The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence & Practice

I sometimes waver in my commitment to the “Great Work” and to entering Earth’s dream during this time of political instability, social stress and environmental catastrophe.  But programs like. The Inner Life of the Child in Nature are like a beacon, leading back to this path through the cultural darkness.
— Morgan Josey Glover

In the Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice Program, we are preparing for a deep psychic shift in the culture at large – one educator at a time. We believe that the change that is needed in our time cannot be achieved through sweeping movements, curriculum change, or further exchange of information. The change that is needed is much closer to home.

This is a new form of working with educators based on the assumption that a shift in consciousness within the educational realm will come only through an inner transformation of the educator, through an honoring of the soul/spirit of the educator as a core value, and through the creation of a community of educators who support and inspire one another on the threshold of a new consciousness for our time – a consciousness that moves us beyond a view of the natural world as a collection of objects to be used into an experience of the natural world as a communion of subjects.

Our approach has been deeply guided by the following quote from Thomas Berry:

There is a certain futility in the efforts being made – truly sincere, dedicated, and intelligent efforts – to remedy our environmental devastation simply by activating renewable sources of energy and by reducing the deleterious impact of the industrial world.  The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed with in wonder, beauty and intimacy.  In our present attitude the natural world remains a commodity to be bought and sold, not a sacred reality to be venerated.  The deep psychic shift needed to withdraw us from the fascination of the industrial world and the deceptive gifts that it gives us is too difficult for simply the avoidance of its difficulties or the attractions of its benefits.  Eventually, only our sense of the sacred will save us.
— (Thomas Berry, Foreword, When Trees Say Nothing by Thomas Merton)

In considering the education of children and young adults in our culture, we have come to believe that this “deep psychic shift” that Thomas Berry refers to is the central task of our time. To what extent does the schooling of children contribute to their view of the natural world as a commodity?  How might we create a context within which children awaken to the wonder, beauty and intimacy of the natural world?  What might be done to restore a sense of the natural world as a sacred presence in the lives of children? These are the questions that have concerned us. 

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice program cultivates an "I and Thou" relationship between human beings and the natural world. Contemplative in nature, the program evolves through eco-contemplative practices and reflective readings and gives evidence, through practical applications, of ways of working with children that bring to life a sense of belonging to Earth as sacred community.

In the first year of the program, we focus on "Presence" - the cultivation of inner capacities, both in ourselves and in children and young adults, that enable us to form a bond of intimacy with the natural world. In the second year, we focus on "Practice" –where each participant creates an individual practice that reflects this deeper understanding of the human-earth relationship.  The program culminates with the publication of a “Collection of Practices” that is downloadable on the Center's publication page.  

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature program is an in-depth process of inner development and group sharing. Thomas Berry's image of the Universe as a "communion of subjects" permeates every aspect of the program. Participants find themselves in new territory and form incredible bonds of intimacy with one another and the Earth.

In an atmosphere of trust and soul welcoming, we create a meaningful context for the Inner Life program by paying close attention to the rhythm of the day. Retreats begin with a moment of silence intended to quiet the mind and create a field of receptivity for the group. Our retreats include solo time in the natural world, time for reflection and sharing, the fellowship of shared meals at lunch, and presentations related to the theme at hand.

Every year, the Center accepts a new class of twelve educators into the program.  The group is composed of teachers, parents, child psychologists, therapists, religious educators, naturalists, college professors, artists, writers and others who indicate a deep interest in the relationship between the inner life of the child/young adult and the natural world.

We invite you to apply for the next class that begins on November 23rd. Applications are now being received on a rolling admissions basis until October 15, 2019.


Center Director Peggy Whalen-Levitt has been with the Center since its beginnings in 2000. Working closely with Center Founder Carolyn Toben and cultural historian Thomas Berry, Peggy has been deeply engaged in the formation of a work for adults and children that cultivates an “I-Thou” relationship between human beings and the natural world.  She holds a Ph.D. in Language in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, where she co-created a concentration in Childhood Imagination. Peggy is the editor of Chrysalis, the Center journal, and Only the Sacred: Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century, a Chrysalis reader. She edited the Center’s Emergence Series in 2015 and shepherds the Center’s program for educators, “The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice.” Peggy has an abiding interest in working collaboratively with soul and spirit in small organizations through deep listening and presence to what is calling from the future.  As Director, Peggy is liaison to the Educator Council Board.

Andrew Levitt holds a BA in English from Yale University and a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. He trained as a mime with Marcel Marceau and with Paul J. Curtis at The American Mime Theatre. Andrew performed and taught mime professionally for over thirty years and then helped found the high school at the Emerson Waldorf School in Chapel Hill, NC where he taught Humanities and directed theater for seven years. Andrew co-created a performance piece, “The Meadow Across the Creek: Words from Thomas Berry” for the Thomas Berry Centennial and is the author of All the Scattered Leaves of the Universe: Journey and Vision in Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Work of Thomas Berry, published by the Center in the Fall of 2015, and Heron Mornings, published by the Center in the Fall of 2017. As Dr. Merryandrew, he currently works as a clown doctor in the Pediatric unit at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, NC. Andrew is a graduate of The Inner Life of the Child in Nature Program, class of 2008.

Colette Segalla is a psychotherapist in private practice in Raleigh, NC. She approaches psychotherapy with clients from a perspective informed by her ongoing work with the Center. In areas addressed during the therapeutic process, Colette recognizes the interconnectedness of life and the sacred relationship between human beings and the natural world. Her work with clients is particularly focused on relationships – both inner relating within the self, and interpersonal relationships.  Colette completed her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute where the mission is “animae mundi colendae gratia” which means tending the soul of and in the world. Colette was very drawn to this mission and found a deep resonance between Pacifica and the work of The Center. Her participation in the Inner Life of the Child in Nature program at CEINW coincided with her graduate studies and became central to her doctoral research. Before returning to graduate school, Colette was an AMI certified Montessori teacher in a lower elementary classroom of six-to-nine-year-old children. The work of Steiner and Montessori contributed to her Jungian-based exploration of children's spirituality and how a relationship with the natural world contributes to the child's development of a sense of self. Colette is the author of I am You, You are Me: The Interrelatedness of Self, Spirituality and the Natural World in Childhood, published by the Center in the Fall of 2015. She is a graduate of The Inner Life of the Child in Nature program, class of 2008 and has served on the Educator Council since 2010.                               

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature: Presence and Practice Application

We are now accepting applications for the Inner Life of the Child in Nature program, 2019-2021 with a deadline of October 15, 2019.

Dates: Retreats will be held from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm on Saturday, November 23, 2019, February 8, 2020 and March 28, 2020 and on Tuesday/Wednesday, June 23-24, 2020. The second year includes Practice Gatherings on Sunday, October 18, 2020 (2:00-5:00 pm) and Sunday, February 7, 2021 (10:00 am – 4:00 pm). Our graduation retreat is on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 2:00 – 7:00 pm.

The Inner Life of the Child in Nature Program is an in-depth process of inner development and group sharing. A contemplative practice of presence to the natural world is cultivated during the first year of the program, as well as a practice of reflective reading of related materials and journal writing. We request that participants make a commitment to attend every session during the first year of the program and complete readings and assignments prior to each retreat.

Cost: $750 for the two- year program (includes materials, lunch and individual consultations)

Location: Timberlake Earth Sanctuary, 1501 Rock Creek Dairy Rd. Whitsett, NC

Please complete and submit the online form below, or download and print a hard-copy of the form, available here, and mail it to the Center at P.O. Box 41108, Greensboro, NC, 27404. Upon acceptance to the program, a non-refundable deposit of $250 will be due two weeks from your acceptance date. Your balance of $500 will be due by November 15, 2019. Payment plans for the balance are available upon request.

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