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Eric Nelson—Emerging into Joy Through Service

Eric-Nelson-1It is has been more than 20 years since I graduated from USM. At the time, the presenting reason for my taking USM was to support myself in transitioning from a ten-year business relationship that was no longer working for me into something that worked better. I really had no idea what my USM experience would be like or how it would affect my life. My friend Mary Hulnick suggested taking USM as something I might do to support myself, and I decided to enroll for that reason. It was a thoughtful decision, but not one that felt particularly compelling. Mary was far from pushy, and I didn’t know enough about USM for it to be irresistibly attractive. I applied, I was accepted, and I began. The first couple of weekends I attended even though I was constantly fighting a cold. I slept in my car during lunch.

Eric_Elyssa_Nelson_Nature-1Although it probably didn’t feel that way at the time, I was being gently and lovingly embraced by what has to be the most nurturing and healing “educational” experience I could ever imagine. My strongest impression of those first few weekends was how exquisitely every moment of every class was designed and delivered, and how perfect and personal it felt for me. The class, the coursework, and I unfolded in what felt like a very sacred journey. My learning and acquisition of skills came forward with astounding speed. I was aware that I was shedding who I was not and exemplifying more and more who I really was. Everyone around me noticed. I was not who I had been; I was becoming more of who I could be. People liked me better. I liked myself better.

Some months into the Program, when I was experiencing a particular burst of enthusiasm, I remember going up to Ron Hulnick and saying, “I want to do what you do!” And I remember the loving reply of his warm smile. My statement would turn out to be prophetic.

It would be impossible to fully describe all the ways USM benefited me. It was certainly a total experience. I would say that not a single important aspect of who I was or how I functioned was left untouched or unimproved. One example was the virtual elimination of my tendency to be quick to anger and the way it damaged business relationships. Once I healed the source of this behavior, I actually became quite skilled in business relations and effective in resolving challenges.

As I progressed through the weekends and the First Year Lab, one particular experience I had was that of a deeper connection to what was Spiritual. God became my friend and I began to move into a state of greater cooperation and acceptance with the Divine expression. I stopped fighting so much; I became much happier.

Eric-Elyssa-Nelson-1My USM experience profoundly influenced my work as an educator of early childhood teachers and administrators. As my wife, Elyssa, and I were work partners in this regard, I came to realize that I needed her to have the same experience I was having. (USM was the first transformational / educational experience we had not taken together.) She had her experience, after I graduated, completing USM two years later and being named Student of the Year. As she was completing her Second Year, I took an optional third year of USM. At that point I was able to identify areas of my consciousness that would benefit from further work, and I knew there was no better place than USM to accomplish that.

Upon Elyssa’s graduation, like so many grads, we asked, “What’s next?” For us (and for many) the answer was, “service as assistants to the USM Programs.” It was the answer to that question that led us to our first of 18 consecutive years serving as Assisting Team Captains—that first year with the then new Consciousness, Health, and Healing Program—and for the past 17 years for the USM First Year Class. The benefits to my day-to-day life from USM service are enormous, and I can’t imagine a year in my life without spending a weekend a month for nine months a year in service to USM.

Eric-Nelson_book-1Since those first few years as a USM student, my work in the world has gone to places I would have never imagined in 1995. In 2003, I developed an initiative for our nonprofit Child Educational Center called the Outdoor Classroom Project. A recipient of $3.5 million of funding over 12 years, the project has supported hundreds of child care centers and thousands of teachers in developing vibrant outdoor environments and programs, “increasing the quality, quantity, and benefit of outdoor experiences for children in programs of early childhood education.” In the process, I wrote a book that has become instrumental in helping the project and its ideals move forward, Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms, which was published in 2012. After the project was initiated, we entered into a collaboration with colleagues from the Midwest and began to work together at a national level to promote our shared values. Through this collaboration, I have become a producer of videos for a new online education initiative. Along the way, our collaboration partners completed USM themselves, further strengthening our work together. Last year, I was named one of Exchange Press, Inc.’s highly regarded Exceptional Master Leaders in early childhood education.


I couldn’t begin to describe all the ways that my USM experience has contributed to the work I have been able to do in the world and the new work I am moving into. I know that the world, and the children who have benefited from that work, would certainly be less well off. This says much more about the Principles and Practices of Spiritual Psychology than it does about me. Indeed, it says much more about the power of learning how to step into the joy of service to Spirit. Participating in USM led me to the life of joy that is my home.



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