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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Chief Seattle of the Suwamish Tribe

If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.

Friday, 25 December 2009

My Vision is to be of service and to have a Wilderness Centre

In essence my vision is to be of service to others by working with nature, mother earth and allowing myself to be guided by my creator.

I often dream about having a place where people can come to be with nature to explore their deepest feelings, thoughts and emotions to be with others in a safe environment. This place would be a woodland with the coast near by and a fairly large river running through it with a medium sized lake, in the immediate surrounding area would be varying habitats from marsh to heath with rocky outcrops.

Here animals, birds, plants and trees would all be plentiful. On the land would be small buildings made from cob some looking like a hobbit house. I love the idea of a round door, particularly with the above symbol on it and there would be a main building say an old farm or something like that.

I would have lots of different types of workshops going on besides myself taking people on nature awareness and tracking etc. I would invite older people in men and women (these people would represent the grandmother and grandfather) with skills that they would love to pass onto our younger generation, skills that are nearly forgotten that only a master can pass on to their apprentice by taking them on an experiential journey.

This sounds a lot and perhaps unachievable, but what does it matter its the journey that is important. Of course I would love to reach my goal but whats to say I have not already reached it through the journey.

Who would this place be for? Anyone really from an addict to a young offender and Joe public, for teachers from all walks of life like and to those who teach wilderness living skills like flint knapping, basket weavers, and trackers to teachers of life like a shaman.

This place would be open to the natural flow of things and only for the good of all and to harm none.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy what an experience that was.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is a form of therapy which has an emerged in recent years which uses horses as a tool for emotional development and a collaboration between a qualified therapist and a horse professional. EAP can be intense and as such its effectiveness, is considered by some as a short-term approach.

As with Natural Awareness EAP is experiential in nature. Which means that the participants learn about themselves and others by taking part in activities in this case with horses, and in Natural Awareness simply being in Nature or by taking on the role of an animal or bird even encountering animals directly (I refer to my experience with a squirrel and someone I worked with in Spain who had a powerful lesson given to him by a Chaffinch,) at the end of each activity or exercise the group processes (or discusses) their feelings, behaviors, and patterns that they either saw in themselves or in others and which can be attributed to their own behaviour as well as that of others.

Horses provide a valuable opportunity for metaphorical learning, they have the ability to mirror exactly what human body language is telling them. Some people complain that the horse is stubborn, it will not do what I tell it, or that the horse does not like me. But in essence the lesson to be learned here is that if the individual changes, then the horse will respond differently.

Here is my experience of one such encounter with a horse.

Some years ago while working in an addiction treatment centre I had the opportunity to attend an EAP session with two of my colleagues I of course jumped at the opportunity to experience something new and truth be known I had a slight fear of horses as I was once thrown from one when I was at boarding school in Cheltenham as a boy.

On arrival we were presented with two horses one was a rather large brown horse which looked very strong and I was not sure if I could deal with him, the other however was a small white horse which came over to me as a female (later I found out it was a male) I felt I could deal with this size of horse so I choose this horse to work with me.

The task I was given was to try and rope my horse and then to walk it back to where the counsellors were waiting. I dually set off with rope in hand. However, every time I got close to my horse it would walk away from me, it was always just a few feet in front of me and it almost felt like we were engaged in a game of chase and that the horse was having fun with me. But of course it was more serious than that.

All kinds of emotions went through me from the horse does not like me, to feeling uncomfortable, unsure of myself, afraid of getting physically hurt. Then eventually, I got to a place of surrender at which point the horse allowed me to approach it and to put on the rope on her. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this and it felt great, I could feel my confidence grow but always aware of my own vulnerability.

I then walked the horse back to the counsellors and removed the rope, the horse then took a small step to the side away from me, it was about six feet away and it just stood there as we made eye contact with each other. The counsellor and friend then asked me why I took the rope off and why do I think the horse stepped away in the way that it did,. This was a truly an amazing experience because what came up for me was how I feel about relationships and my expectations of them and how I do not want to be tied down but I do want to be close to someone.

I learnt so much more from this experience, I just wanted to share a brief part of what took place and to share with you how powerful it is working with animals and nature, it is important to realise also that horses are honest animals and that they mirror your feelings and behaviour.

Nature, Mother Earth is my teacher we would do well to listen to her.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Nature Awareness and Autism.

Below is a letter from my cousin in Northern Ireland and I believe this is the first time that my involvement with natural awareness has been used for autism and what a result. I know from my own personal experience with autism that they are our teachers and that they are so much more connected to spirit, the outcome of this does not surprise me, but it does excite me because it shows the versatility of nature awareness.

Hi Geoff,

I read this letter (Letter from Holland) during the summer and thought it was amazing so I decided to try it out myself! With both the boys having autism I wasn’t sure whether it would work, but guess what it did!! We all found our trees, three times!!



Monday, 14 December 2009

The Kingley Vale Stag

This is a story from Cliff Wright a close friend of mine which I thought I would share it with you.

Last Sunday I took an early morning trip to Kingley Vale for a wander around with my friend Cathy. We'd been wandering a few hours, and came upon some deer that ran off, all except one, which was a stag. It was making strange shapes under a tree and we couldn't figure why 'til we thought that it must be caught on something.

Working closer, which terrified it, showed that one antler had what looked like a tree root wound round it which was also wound round a tree. I then saw that it was actually a length of chicken wire several yards long by about a foot or two wide. The wire was fast attached to the ground and a tree and the stag had wound it round and round so much that the bit that held it's antler was no wider than your thumb, made up of twisted metal. It was so firmly attached that the deer was thrashing to escape it but only twisting itself firmer on it. Who knows how long it had been there? By the state of it and the thickness of chewed up mud, you'd think quite a while.

We retreated and thought it over. The cars with phones in were half an hour away, who were we to phone anyway? It would take too long anyway. We had no wire cutters or anything sharp and in any case how are we supposed to get close to a wild and petrified stag? Meantime the animal was doing stupid leaps to try and free itself and crashing horribly in the slimy mud on a steep slope. It was traumatic to watch.

We decided the only thing was to try and get close and make an attempt to free it. I took my waterproof off and edged closer, trying to be calm and talking to the stag. Of course he totally freaked out and violently thrashed 'til I thought he was going to kill himself. As I slowly got closer he leaped and fell badly with the wire running across one back leg, going under his belly and pinning his antler to his back - it looked like he'd broken his neck and I thought what am I doing? But it stopped him moving for a moment so I found myself going right up to him and getting hold of the antler to relieve the pressure on his back. His eyes were nearly out of their sockets with fear.

I laid my hand on him and said some things whereupon he flinched and then settled and then something happened which I can't forget. He surrendered. His eyes went calm and I, with heart pounding, found myself gripping his muddy antler and looking at the mess of twisted wire that held him.

His neck wasn't broken. He had fallen in such a way that force of tension on the wire made it impossible to move anything. One of the points of his antler was digging in his back and even holding that away so it didn't puncture the skin was as much as I could do. The only thing was to try and move him. Fully grown, mud soaked stag, steep sloped mud bath, pouring with rain. Somehow though, he let me do it. I could only move him a few inches but it was just enough to release some of the wire tension and have a good look at it. The wire was round two points of the antler and around the main stem and would not budge a millimetre. It couldn't have been tighter bound if you'd tried and looked an impossible task. I sat there and stroked his neck, thinking can you saw off living antler and is there a saw in my car?

Then somehow I saw the shape of the wire as if in reverse and I knew what to do. With a process of hacking at it with a sharp flint, prizing bits of wire with my car key and yanking it and untwisting it with my hands I got it off I think it took about half an hour but things were going in slow motion.

I moved a few feet away and for the first time thought I might be in danger here if he gets up. He didn't move for what seemed like ages just staring at me. Cathy and I were making encouraging noises and I was thinking maybe he's just given up. Then, quick as a flash, he was up and running away into the forest. I was too close to a tree so missed seeing how he ran but Cathy saw all and thought he looked fine.

A great lesson in surrender...?


Sunday, 13 December 2009

How did I discover Nature Awareness?

In truth it has always been in me as I believe it is in everyone, we are all connected and we all have a relationship and deep connection to nature and Mother Earth.

However, I discovered the language for what I had always felt inside sometime after I had left the army. At that time I was wondering what to do with my life, I knew I was a good teacher and that I loved the survival course that I did while in the army, so I decided that’s what I would do, teach survival skills.

So, I set out on a fact finding mission, before I could teach it I needed to know did I have the ability to run a business and if so what shape would it take. I booked on several courses offering bushcraft and survival skills the first one I did was in Wales run by an ex- SAS guy and while I enjoyed the course and learnt some important lessons about myself and how I judge people, I came away knowing full well in my heart this was not the way I wanted to teach or run my courses, I did that while in the army. I am not saying their methods were wrong no, because I still use a lot of the teaching skills the army taught me even today, it has stood me well, it was just not for me. I wanted something else but I did not know what at the time.

Then I saw an advert in a magazine called Kindred Spirit, the school was called Trackways run by Thomas Schorr-Kon who is now a very dear friend of mine, and from this statement you guessed it I went no further with my fact finding mission. Why, well I found Thomas was using a language that I understood inside, one of caring for nature one of taking reasonability and one of a deeper understanding well beyond the nuts and bolts of here is a bow drill and this is how to use it, which is of course a very good way to start out.

Thomas got you to explore your relationship with the bow drill and what is it teaching you about yourself, what a way to go. I found by day two of the course I opened up to him, trusting that he would understand where I was coming from and I was right and to this day he stills supports me in what I am trying to do and that is a belief that I also held while teaching in the army, you do not just teach someone how to do, you continue to be a part of their process and yours for as long as it is necessary.

I remember teaching a young man on one my early courses and thinking to myself one day I will be attending his classes and learning from him, wow that would be just so good. Nature Awareness for me is never ending since the early days I have been able to expand on it because of having this relationship with myself in nature and with others you in turn have become my teachers such as the addicts that I have had the real pleasure and privilege to work with, and to this day them lessons keep coming. That is the power of Nature and Mother Earth and ultimately my Creator.

In fact I could talk about this subject all day because it fires me with passion, so I would like to just finish by saying thank you, to all my teachers and to GOD.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Native American Proverbs

Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the creator. (MOHAWK)

The ones that matter are the children. They are the true human beings. (LAKOTA)

It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world. (APACHE)

Wisdom only comes when you stop looking for it and start living the life the creator intended for you. (HOPI)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

But I have no idea how to behave like a Rabbit...

Early this year I was helping a friend out with his year course by providing a session of Natural Awareness and it never ceases to amaze me how people respond to to these games.

While playing Animal Tag one woman who I had selected to play the part of a young rabbit told me that she had no idea how a rabbit behaves, however once she was in the circle blindfolded she immediately started to behave and move just a like a rabbit would, this was relaid to her at the end of the game by her peers and she was trilled by that.

During this game I had also given someone the task of being the mother rabbit she was also blindfolded and another person took on the role of the fox, however she was not blindfolded. What unfolded next you could not have planned, the fox immediately started to stalk the baby rabbit by getting low down, moving extremely slowing and on one occasion counter tracked while staying focused on what the mother rabbit was doing.

At the start of the game the mother instantly turned in the direction of the fox (this is not uncommon, as it also happens when people connect with their tree) and the young rabbit moving exactly like a rabbit put the mother between her and the fox by moving directly being the mother while also facing in the direction of the fox.

I find that when people take on the role of an animal all sorts of amazing things happen, which just goes to show that when we are not caught up in our own stuff and we truly let go we can achieve just about anything, for the fox and the rabbits it was about survival, and of course we all had fun exploring the events that took place a well as enjoying the games.

But I would say that.

More to come later...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The African Experince

Many years ago I attended a one day drumming workshop near to Muswell Hill in London where I was shown how to play the djembe drum, at the time I had two left hands and I guess I still do.

Anyway my reason for writing is that I wanted to share with you my experience of this amazing workshop. The instructor took us through various beats throughout the day and as we got progressively better he would up the momentum. He also taught us some traditional African chants as well with the idea that near the end of the workshop we would bring everything together, drumming and chanting.

There were thirty of us, so he split us into three groups and each group had to learn a different chant then we formed a circle and as with the french song Frère Jacques each group sang their chant, so one group started with their chant then followed by the next group and so on.

His team of helpers did the drumming and we went for it, once we were in full flow drumming and chanting together the workshop leader (I am sorry to say I do not remember his name) took each of us in turn into the middle of the circle and ask us to close our eyes and to experience the sound and feeling of the chants and djembs.

For me this was such a powerful moment that I share this story with others right up to today. This is what I experienced, as I shut my eyes I was instantly transported to a vast African plain and I was surrounded by thousands of African warriors young and old from all sorts of tribes and they too were chatting it was so emotive as they all focused just on me, telling you this now is sending tingles down the back of my head. I guess words cannot truly express how I felt in that moment, but what a moment of awareness of self and others of mother earth and all that she brings us, moments like these occur everyday its just that we have shut ourselves off from it.

I just want to finish by thanking the workshop leader and by thanking our ancestors for such a magic moment in my life.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Plant Meditation...

I have trouble communicating this is what she shared with the group, there is a lump in my throat and I feel the plant I am holding is connected with it some how.

She was holding lavander which is good for sore throats and of course communication.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Nature Awareness, Music and the Challenge.

Often when working with addictions, if I know that someone can play an instrument I would offer them a challenge. Which they have always taken up without exception.

I have used various instruments in this way, namely piano, guitar and saxaphone. The challenge is that when playing thier instrument they would not be allowed to play any known score, the music would have to come from the heart. Of course this is a trust issue I would entirley trust that they would not play any known score.

With the piano one sernario would be to tell the story of the tree that the panio was made from, for example from when it fell as a seed to the ground to taking root and sprouting into a sappling and then growing into a fully grown tree,. They could tell the group through the music if anything had happened to the tree, had anyone carved his girlfriends name into the bark, had a deer rubbed up against it, were birds nesting in it and so on, right up to even telling us how it felt when the woodcutter had come to cut it down. To being driven away in a truck to the woodmill and then how it felt being made into a panio to now were it can create some amazing music.

One of the people taking part in this exercise said to me at the end "by the way Geoffrey the tree was taken away by a horse and cart" now thats what I call being connected.

Another person played his guitar and as always with this exercise I get them to connect with thier higher power and ask them to see a white light entering through the top of thier heads helping them to create the music from thier heart.

At the end of his experince I would asked them to remain silent, its at this point I turn to the group who have been sat around in a semi circle supporting them on an energtic level and ask them what was their personal experince of the music?

On one occasion a woman responed by saying that the person playing was playing his life story which in deed is what I asked him to do. Often the music will transport each indivdual to an experince they have had to do with thier addicition and it is at this point we open up the group process. I would also be watching the group to see if anyone is having a reaction to the music, this is another way in for me to help address their issues.

Some of the storys they have to tell just from connecting to the music are simply quite amazing.

When I next try this exercise I would like to get two people with a drum each and one will tell the story of them as an addicit about to buy some drugs from a dealer or being found out about thier alcohol addiction by thier spouse, the other drummer will take on the oppisite role and play out the events that may occour from this experince and then maybe move onto how they would like it to be now, i.e. the dealer offers them a fix and they respond by turning it down by playing how they would feel and actully feel about this...

Then the group process steps in again to work though thier story. So you can see just from this one exerecise there is so much that could be achieved.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sometimes its nice to repeat things.

The Special Mother by Erma Bombeck

Most women become mothers’ by accident, some by choice, a few by social pressures and a couple by habit.

This year nearly 100,000 women will become mothers of special children. Did you ever wonder how mothers of special children are chosen?

Somehow I visualize God hovering over earth selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make notes in a giant ledger.

"Armstrong, Beth; son. Patron saint...give her Gerard. He's use to profanity."

"Forrest, Marjorie; daughter. Patron saint, Cecelia."

"Rutledge, Carrie; twins. Patron saint, Matthew."

Finally He passes a name to an angel and smiles, "Give her a special child."

The angel is curious. "Why this one God”? She's so happy."

"Exactly," smiles God, "Could I give a special child to a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel."

"But has she patience?" asks the angel.

"I don't want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears off, she'll handle it."

"I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I'm going to give her has her own world. She has to make her live in her world and that's not going to be easy."

"But, Lord, I don't think she even believes in you." God smiles, "No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect - she has just enough selfishness." The angel gasps - "selfishness? Is that a virtue?"

God nods. "If she can't separate herself from the child occasionally, she'll never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a 'spoken word'".

She will never consider a ‘step’ ordinary. When her child says 'Momma' for the first time, she will be present at a miracle, and will know it!"

"I will permit her to see clearly the things I see... ignorance, cruelty, prejudice.... and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life, because she is doing my work as surely as if she is here by my side".

"And what about her Patron saint?" asks the angel, his pen poised in mid-air.

God smiles, "A mirror will suffice."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Wilderness therapy reduces risk of homelessness amongst young

Wilderness therapy enhances the social and life skills of ‘at risk' young people who may exhibit problem behaviours, use drugs or have difficulties in school, reducing their chances of experiencing negative life outcomes such as depression, suicide and homelessness.

This is the conclusion of research by Sandy Allen-Craig and Lisa Ronalds which will be presented today, Wednesday 9 September 2009, at the 5th International Adventure Therapy Conference. The event, hosted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), is taking place from 7-11 September at Pollock Halls, The University of Edinburgh.

The research aimed to evaluate the life effectiveness of participants involved in a wilderness therapy program in order to determine its value as an early treatment intervention for youth ‘at risk' of homelessness and educational disconnection.

Participants took part in a 7-10 day wilderness experience. In addition they completed pre and post-experience questionnaires measuring factors such as time management, communication skills, self-confidence and problem-solving.

It was found that the majority of factors increased from pre to post-test, with the greatest improvements seen in task leadership, time management and social competence. The results suggest that the program provides an appropriate and effective mechanism for enhancing the personal development of participants.

Sandy Allen-Craig said: "Previous research has shown that wilderness therapy helps young people overcome emotional adjustment, addiction and psychological problems. It can also improve self-perceptions and increase social adjustment and reduce the chances of adolescent participants reoffending.

"The results of the current study give support for the use of wilderness therapy as an intervention to help prevent young people prematurely disengaging from family and the education system. Further investigation may now be needed to develop the program further."

For more information please contact: Alison Croft, BACP Press & Public Relations Manager, on 01455 883342 (office), 07989 416665 (mobile) or or BACP Media Consultant, Phillip Hodson, on 07961 401685 or

Ref: 192
Date: Monday 7 September 2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

All eyes are on the Fox...

As he walked through the woods one day a fox passed within feet of him, it paid him no heed, it seemed to be on a mission.

He wondered, where was the fox going, what was he up to? Suddenly the fox climbed a tree, there were no birds taking flight, no animals running for cover, what on earth could he be doing up there in that tree?

Then, down he sprang trotting passed him, again paying no attention to him standing there in bewilderment at the sight of a dead bird in his mouth.

Today I learnt that foxes can climb trees as well as hunt like a cat, have whiskers on their feet to sense vibrations in the ground. I did know that they bury eggs to return later to feast on them.

Nature Awareness represents...

a sense of personal-internal accomplishment that is real, from which strength can be drawn from in the future thus creating a sense of well-being which can lead to increased self-esteem, bringing participants a step closer to personal growth and perhaps active recovery.

It seems to give participants a deeper understanding of self and how important our natural surroundings can be and that humans are not separate, but in fact are an integral part of the whole. Nature-Awareness as an intervention appears to help addicts to get in touch with their raw emotions enhancing their self-concept and a sense of empowerment they leave Nature-Awareness knowing that their personal healing and perhaps spiritual-journey has just begun.

Nature-Awareness as with Wilderness-therapy removes the potential for an individual to place barriers in the way of their journey into active recovery that may not be possible in the traditional residential setting for example if someone repeatedly enters rehab, they know the format of what is expected and required of them। Some will have also learnt how to play the system, so they can come out the other end having not truly moved on. Nature-Awareness takes the individual out of their comfort zone in effect the opportunity to play the system has been removed as new rules now apply - ‘Natures Rules’. No one situation can be manipulated or controlled by the individual because nature is her own master and in my own experience I have to let go, because I am powerless over her.

Therefore each experience is unique, creating unique circumstances and a unique relationship of understanding oneself, through each individual’s grounded-experiences of Nature-Awareness, be they professionals or not, indicating that they have benefited from their participation in Nature-Awareness. The main themes of Awareness, Trust, Nature and Spiritually, I believe demonstrates that Nature-Awareness synergistically compliments mainstream models as a therapeutic-intervention. Schorr-kon (2008) “At Home in Nature - Alive in Spirit” uses this phrase in his teachings. I truly believe this sums up the experiences of those involved in this study and with Nature-Awareness over the years and that it may well be considered as the ‘Emerging Theory’ into Nature-Awareness.

Photo: Rhiannon Williams

Friday, 20 November 2009

We learn to hunt through play...

It is necessary to understand the importance and ‘value of play’ in relation to Nature-Awareness and addictions. Play is an important part of our growth, it can give us positive-experiences where today, play is all but ignored (i.e. lack of sports in schools), from play we learn about our boundaries and capabilities and according to Stuhlimiller (2003) “…learning from a positive encounter can thus become as permanently etched on the brain as learning from a negative experience” (p. 3).

Nature-Awareness is one such positive-experience that addicts, seem to enjoy and benefit from as one addict put it.

“I learnt in a playful way that I can trust my instinct and other people”
(Kaagman, 2008)

In Nature-Awareness participants are not just asked to take on the role of an animal (physical) but to actually become an animal whether it is as a wolf, bird or fox. By using different scenarios and playing the games in silence using positive/negative intentions, (energetic) and connecting with their heart, the addict has an opportunity to observe their behaviour in others (and the power of their thoughts manifesting in the physical), without feeling judged.

In Nature-Awareness there is no right and no wrong, there just is, by becoming aware of their inner-landscape through the experiences of their external-environment they may experience a power greater than themselves (spiritual).

Fredrickson (2004) informs us that research into animals has found that through play, young animals put in place behaviours needed to survive as adults i.e. ‘Predator Avoidance Strategies’.

Play “…with its shared amusement, excitement and smiles, builds lasting social bonds and attachments” (p. 148). As the Nature-Awareness games unfold and behaviours begin to manifest, appearing initially to be an external event, (however, the reverse is true) individuals learn to surrender to the process and to fully engage in play, their need to hide is potentially removed and they form a social identity based on their shared-experiences.

Nature-Awareness provides an alternative way of looking at oneself. According to Fredrickson (2004) the resources accrued personally while experiencing positive emotions are long-lasting and increases “one’s personal resources…”, which can be drawn on later to “…improve coping and odds of survival” (p. 149), e.g. (Ward, 2007) an addiction counsellor believed Nature-Awareness was integral to Jackie’s (her client) recovery. Jackie found something in Nature Awareness that, gave her joy and pleasure which enabled her to re-connect with herself through play, giving her the tools to work with her treatment-programme and hopefully to later draw on her experiences to maintain her in active-recovery.

Her counsellor said that of all the therapeutic approaches she had used with Jackie none had helped her, it was only when she had experienced Nature Awareness Jackie began to understand herself.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My help is in the mountain ~ Nancy Wood:

My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company.
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Will the Internet take over from Nature?

We already have Farm Town on Face Book...

This is an excerpt from research carried out on the compulsive use of the Internet

Explorative research into the causes and consequences of compulsive internet use

Prof. Dr. S. W. J. Lamberts

Although there are obviously many positive aspects related to the development of the internet, for more than 20 years indications have been emerging that some people can become overly attached to computers and certain internet functions, resulting in serious psychological, social, and professional dysfunctioning (Davidson & Walley, 1984; Goldberg, 1997). The idea that the internet, or at least certain internet functions, might be addictive, initially met a lot of skepticism: “… IAD (internet addiction disorder) is not a disorder and IAD does not exist; there is little research to show otherwise (and much of that is done poorly)” (Grohol, 1995). Or as Hughey put it: “I prefer to think of these people (internet addicts, GJM) as pioneers.

Eventually, we will all be “connected” all the time. A new age has arrived. Let’s not invent DSM IV classifications for those who are just a little ahead of the rest of us in embracing the future” (Hughey, 1997). Meanwhile, however, it is recognized that certain internet functions may indeed bear an addiction risk and that internet functions such as online erotica, internet games, and online chatting are “activities that may carry greatest future risk for behavioural addiction” (Orford, 2005). Nonetheless, research in the field of ‘internet addiction’ is still explorative and no consensus has been attained on the validity and reliability of the construct or on its causes and consequences. There is even no agreement on which term to use for the phenomenon. In the literature the behaviour is referred to as internet addiction (Young, 1998), pathological.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Drum Stalk working with families and addictions

Continuing from my last article on Natural Awareness and the game called ‘Meet a tree’, I wish to present to you another game which is called the ‘Drum Stalk’ this game is a lot of fun to play with your family and friends in your local woods or even when camping out, it can be played at night as well, playing in the dark produces different experiences for the participants, for example they appear to relax a lot more and are less distracted. My aim is also to describe in brief how I use it as an intervention for people with addictions. The purpose of the game is to help increase the level of awareness both internal and external for an addict seeking active recovery.

The first game is always done raw, which means they will get to the drum by using their hearing to locate it and some will be convinced that the drum moved during the game when in fact it has not, what they are experiencing is the sound of the drum bouncing of the trees giving the impression that the drummer is moving around, this is the point were I get them out of the head and into the heart by getting them to understand that not all the information (i.e. the sound of the drum) they are getting is being interpreted correctly.

The game is then played again this time in peripheral vision and in a heart space the drum now gets beaten every sixty seconds and as each game is played the time between drum beats, increases even to the point when there is only one beat to get the game started and then no more beats after that, to peoples astonishment the majority find the drum, not every group reaches this level. I judge each situation separately which is based on how the group or individuals respond to the games. I have even removed their sight-guides during a game without them being aware and the majority are still able to complete the task, for the sight-guides this raises many questions and the sceptics among them certainly have lots of questions, the game can and does bring up lots of emotions, which I and their peers, then work with them in terms of their addiction and old behaviours, there have been times when the game does not get finished because it requires that we (the group) process the emotions it has brought up for them.

The whole point of this game is to challenge their behaviour in a safe way, but in a way that it is so out of the box that it raises questions hopefully motivating them to seek the answers to their questions. I have very few rules when playing the Drum Stalk I observe how the group or individuals are responding to the game and I act accordingly with an intervention. For family and friends the game is played for fun with a level of awareness taking place, were as for addictions the game may not even finish in terms of actually playing the game to its physical completion, issues may arise which requires immediate attention which I process using the power of the group to help the group and individuals reach a new understanding of themselves and it is only done if the person wants to go there as it has to be for their higher good.

One rule I do have is that if other professionals wish to observe how Natural Awareness works. I ask that they do so by taking part and not by being passive observers from the sideline, it is important that they encounter similar experiences to what the addicts are experiencing. However if an addict does not want to take part in Natural Awareness they do not have to as it is about keeping them safe. I do however, try to encourage them to observe from the sideline as I believe they can gain as much from this experience as taking part, in fact I have seen patients later joining in Nature Awareness having either observed the first game or having seen and heard the effect it has had on their peers later on in rehab.

Natural Awareness has been shown to create a bridge between how we perceive our world and how we experience it, this opens us up to a new understanding of ourselves, and in terms of addicts if they are willing it helps them to recognise their old behaviour, thereby creating an opportunity to change, consider if you will what (Dorell, 2006) a consultant psychiatrist working in a 12-Step treatment programme for addictions had to say about Natural Awareness “it was able to create the bridge that we were unable to create… enabling them to respond to more traditional treatment methods”. Mortensen (2006) a 12-Step counsellor had the following to say “I highly recommend… nature awareness… not only in the field of addiction; I feel any part of the population could benefit from this programme”.

He continues by saying that “It works on the spiritual side of the disease, which is hard to deliver to the patients… Nature Awareness workshops have been of great help to the treatment team it has helped us to explore areas that we would never have got by conventional therapies” (Mortensen, 2006). While (Ward, 2007) an independent counsellor, referring to Jackie (her client), who had also taken part in Natural Awareness, stated that it was an “Integral part of her recovery… which focused on the here and now”. We can now see that Nature Awareness can be used in a verity of ways.

This is also a great game to play with your children and a great bonding exercise here is what one parent had to say about the game and what it meant for him and his son. “When Geoff first mentioned we was going to do the drum stalk I was intrigued, the thought of being in the woods blindfolded and devoid of my main sense, my eyesight was going to be something I have never done before! I spend a lot of time in the woods teaching bush craft skills so I feel comfortable and at ease there and the thought of having my other senses heightened by removing one was interesting to me to say the least”.

JP continues with “My self and my son Connor both took part in the drum stalk and I was amazed at how much I saw not with my eyes but with my senses, for example at one point as I walked through the wooded area I stopped as I could feel something close (you have to do it to believe it!) I saw an orange glow in front of me, sounds weird I know but stick with me! I took a couple of steps to my side and walked around the what seemed to me to be a tree, once the drum stalk had finished and we all had reached our goal, my son said how amazed he was that I stopped at a stump of a tree! I could still see the trees energy before me it was like the trees roots had not realised the tree had been felled! A most strange feeling”.

Connor JP’s son when it was his turn to be blindfolded and to take part in the game it would appear he too had produced some amazing events as JP describes what happen “at one point he was walking towards a low branch, I quietly reached over and lifted it from his path and allowed him to continue, it was as if he was laser guided watching him pick a track through the woodland to the direction of the beat of the drum, when he reached his goal Geoff asked Connor what he had experienced he said two things that stick in my mind, he said he could see a glowing track in his minds eye and he felt it was the right thing to follow it and also at one point he saw a glowing object reach in front of him and move something from his path! Now this all may seem a little too fantastic to the uninitiated but Geoff gave me something that day, he gave me and my son the ability to trust, to trust our senses and our selves”.

In conclusion JP had this to say “if you ever get the chance to spend time actually doing and playing nature awareness games… I suggest you embrace it and take the opportunity, but go with one thing, and that’s an open mind”. I have observed many addicts encountering new experiences that helped them to either engage or re-engage with their treatment-programme, in particular with the spiritual aspect of the programme. A counsellor in active recovery had this to say about the Drum Stalk. “Nature awareness was 50% of my recovery”.

I would now like to briefly visit the issue of eating-disorders were it is generally believed that they do not do well in a wilderness setting. However Rust (2008) describes how Rosie (a client) explained how her thinking becomes stuck in the lead to a binge and then narrows when she binges, for Rosie the same issues go round and round until she is unable to find a way out, then when her frustration reaches its height Rosie stops thinking and the binge takes over. (p.76). According to Rust, what helped Rosie stay centred were her trips out into nature (external) and “…her journeys into her inner-nature” (p.77). With eating-disorders there are areas of ambiguity and inadequate evidence.

The following accounts are my own personal observations and on the experiences expressed by Mary and Janice (both anorexics) while playing the ‘Drum Stalk’ in a local woodland near our rehab centre. Mary said that for the first in her life she had listened to her body, and Janice related her experience of the frustration she felt while caught up in brambles as the same frustration she feels when she is binging (see Rust, 2008).

Because Janice had been able to get herself out of this situation, she believed the experience might help her in her recovery. In Janice’s case the initial frustration she felt in the brambles might be seen in the context of a cognitive de-construction? However, she believed, that as a direct result of her experience of getting herself out of the brambles after some considerable time, meant for her, that nature might help her get into active-recovery, this experience may have allowed for, a cognitive re-construction to take place?

According to Greenway (2000) 57% of women compared to 27% of men “… stated that a major goal… was to “come home” to nature”(p.129), it would appear that both Mary and Janice by shifting their thinking may have had a meaningful and reflective sense of awareness in fact from what they said it would appear that they increased their level of awareness rather than narrowing it. It is not suggested that Natural Awareness has the answers to this complex addiction (or indeed addiction as whole), however compared to wilderness-therapy both Mary and Janice it would seem were better placed with Natural Awareness by doing the Drum Stalk in a local woodland, were they also had the safety of their rehab-centre to process events within a controlled-environment, this is where the Field and Residential Counsellors can work together complimenting each others work for the greater good of the addict.

In Conclusion
According to Dorell (2006), “in the scientific community, experiences like Nature Awareness are still widely unknown and unexplored. I strongly believe though… this kind of experience is able to create the missing link between them and a life of emotional fulfilment”.


Greenway, R. (1995). The Wilderness Effect and Ecopsychology. In T. Roszak., M. E. Gomes & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind (pp. 122-135). The University of California Press.

Dorell, K (personal communication, February 13th, 2006).

Kaagman, P (personal communication, July 22nd, 2007).

Mortensen, T (personal communication, February 12th, 2006).

Ward, G (personal communication, June 26th, 2007).

Rust, M. (2008). Nature Hunger. Eating problems and consuming the Earth. The British Psychological Society: Counselling Psychology Review, 23, (2), 70-79.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Germany: Ringing Spotted Flycatchers...

During my time in Germany I often went ringing with my German friends, on this one occasion I was helping to ring spotted flycatchers at the Kur Park near Lippstadt.
I was left on my own, while my friends went to check on some of the many nest boxes we had placed around the park. While I was ringing a flycatcher, this dear old German woman came up to me waving her umbrella and shouting at me to stop being cruel to the birds.
With my limited German, I tried in to explain what it was that I was doing.
Suddenly she looked at me and said your not German. I said no I am British and I am stationed here in Lippstadt. Her whole demeanour changed, she smiled at me and said, "I think it is really wonderful that foreign people come here to ring our German birds"...

Enough said I think.

Photo: Colour ringed spotted flycatcher, we used colour rings so that we could identify the bird without re-trapping it and putting it under more stress than necessary.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ivory-billed Woodpecker does it still exist?

What a great picture I just had to put this in as woodpeckers are my favourite birds.
Picture by: Tomasz Cofta

Friday, 23 October 2009

Naure and Youth at Risk ~ Part Three

I sometimes find that the adults are the problem, no right no wrong, simply because they come with their conditions attached and they experience the kids in a different way for example. This is Johnny watch him he will play you up all day, he is completely out of control and unmanageable.

In my experience when you are out in nature with the kids the reverse is true, once you get them over the shock and horror of being in the woods with all the creepy crawlies etc. One day we had a group of boys one of which had been pointed out to us as being the one to watch. How right the teacher was but not for the reasons he thought.

Charlie was his name and we were doing Bow Drill with them during the briefing which my partner was giving Charlie pipes up, "How are we going to get fire in the rain"? My partner replied you are going to show us "But I do not know how to do this" Our response was that we are going to help them to remember how to do it, "What he said, I have never done it before" don't worry all will become clear was our reply.

Well suffice to say Charlie was the only one to get fire that day and in the rain as well, what an achievement, her was one happy boy. The teacher came up to us at the end of the day and said "I am sorry about Charlie, I won't bring him back again, he is already exclude from school except for Thursday mornings".

As one both I and my partner turned to face the teacher and in one voice we said Charlie is the very one we want back, can you not see what he has achieved today...

Nature and Youth at Risk ~ Part Two

Was it because he was here against his will, was it because he believed no one would give him the time because he could not read or write or was it because he was always told he was unless and was a no good for nothing? Whatever it was he would not get involved, refusing to take part in everything.

The day started at 09:00 and ended at 16:00, time was running out and I was not about to give up on him, so I sent the group off with my partner to play some nature awareness games while I stayed with him and a member of staff.Sitting on the log, he was silent as I tried to encourage him to try his hand at the Bow Drill, I reminded him that no one was around to see him, after sometime he agreed to make an effort and he half heartily tried to bow from the bench he was on. I suggested it would be better if he tried it on the ground, during his attempts at bowing I kept saying to him that it was OK to ask for help.

He did not respond to this, in the end I asked him if he would like me to help him, if he would like me to show him how you can bow in tandem, he agreed and so I got down on the ground with him. We bowed long and hard, the air was damp but we kept going, time was running out for us, the end of the day had come. However we were so close to getting a coal, I extended the time a bit. Offering further encouragement while the rest of the group watched we started to get smoke, boy did we get smoke lots of it. Unfortunately we did not get fire and the day had come to an end and the kids had to go. I shook his hand and gave him lots of positive reinforcement by summarising what he had achieved and how close he was to getting fire the way our ancestors did and how there were very, very few people in the world could what he had just done.

Some days later we received feedback from the organisers, at the end of their two week course with the kids (who were all excluded from school), the only feedback he gave them about the course was a wonderful drawing he did of himself doing the Bow Drill, my partner, myself and Merlin my Eagle Owl and of course there was a fire with plenty of flames coming from it.

I found this very interesting and encouraging in that while we did not get fire on the day, a part of him believes he can do it and that for me bolds well for his future. I can only trust that he has found his way safely in life and that the power of the bow drill and the fire will give him the encouragement he needs in times of trouble.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Swift as a Swallow...

Whilst out driver training one day in Germany I found a swallow roost in a maize field, I contacted my German friends to let them know where it was. And a few nights later we all went out to set up the mist nets in readiness for when the swallows would come to roost, the tape recorder was placed in the middle of the field which was boxed in by nets on all four sides, it was a small field.

All five of us then stepped back to the road that ran parallel to the field, we had a drink and bite to eat while waited for the swallows to do their thing. As the swallows started to come into roost we prepared ourselves for action by lining the road, each with our own area of net to work on.

Suddenly they all took off again moving as one, this could only mean that there was a bird of prey close by, as we looked around to see what it was, I got a shock as a Hobby flew at a fast rate of knots between my legs, it swooped up and reached out for a swallow which it duly caught.

I was amazed and had never experienced this before, a bird of prey using us as cover in order to get closer to its prey without being observed.

Nature is just quite wonderful...
Photo: Clive Newcombe

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Nature and youth at risk. "I was at first sceptical..."

How does nature and wilderness-living-skills affect our youth of today. Here is some feedback from a one day course Hannah and I ran together when we were Natural Pathways. I think you will find the letter speaks for it's self.
Diana Packer
Opportunities Plus


My name is Diana Packer; I am a Team Leader with ‘Opportunities Plus’. This is a programme funded by the ‘European Social fund’ and the ‘Learning Skills Council’. The program focuses on building Confidence, Self Esteem and Motivation towards a positive personal progression for these Young People. Progression may include Basic/Life skills, further Training or Employment.

When hearing about ‘Natural Pathways’, we as team leaders were slightly apprehensive about taking our groups into an environment that encourages people to engage once again with their natural survival instincts. However, it didn’t take us long to realise that this activity and environment was exactly what we as team leaders were trying to achieve as a ‘Learning Experience’ for these Young People that (It was a day to remember).

With this in mind I will try to share just some examples of the many experiences that I have observed during one of ‘Natural Pathways’ activity days. Due to the dampness of the day, I was informed that lighting a fire could be a time consuming task for these Young People, however it was not impossible with time and effort.

Having been shown how to create embers with a Bow Drill, some Young People gave up after a short period of time, however, a small group continued. Hannah’s encouragement and further instruction towards perseverance was highlighted when they achieved their goal. “This small group actively encouraged each other to carry on, once achieving a glowing fire, this group of Young People were held in high esteem by the rest of the team. (This affected the group dynamics as a result)”

Once highlighting this incident towards the group, on our return journey back to the Centre, the remarkable effects of encouragement towards positive rather than negative natural growth emphasised the ability ‘that each of these Young People could achieve their aims and objectives facilitated by positive encouragement’. One Young Person even went on to say that. “This experience was better than the buzz of Burglary”.

Hannah’s ability to engage with these Young People is an asset that enhances her natural teaching qualities. Hannah’s natural skill of ‘emphasis on the positive rather than the negative self-attributes’, encourages confidence, dynamics and exploration of the ‘inner self’ which will facilitate a positive personal progression for these Young People. Encouraging them to explore their personal capabilities and their natural Survival instinct helps these Young People begin to trust adults within their environment, which in turn enhances confidence and self-belief for many of these Young People.

Geoffrey’s ability to engage with Young People became very apparent when ‘Boundaries’ were being challenged. (These Young People have perhaps very little structure within their lives some see ‘Boundaries’ as something to constantly challenge or kick against). Geoffrey’s patience and empathic understanding encouraged them to look towards personal progression rather than the negativity, which could be felt within the team as a whole when asked to accomplish a task.

Geoffrey’s positive support and encouragement emphasises ‘a need to succeed’ within working with these Young People. Drug/substance abuse is widely used within this ‘Youth Culture’ and is seen as ‘Cool’. When questioning Geoffrey about ‘Drug Culture’ (a misconception of the Young Person is that Geoffrey’s long hair implies drug use).

The Young Person began to take in a discussion of ‘harm Drugs/substance abuse can be to your body and the effects they can cause, when to actually ‘get back to nature’ can give you all the buzz you need without all these drugs. For instance, over hearing one Young Person describe their feelings, after an activity called ‘The Drum Stalk’, they described the experience as ‘better than being on Drugs’.

The Drum Stalk is an activity where the team divide into pairs, one will wear a blindfold whilst the other will guide their partner with the sound of a drum and their support, this activity enhances trust and relying on others, confidence and self-reliance.

I was at first sceptical of whether this activity would achieve the required affect for these Young People, however as I previously mentioned, this activity definitely achieved what it set out to achieve. Geoffrey and Hannah's ability to engage, encourage trust and support these Young People towards a ‘Positive progressional insight’ is not an easy task to achieve in just one day’s activity, however it has proved to be achievable and a highly enjoyable day which is discussed throughout the whole ‘Opportunities Plus’ programme.

Both Geoffrey and Hannah bring the male and female aspect into their workshop, providing a balanced role reversible, for example string making is often seen by the young men to be for women until they learn that without these skills they would not be able to string their bows set their traps etc. This is only a small example of ‘the natural teaching abilities’ that Natural Pathways facilitates towards our groups of Young People, however, the effects this has towards their personal positive progression is immeasurable.

Natural Pathways has become a firm favourite with all Team Leaders within the ‘Opportunities Plus’ programme. Therefore I would highly recommend this activity for anyone who would like to ‘get in tune with ones positive self’.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at the above address for any further information in which I may be of help.

Yours Sincerely,

Diana Packer ~ Team Leader ~ ‘Opportunities Plus’

Monday, 19 October 2009

Listen to what the Blackbird is telling you...

I attended a military survival course in southern Germany many years ago, and it was during the escape and evasion phase that I had become aware of something about myself.

It was between two and three in the morning we had been on the run from a live enemy for about two days, the moon was full and was casting shadows over the surrounding countryside the air was crisp.

Sometimes when I reflect back on these particular moments, out in the wilds of our countryside late into the night, they are moments of magic. You feel you are the only people around, but of course you are not, there are the guys in your patrol and there is the odd farmhouse light in the distance, and on this occasion a church clock was chiming in the distance.

It is during this time that your senses are heightened as there was a live enemy out looking for us, they would normally be deployed ahead, on major junctions and searching the odd woodland trying to cut us off at the pass, as we found out later they had been searching the wrong area for three days.

On this particular night I had been alerted by the alarm call of a blackbird that something or someone was close by, I alerted my patrol to this and I was completely dismissed. As we continued our journey I was still aware of the alarm calls being given off by the local wildlife which was always behind us, I was convinced that we were being tracked by special forces, as this was a special forces school the course was being run by. It was never confirmed if we were being followed or not. However, I trusted my senses completely and later an event took place which allowed me to confirm my trust in my instincts.

As our patrol moved on I became aware to the fact that we were beginning to walk in circles, perhaps because we were tired. I drew this to the attention of the rest of the patrol and suggested that we camp for the rest of the night until daylight when we would be better able to get a fix on our location. They inquired as to how I knew this as I had not got the map.

I replied by saying that the chimes from the church clock were at first on our left flank and that it had moved around to our front and was now to our rear, indicating that we were moving in the wrong direction and as we were in very dense pine forest and I for one could not see my hand in front of my face, it made sense to hunker down until dawn when we could get a better fix on our position.

This ended up in heated discussion and split the patrol down the middle we eventually decided to stay put until dawn, so we brewed up and eat a little, then dawn came. As we moved off we discovered that not more than fifty metres away from where we had stopped was a ten to fifteen metre drop onto a hard surface and perhaps we had avoided a potential accident from occurring.

I felt good about standing my ground, but the situation had taught me some important lessons about how to work or not work with a group and of course I learnt a lot about myself, suffice to say I was glad that our patrol had problems because if it had all gone smoothly without a hitch what lessons would have been learnt from the experience.

So on many levels my awareness had been pricked, first the blackbirds and the rest of the animal world sending out concentric rings warning me of others who were present but had not been seen and the trees warning me of the danger that lay ahead. All this before I even had a language of Nature Awareness.

Photo: A lesson in survival skills, I am in the rear and third from the left.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

When I am among the Trees - Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
Especially the willows and the honey locust,
Equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
They give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
In which I have goodness, and discernment,
And never hurry through the world
But walk slowly, and often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
And call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
Into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
With light, and to shine.”

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sunday, 11 October 2009

In tune with the trees...

I sometimes use a piano in my sessions when working with addicts or any other instrument. I do not play myself, I get those who do to take a journey with the wood from the piano or guitar by getting them to tell the story of the wood.

They must not play any know score it has to come from the heart, and the story starts from when the wood of the piano was but a seed in the forest and they have to tell the trees story as it grows up to when it was cut down taken away and is then made into a piano.

In other words from death comes new beginnings and that is the same with their addiction. I have experienced some amazing miracles taking place when doing this exercise. There is more to it than just these few words, but I think you will get the idea.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

How did you know?

I had some interesting experiences while attending the 7th Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Boulder Colorado during September...

This was the first time I have worked with Americas in the US, nearly all the people who attended my workshop had a connection to addiction and while I had planned for about four games over the six hours I actually ended up playing two, the main one being Meet a Tree which as always was very powerful.

What was interesting, that while watching one member of the group finding their tree I mention to their partner that this person was displaying the behaviour of an addict, something I had observed many times before. When we processed this, the person concerned then declared that they were indeed an addict and wanted to know how I knew.

Rather than explain how I knew, I invited this person to return to their place of work and seek to find the answer to their question by observing themselves in others while playing the game.

I know that I have observed my own behavior that I was previously unaware of, through watching others play the games and I have learnt a great deal about myself from addicts and for that I am very grateful. Why? Because I have grown as a result of my relationship with them.

What amazing people they are, they have a great gift, what we need to do is see the lesson they are teaching us, and in return try to help them see who they truly are.

What a great exchange that is.

How did I know? Because we are connected.


"Mentoring is about drawing the light out from others while the mentor remains invisible"

Jon Young: Oct 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Tracking as an Intervention...

When I teach tracking there is an exercise I use which I got from one of Tom Brown's books and since using it I have been able to expand on it beyond its original form to work with people in tracking the energy of those they are looking for.

There are many facets to the art of tracking and energy tracking is one of them. Tracking is not just about finding tracks on the ground, important as that is. I have used this exercise to help get people to see that you can pick up on peoples energy.

Now I am looking at using it as a means of getting addicts to become aware of their behavior in relation to their intentions of using.

This exercise really does take you out of the box and is a very powerful tool.

Tracking with Asperger’s and ADHD

I would like to share with you some tracking experiences I had while working with young men who presented with ADHD and Aspergers and my hope to be able to use tracking as a therapeutic intervention.

My first experience with Aspergers was I went tracking one day up to the sand dunes near to where I live with some young men and several adults, the idea for the day was to see how these young men would get on with tracking.

I asked one of my colleagues to go and hide anywhere in the dunes without us knowing where he went. After taking the boys through some basics off tracking, we set to have fun in locating my colleague who was hiding. And being as we were tracking in sand it would prove a not to difficult medium to work with for the boys, who presented with Aspergers and or ADHD.

I asked my colleague to set up some critical points along the way, these where places were he would stop for a while to make a decision as to which direction to go in, he was instructed to move around a bit looking for the best way to go and I would use these points to ask the boys questions, like "what happened here"?

As we followed the trail we came across an area of fouled tracks, I could see his boot tracks in and out; however one of the boys could actually see the tracks in amongst all the other tracks. I could not see a thing a short while after leaving the foul tracks behind the same boy then said that we were no longer following the same boot print.

So we took a closer look at it, we measured it as we had already taken measurements from the first track with our tracking stick and sure enough and to my surprise, we were following a different person with the same tread on their boot as my colleagues and there was only a small difference in size. How random is that.

Another time I was with a group of boys who were following the trail laid for them until they lost it. I encouraged them to spend time trying to work out what had happened and to see if they could pick up the trail again.

What happened next for me was wonderful, theses boys find it hard to stay still let alone focus on one thing and here they were, all three of them sat by a footprint for twenty minutes discussing what might have happened, working together by asking members of their group to go off and check mole hills etc for tracks that look the same as the track they were following.

They were in fact on the wrong track, but the value of letting them problem solve and work together far out weighted the task of tracking, which we were able to pick up latter anyway.

That, for me was one of those magic moments in life.
Picture: San Bushmen Tracking.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Concentric Rings in the Desert - Kuwait 1991

3RRF and 127 (Dragon) Battery ended up staying in Kuwait after the Gulf war was over for reasons I won't go into. During this time I was tasked to send some of my men back into Iraq to pick up ammunition that we had ground dumped.

On the day in question my guys had their trucks lined up by the highway waiting to deploy, at the same time the highway was busy with convoys redeploying back to Saudi Arabia to prepare for the return trip home.

As I was watching my men I could see that their morale was very low, indeed as was mine, because I suspect like them I did not want to stay any longer than I had too, all I wanted to do was go home and see my wife and kids.

I started to think to myself how can I pick up their morale? I could not give them any money and say here go down the pub, there were none or why not head of to town for a while, again there were none to be found.
Something extreme was called for.

So on an impulse I stepped out from my camouflage net and I shouted over to them "what’s wrong with you bunch of miserable looking f***ers". They looked at me startled, I guess wondering what the hell I was on about.

So I shouted again look you lot, "do you know what, not one of you is big enough to take me on" again they looked startled. Then little Robo stepped forward and said he would take me on, I replied "is that it, you send out the smallest guy you can find, you bunch off w***ers".

At that moment they looked around at each other and collectivity they said "let's get him" as they ran towards me I ran into my truck and looked myself in laughing at them calling them names, the truck rocked from side to side as they tried to open the doors, some climbed onto the cab roof and tried to rip open the canvas covering the commanders hatch.

Eventually they succeeded in dragging me out of the cab, throwing me to the desert floor they jumped on me and proceeded to kick the crap out of me, in playful way but enough to let me know they were willing to go there with me. In fact some stuck the boot in quite hard perhaps that was payback for something, who knows and I did not really care, as I gave them permission to do it anyway.

After it was all over, we all had a good laugh about the situation and then they set off on their task, which I might add was not a pleasant one. One of the things they encountered out there was they saw eagles and other birds of prey on their migratory route, stopping to pick up limbs etc as a source of food.

So what’s my point here? Well about a week to two later I was heading into Saudi with my driver and a mate of mine was coming the other way, he flagged us down and as we pulled up alongside to each other, he had a BIG smile on his face and he said "I hear your guys kicked the shit out you, you knob etc, etc" and off he drove laughing in the way that squaddies do.

I looked at my driver smiling and said, "isn't that amazing, that the fight is still having a positive effect on people you where not even there weeks later".

This is clearly a case of extreme man management but now I believe it had real time therapeutic value. Would I have done that in peace time? Of course not, the extreme situation required an extreme answer, it could have gone badly wrong who knows, all I cared about was the welfare of my men and that's all I had available to me at the time and I would do it again or at least something similar.

I have shared this story with civilian managers who had real trouble understanding it, but still, why should they understand, there is no need for them to understand.

Monday, 28 September 2009

I want to do it my way first...

While working in Spain I had the privilege to work with a young man who had anger issues (see The Chaffinch and the Young man's Anger) over a period of a week. One the first day we went up into the hills to one of the national parks.

With addictions I always like to start with 'Meet a Tree' this is a really good game for getting someone to see that there is something more powerful than ourselves without taking them too far out of the box that it would freak them out to the point that they may not come back again. We agreed that this would be the exercise to start with, having explained the rules to him. I took him blindfolded through the woods to a tree that I had chosen before we had even started. It is worth noting at this point that the woodland we were using was about 100 x 100 metres containing the same species of tree which were all roughly the same girth and distance apart from each other. To all intense and purposes it would be difficult to tell them apart without a blindfold.

There is no rush to this game it is about getting results and not necessarily about finding the tree although that is also part of the process. We spent about 15 - 20 minutes walking through the woodland in all different directions; I do this so that he could not tell where he was by using tracks or sources of light through the trees.

On returning to the start point I removed his blindfold and asked to find his tree. He said that he wanted to do things his way, I said fine go ahead, he proceeded to search the edges of the woodland trying to identify his tree, this simply means that he was in his head, he did not want to let go of control and he was not quite in a position to trust me yet. What I did at this point was to ignore him and let him get on with what he believed was right, as for me I got my binoculars out and did some birdwatching, but in my peripheral I was paying attention to what he was doing, I was watching his body language for clues to what he might be thinking and feeling.

After some time he decided to come over to me and ask for some help in finding is tree. I showed him how to connect with his heart as this is the key to finding his tree, his head would not help him, as it would lie to him based on how he views the world around him. He got into peripheral vision and off he went through the woods sensing where his tree might be.

Some 20 minutes later he left the woodland crossed a track and approached a tree that was standing out on its own from the rest of the wood; it was also a different species as well. He moved slowly and kind of knowingly towards it and when he touched it he smiled, turned to me and said "this is my tree", he was of course correct. After we processed the events that took place we started to head back to the rehab and then came the Chaffinch...