically largely responsible for keeping us naturally resilient, healthy, and safe in our gut, on our skin, in our mouths, and on our hands and face? Isn’t it smart to separate physical distancing from social isolationism? Is it really smart to stir up such a fright about wildlife and wild nature that we risk depriving ourselves of healthy experiences of wildlife and in nature that are essential for us to understand, respect, love, and protect our natural world? 

The reality is we are all one, common humanity. The reality is that animals have a lot more reason to be afraid of humans than us of them, as we are causing their rapid extinction. Who have we become this century? Do we no longer see the forest in the tree or the tree in the desk, drawers, windows, and doors of our forest-framed homes under which we keep careful watch and key?

Who do we in 2021 want to be?

What happens when we compromise the biosphere’s integrity? Well, when the natural balance of well-functioning ecosystems is disrupted and the natural principles that underpin the dynamic and yet discrete flow of life across generations of species are violated; then life as we know it—our life as we know it, will unravel… and indeed, the dance has already begun.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

I would love to believe that well-meaning geo-engineers, moral bio-technologists, and wise land managers can still save the world from ourselves; even if we fail as a global society to change our exploitative ways and to protect the biodiversity of life, reduce plastic pollution, regenerate nature, and curb our carbon diet. But this is not true. We can’t simply, solely innovate our way out of our climate-nature crisis and emerge a healthier people-planet. This moment requires full participation by everyone, everywhere in our global society to educate ourselves about nature’s life principles, to create conditions that allow nature to heal, to act wisely in our own lives, and to share knowledge. The health and habits of every human being living on earth today, matters. Thanks to an invisible, infectious disease we all now know that we are visibly, viscerally, inextricably tied to the biological health of each other, the natural abundance of the biosphere, and the heartbeat of our planet’s life support systems. Yes, we are the butterflies and the ripples in the ponds we’ve been waiting for. There is no other way to reduce or to reverse the damage we have done, but for each one of us to commit to recreating a healthy relationship to nature and to wildlife outside our door and to rise up as good stewards of earth’s living system, evermore. This is the solution and my 2021 New Year’s resolution.

Nature’s Reflection Photography

The Good News for 2021

The good news is that nature is our best teacher, having figured out over 3.8 billion years of evolutionary history how to well adapt to environmental change. In my biological studies and teaching we always began Biology 101 by reflecting on seven principles of life that (though defined and interpreted by human observation) seem a good point of departure on a journey to re-program our pre-industrial memory back to a time and place where we were much more connected to nature, obedient to nature’s laws, and aware of our interdependent state. We innately know that if we treat the air, water, earth, plants, and animals in our environment poorly and without consideration; we will ultimately suffer disease and degraded health. In his recall of Laudato Si (2015) for the Global Countdown to COP 26; Pope Francis reminded us of a truth–most every Indigenous community embodies– that when we care for nature, then nature will care for us; and when we care for nature and people, we reflect the best of our human +nature.

The good news is that we already have good earth teachers, naturalists, and native peoples to guide us rightly. When we follow our Indigenous brothers and sisters in their healthy home habits, community-centric philosophies, and reciprocity-driven lifestyles; we act in accordance with nature’s life principles, unlock our true human nature, and re-align ourselves in right relationship to all living beings. (read more)

The good news is that we innately know when we treat each other poorly and forget to consider others in our daily lives and life decisions. We recognize the Good Samaritan, when he commits acts of random kindness…and we feel a skip in our heart when we miss the opportunity to do the same. Prophets and teachers from different religions and traditions may call this heart skip (Love) by a different name, but the acts of Love are always the same. Where the heart of Jesus’ Word is to “Love one another as I have loved you”; the root of the Dalai Lama’s (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) teaching is to “Cause no harm and to instigate no conflict, lest we ultimately lose our own benefit.” Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jane Goodall, Wangari Maathai, David Attenborough, and many essential earth workers, peace makers have shaped the positive course of human history by living the truth that “when another is not well, I am not well.” The primary force behind their great works to heal nature and to help humanity is selfless service with love and great joy.

Art in the UN HQ, Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Our Pledge to Nature

This is our moment in human history to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the global civilization we have built. This is our moment in evolutionary history to step back from the human civilization we have built, to reflect wisely on our present environmental impacts, and to re-calibrate our existence forward in ways that integrate nature more positively into the earth’s now human-dominant ecosystems. Tangibly, this means to recreate wild nature reserves, while re-imagining our human homes as refuges to celebrate and to sustain biodiversity in our shared earth university. Thankfully, the youth of this new Age of Aquarius are already charged with the right vibration to excite right relations with one another and nature. As the Moonshot Apollo Mission was one of humanity’s greatest achievements to outer space in the 1900’s, may our Earthshot Nature Recovery Mission now eclipse Apollo One in igniting world peace with collective grace.

And so, may this be our 2021 pledge to nature and to our world to realign our lives in coherence with nature’s seven living principles and to awaken our natural intelligence  once again.

“All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before…for it is a hope that inspires us at an uncompromising core to keep rising up for an earth, more than worth fighting for. An environmental movement of this size is simply another form of an earth rise.” Amanda Gorman, poet


The Principles of Life

Principle 000- Life on Earth is a Miracle to Marvel

Life on earth is a miracle to marvel… and curiosity is the key to unlock that wonder. Witness a child adventuring out for the first time in nature’s backyard. Recall your own exploration of a new place for the first time– eyes-wide-open, heart racing, ears piqued, and all six senses on high alert. What a treat to find your feet on sand, rock, forest, water, or grass pulsating with life’s heartbeat. Right? Witness Sir David Attenborough and his witness statement in: A Life on Our Planet. He’s our nature knight in shining armadillo armor, reflecting back over 94 years of a life lived in undiminished wonder, infinite curiosity, and utter delight. He’s our role model for what it means to live a life of play in the natural world, quite literally, every day.

Imagine now if we knew, loved, and protected the animals and plants of the world from further trauma, stress, and displacement as Sir David Attenborough would certainly do? What if we also happily played by nature’s ecological playbook—no matter the marginal short-term economic cost in order to ensure our seventh generation children’s joyful Garden of Eden bliss? Isn’t one of the silver linings of COVID-19 that the virus not only breeds questions about our personal health; but also feeds our curiosity about our impact on nature’s wealth? Aren’t we also wise when we seize this Great Reset opportunity in 2021 to upgrade not only our resilience to future disease, but also to re-program our relationships to others and to nature in human + nature healthy, positive ways?

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

“He who can not stand to wonder, wrapped in awe of the natural world is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

Q1: Life is a miracle to marvel—yes. There is a vast intelligence that holds the mystery of the universe; and we are reflections of that natural intelligence on earth. Imagine the tiny redwood seed programmed with all the 300+ year old tree would need in the Sierra Nevada forest to succeed. Imagine the monarch butterfly that travels 1,000’s miles on its migratory Mexico-California flight or the California gray whale who travels the same over many ocean night. What is this miracle of life and what drives life to persist?How did life originate; the biosphere first exist? When did life really first appear? Could matter and life have burst forth first from a sphere– one of pure white light to ignite the ubiquitous black night? Couldnon-organicmatter have serendipitously, miraculously organized itself in one organic miracle moment into multi-cellular life, and then self-created conditions for self-less life to survive, thrive, and Cambrian explode? Was the precursor to life’s biodiversity –the coordination, collaboration, mutualism, and synergy among the first living cells? (Celebrating Mothers- The Nurturers of Life; read more here) Is then collaboration an essential aspect of survival for every species alive– to cooperate, to create mutually beneficial relationships, and to find one’s natural and unique right place of service in one’s ecological niche home, rather than roam the earth, alone? The first plants that crawled onto land did so only in symbiotic relationship with fungi. Animals followed the land-bound plants, enabling the rest of life’s colonization, adaptation, evolution on earth and sea. Thus, could it be that creative cooperation is the true miracle of life; opposed to destructive competition? If so, then life rather always reflects back on itself (mirare) and diversifies in order to perpetuate and to expand our own living networked band of services to each other– our sister & brother, in order to reinforce our unity, as we venture out to form new sea and land community? If so, then does it behoove us today to well observe well-functioning, complex natural ecosystems –the coral reef, the lichen, the fungi and tree, the fruiting flower and pollinating bat-bird-bee chosen, in order to re-awaken our primeval human, act on our hunter-gatherer wisdom, and re-create another Cambrian explosion? And if so, can we do so in a humble, hands-off way; trusting and allowing nature to select its right track for nature to intelligently grow back?

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Q2: Why earth, why not life emerging somewhere else in the universe? Is the distance between the sun and the earth ideal to create the perfect goldilocks climate for life to appear on our eikosphere? Is it the spin of the earth on its axis at the exact angle and rate in relation to the moon and the sun in space for all earth-water-climate systems supporting life to run with perfect seasonal order and pace? How do the phases of the moon or the seasons in tune or the crashing of plates or the uplift of mountain slates reflect the expansion and contraction of nature’s biodiversity boon?

Let’s consider the role of the sun in nature’s play. The sun is the spark of life. The sun fuels every plant cell alive with such photosynthetic force so as to resource the most extraordinary worldwide food drive; ultimately feeding us all, but that’s not all. The sun also catalyzes electrons in every element’s sub-atomic outer orbital shell, causing electrons to spin off and to quantum leap from one molecularly charged relationship to another. Thus, the sun is responsible for driving forward and back life’s positively and negatively charged pendulum tack—forever balancing and re-balancing nature’s chemistry in perfect alchemy. Once sparked by the sun; life’s essentially relational, perpetually dynamic, and necessarily reciprocal force is perfectly on course to compose nature’s symphony. And as the music of life flows through every living being in infinite loops –across seamless and smooth circular paths of air, water, light, nutrients, earth—this same energy we share. But, do we care?  Energy—called by many things, but being the same sound, light, food, wiggly (vibrational) force that from the breath of life, springs. This wiggle is nature’s circular ecology. This wiggle is nature’s balanced checkbook economy. And as nature wiggles, life perpetuates itself.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

There is a natural score to how life continues to create and to destroy; to mutate and to modernize; to expand to contract; to select without subjective selection the next generation genetic hack. There is a unity and consistency to how life architects new life according to its genetic blueprint—DNA recombining; forever re-defining, our natural immune defense following Fibonacci’s spiral step, re-aligning. Isn’t it amazing that life energized by the sun recycles about in infinite, closed, circular loops; while at the same time spirals outward and upward, evolving new species and joining new ecological groups? But must there always be a yin black-eyed white fish to every yang white-eyed black fish? Might opposites one day merge or converge to become again one, or some new form of life beyond the sun? Perhaps life will one day spin off from our earth legacy to create new story worlds in new galaxies.  But for now, isn’t it enough to appreciate our current reality to reflect more often the miracle of life? What if we opened our inner eyes wider to acknowledge ourselves as miracles of life, would we be so stressed and depressed (70% of Americans reporting high levels of anxiety, today) or would we rather in our every breath feel blest?

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Q3: How do we as big-brained, walking-running-touching-tooling-talking, bipedal beings; looking a bit odd and acting sometimes silly– fit into life’s genetic past and present story? No one really can know, but fossil records show that once our humanoid ancestors climbed down from the trees, gave up swinging from the branches, and started to walk on two feet; our whole world would change, including our heart beat and our growing brain. Our arms shortened, our legs got stronger, our spine curved, our pelvis shifted, our hands became nimble and our feet quick. We trained to run for miles and chase after big game that we fed our hungry, fast-evolving minds that continued to imagine and to invent new tools, while well-communicating a new playbook for a coordinated team hunt. Clearly, our collective force, our social cohesion, our inventive minds, our articulate fingers and hands, and our bipedal mobility to explore new frontiers precipitated our unmatched success against any other predatory threat. However, as we dispersed in migratory paths around the earth, there would be compromise to our human rise. Fast-forward to today, and to our current human selves– culturally-programmed by our past hunter-gather, agrarian, and early urban citizen selves, what do we see? What do we believe was the purpose of our socio-evolutionary, experiential journey from there to here?

Q4: Were we naturally selected and divinely inspired to evolve from where we began to be part of an essential adaptive life plan for some meaningful purpose under or above the stars? What should we write in our memoirs? Did nature select us to be stewards of life? Did God (Great Spirit) create us to protect the Garden of Eden, to promote biodiversity, and to perpetuate life? Were we meant to be the heroes of our own terrestrial trajectory? And if so, are we still quite young, at the beginning of that journey, and operating with a limited OS directory?  Many philosophers, theologians, artists, and renaissance scientists describe our existence in terms of light beings embodied in this earthly form having a life experience on this water planet. Could it be that the spirit and spark of consciousness that fills our earthen vessels be now guiding us to return to our natural intelligence and recover the life we have lost in our rebellious youth. We were once small groups of wise earth dwellers living in harmony with nature. We were reapers and keepers of sustainable forests, fields, and marshes. But then we began to farm, and eventually attempt nature to control and as our population would grow, began to do harm. Since the early industrial days, we’ve become rebellious youth, unintentionally and inadvertently destroying nature with our increasingly fast-pace, rapid replace city-bound, urbane lifestyle. Thankfully, we seem now in the wake of CV19’s debris eager to mature into adulthood, moving slower with eyes wide open and renewed reverence for the life that sustains us. The real question is whether or not we will return back to our wise elder selves fast enough to reawaken natural intelligence in the world and bring heaven to earth before we reach the pearly gates.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Do we understand what we really have to lose by turning colorful coral reefs into bleached white skeleton reliefs? What have we to gain continuing to drive our cars on dinosaur bones, when it’s polluting the air and our homes? How could we think that the degradation of natural forests, grasslands, and marshes make smart sustainable economic-ecologic sense? How could we ever feel it to be ethically or evolutionarily correct to regain our rightful place in our (perceived) human planet domain if we’re not even willing to avert our own human pain? Isn’t it insane to uproot entire tropical ecosystems once we realize “there goes the rain”? Do we really believe that we can continue on this train—that we can dominate the natural world (over 70% land developed), deforest the tropics (50% gone), and decimate all non-human life that still runs wild (52% gone, 1 million threatened)—while claiming to live a life, humane? Shouldn’t we rather stand down, bow low, listen well, pray for mercy, and kiss the ground? When is the Lorax going to come back around?

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Maybe it’s up to us to now embody the wisdom and foresight of the Lorax and not only plant a few 100’s of million of trees (One Trillion Tree Campaign); but also to speak up and act on our conservation values more for these. The good news is that many more know now that we can’t afford to delay; to divert or avert our necessary now growth spurt. We have 30% of the earth’s biosphere to re-wild now before the next generation sun rises. And, we are fortunate to be Homo sapiens (smart humans) standing here and now at this pivotal evolutionary moment in the biosphere. We are privileged to be the generation presented with the conscious choice to either live in a way that is hostile to life or beneficial to life. It is our destiny to choose and it is our moral responsibility to choose, wisely. The good news is that during this pandemic we’ve discovered, there are rules to life’s game. Hopefully we now seethat our mistreatment of exotic animals for trade and our mismanagement of wild lands we’ve chosen to invade and degrade has precipitated CV19’s predictable pandemic attack, and forced us to stare our connected reality in the face, while to be led to nature, back. And, when we find ourselves violating nature’s rules by over-exploiting earth’s finite resources, by over-stepping the planet’s climate-energy tipping points, or by over-developing our human habitats; we can now reflect, step back, and shed our old nature destructive ways from our rebellious youth days. Mother nature hasn’t singled us out or instigated war against us. She’s just reprimanding us and forcing us to mature and grow. All fish, fungi, ferns, frogs, and foxes naturally subscribe to the same principles of life that underpin our earth experience and collective existence. It is our evolutionary responsibility now as good, smart humans to tap into our intuition and educate ourselves about life’s principles, so we can act now in both our enlightened self-interest and in the biosphere’s best interest. Life on earth is a miracle. It’s time we return to nature and marvel more.

“When there is light in the soul; there is beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”

Chinese proverb

Thank you for reading. In my next few blogs, I will share with you what I’ve defined as Nature’s Seven Principles of Life, drawing on notes from my scientific studies, cultural experiences, and spiritual journey. My hope is that something I write touches you and stirs natural intelligence inside you to inspire you to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Principles of Life

  • There is Supreme Order, Unity and Natural Rhythm to Life
  • All life flows air, energy, nutrients, and water throughout the biosphere.
  • All life is symbiotic. No life is wasted. No waste is generated in healthy, living systems.
  • Every living being is born, grows, develops, and dies.
  • Every living being pro-creates to pass genes to the next generation
  • Every living being must adapt to change in their environment and evolve to survive
  • There is natural coherence and unity in and among all living beings
Nature’s Reflection Photography 2021

Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD, Natural Intelligence Media is committed to awakening Natural Intelligence in the World. We produce multimedia content — books, films, experiences, and podcasts that inspire everyone to live a happy, healthy, nature-conscious life.

Visit our Natural Intelligence Website HERE.

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  • 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.