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

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Drum Stalk...

Continuing from my last article on Nature 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.

Nature 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 Nature-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 Nature-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.

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 so out of the box that it raises questions for them to seek the answers to.

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 bushcraft 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”. JP

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 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 Nature-Awareness has the answers to this complex addiction, however compared to wilderness-therapy both Mary and Janice it would seem were better placed with Nature-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.

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 Nature 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 Nature 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.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Namibia - Traditional San Bushman Shelter.

We built this traditional shelter during the day and I stayed in it that night, it was amazingly cool during the day and very warm at night.

During the night, there was a big storm and when I checked the shelter out in the morning for damage there was only a small piece of grass that had come away from it, which was pleasing.

The environment can be quite hair raising, during daylight hours if you move more than 100 meters or so you can very easily get lost. Early on in the evening, I moved no more than 50 meters from my shelter and I had become completely disorientated.
Thankfully, Stuart came to my rescue, cheers buddy.

I had a small fire inside my shelter which I fed throughout the night.
I had to leave my shelter from time to time to replenish the fire with more wood, just to deter the Hyena's and Jackals I could hear outside.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

After the Wall came down...

About a year after the Berlin wall came down my good friend Richard and I decided we would do a tour of some of Eastern Europe from 9th - 14th Aug 1992.

Setting out from Germany we visited Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), Slovakia, Poland via the Tatra Mountains and into East Germany.

Some of the birds seen during our trip were a Pygmy Owl! - the Neusiedlersee in Austria, Black Stork at the Hortobagy – Hungary and an amazing stroke of luck the Ural Owl in the Vyhorlat Hills - Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Three-toed Woodpecker up the Tatra Mountains - Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia) and growling Brown Bear in the distance and finely at the Gullpersee, East Germany Six Ospreys, and one White-tailed Eagle.

Along the way we had many interesting experiences, allow me to share some of them with today. Our first was one night while up in the hills near to Neusiedlersee we heard a pygmy owl which we dually reported tour sighting to the gut in charge of the nature centre there. As I relayed our sighting in my best German (or so I thought) to the guy who we reported our sighting to became very excited. He informed us that our sighting was a first for that region.

It was not until we were some way into Hungary that I realised that I had reported to wrong bird the authorities. I reported that we had seen a Scops owl instead, Doh (so sorry for getting it wrong, I just hope that no twitcher's went to get our not so rare sighting).

Some time later we ended up at the Hortobagy. however, along the way we saw a lot of discarded military equipment and empty barracks, we even passed a scrap dealers were there was a Mig 21? sat on top of a load of old cars, still with its entire insignia on it. Oh yes, and we awoke one morning, well I, woke Richard up who was none too happy, to tell him all about the blindly obvious Storks clapping around us, I guess he was tired.

Continuing on our drive through Eastern Europe, we observed a clever way of using what appeared to be an old transport plane, namely the front half of the fuselage was cut from the rest of the plane and then stuck onto a restaurant, and to get into the restaurant you had to walk up the steps of the aircraft and into the plane and along the inside to the front door of the restaurant, quite novel I thought at the time and it did bring a smile to my face.

We also met several local birders who were using a pair of binoculars split into two halves which they used as individual scopes, this I guess, was due to the lack of funds to purchase the more expensive equipment that we are use to. Just shows you when you want to do something you will find ways to achieve the best results with what you have available.

At one point we considered the possibility of going into the Ukraine, but as we got closer to the boarder we felt it might be wiser to give it a miss, and so began a long night drive into the Czechoslovakia hills (now Slovakia). We stopped at various points along the way in the hope of getting a Tengelmalm’s owl, by playing a tape recording, during one of these stops we had a response from another owl which we determined to be a Strix of unknown origin.

At this point we decided to venture into the woods, soon realising that it was a boggy woodland which required us the move along fallen trees and not along the ground for fear of doing a disappearing act. As we approached the owl, our batteries on our torch we discovered was running low, and just before they wee about to die, we encountered our first ever Ural owl.

How excited were we? Just enough to stay in the trees I guess, we discovered on our return to Germany that the British Birds magazine had reported on the status of the birds of Czechoslovakia, and that the Ural owl we saw was possibly one of ten known breeding pairs?

After this we tried to enter into Poland, the Polish Border Guard wanted a bribe and he wouldn't let us into the country until we had paid him, we informed him that all we had was local currency as we had been changing our money as we passed through each country. But he remained convinced that we had Deutschmarks or Dollars on us. Eventually, he let us in, after he realised that we were telling the truth , I guess he decided this when he saw that we had started brewing up at the side of his hut. I guess he must have thought that we were hard core and in it for the long term, it must have appeared to him that we were settling in for the night.

Was this the beginnings of CAOS (I wonder)?. Sorry everyone only those who are in the know will understand.

After our very unwelcome reception, we decided not stay in Poland and pushed on into East Germany, aiming for the White-tailed Sea Eagle. Some nice birding was to be had there. As a result of not staying in Poland we returned to West Germany early. Along the way we bought some very discussing drink ,which we gave to our friend Dave as a gift for feeding us, when we stopped over at his place on our way home. He was not very impressed when he drank it, thankfully we were long gone by the time he had put it to his lips, and boy did we laugh. We had an ice cream from the same place, the shop was advertising magnums and all kinds of ice creams the sort you would expect to find at home. They actually only had one kind, and you really needed the disgusting drink to wash away the taste of it, it was like frozen powered milk, that’s the best way I can describe it.

For me the best was yet to come, when I got home, my house was empty. I thought were could the wife and kids be? Ah I know, they will be round our friends house, so off I went. I knocked on the door and it was duly opened and our friend stood in shock at seeing me there, “what are you doing here? We thought you had forgotten all about it” she said. Think Geoff what have you forgotten as my mind raced for answers, my mouth let loose these words. “Why do you think I have come back early, it is because I have not forgotten (whatever it was)”.

On entering their house I was greeted with the same words “we thought you forgot” “who me, never” I was able to string this out for well over an hour and no one asked me the obvious question, that is until on the way home, my wife said you have forgotten haven’t you… silence. “Yes, what have I forgotten then?” she relied “our wedding anniversary.”


All in all a great time was had, by Richard and I.

Drawing: Short-eared Owl - by Geoffrey McMullan