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

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Natures Poetry

I once worked with a young man, who kept telling me nature was rubbish and how he hated being in nature and yet one day while doing a Sit-spot by the river he wrote this poem. I really like his poems and yet I hate poetry, funny how things turn out.

Twisted Water

I sit and watch on the river bank
Feeling the peace of the stones that sank
How the water churns and twists like a waterfall the fogs and mists
I wonder how it's that unique, delicate and harmful
With every wish to trade it for my soul
Becoming the thing of my dreams in nature
To hope and be prepared for the future
By reading this, I hope you think about life
Accept what happens, but don't live with strife

Written by Luke aged 15 yrs

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Another letter of support... Thank you Lisa.

Why not tell me of your experiences of working either with me or someone else in Nature. Perhaps you could tell me about your Before, During and After experiences and what you got from it.

You can e-mail them to me here:

I look forward to hearing your views be they positive or negative.


24th, July, 2009 18:51 PM

I am personally using drumming as part of my path of sobriety. I found your article very interesting, I had never heard of using a drum circle in this fashion. I hope people will continue to utilize complimentary therapies in the recovery process as I feel they are invaluable!



Letters of support, gratefully received.

Thursday, 2 July, 2009 5:24 PM

Hi Geoff,

"I am the founder of a charity East West Detox which offers an alternative choice of treatment for substance dependency with a spiritual element which has been very successful for many during the past 14 years. Some NHS Trusts, DAAT's, Probation Services and Social Services started to fund people some years ago due to the positive outcomes and cost effectiveness. Then 3 years ago the NTA said they would not fund people any more due to lack of empirical evidence.

...The charity have since been able to raise their own funds and gain the support of Brunel and Queens universities to supervise a research study employing both qualitative and quantitative methodologies as opposed to conventional randomised control trials.

We have completed a pilot project and now working on a discussion paper to open up the audience to professionals and policy makers for comment on the methodology before we proceed with the larger study.

I found your article on natural awareness very inspiring as well as your recent letter in DDN and wish you well. We need more choices of holistic interventions and will always come up against resistances to change".

Best wishes,

Mike Sarson

Friday, 24 July, 2009 11:42 AM

Hi Geoffrey
" ...It's good to see some innovative thinking around methods of empowering clients to make changes in their lives. ...the Bridge Trust is not in a position to take advantage of this course but I wish you well with it".


Stephen Taylor
Support Services Manager
Bridge Trust Corporation


Friday, 24 July 2009

The Barred Owl that was nearly barred.

I forgot to mention.

This guy not only tried to get the park to stop dangerous birds from breeding too close to the broad walk but as a direct result of his actions he also managed to get the use of all electronic equipment barred from being used in the park as well.

I am not sure if this still stands today.

Relationships in Nature.

How does Natural Awareness work? Natural Awareness as a medium motivates internal and external communication helping to promote confidence, self-esteem while creating a sense of trust in the ‘here and now,’ thus allowing individuals to connect with their hearts to a sense of place, encouraging participants to be honest and take responsibility for their actions, developing independence and creativity by, it helps individuals to see that they can achieve things in life they never thought possible, ultimately helping to restore self respect and belief in oneself while experiencing a spiritual-awakening in nature, i.e. healing oneself.

Who does Natural Awareness work for? Natural Awareness appears not separate between behaviours, people with or without an addiction; male or female; young or old - this is also true of addicts who are detoxing. I personally experienced one individual who took part in ‘Meet a Tree’ while detoxing, he found his tree. Some months later he returned with his wife, and introduced her to his tree. I believe he wanted her to share in his experience and by encouraging her to participate in the game, I felt he wanted to share in her journey also. As I watched the interaction between husband and wife unfold. I made some interesting observations.

She was reluctant to take part in the game in deed when she did eventually take part, on her return from trying to find her tree, she said that she could not find it, I observed that she was weary of whole situation, perhaps because see had seen her husband relapse some many times that perhaps she wondered what on earth is finding a tree going to do to help him into active recovery. Her experience told her to be cautious and perhaps rightly so, because she had seen it all before?

On the other hand he seemed very keen for her to share in his experience of finding his tree, perhaps he believed or hoped that this experience would or could help their relationship? He clearly felt the need for her to share in his experience, this I believe gives credence to the importance of a shared-journey, be it with their partners or with their peers to help achieve active-recovery.

And as with other addicts he referred to the tree that he found as his tree, for example when they would visit us they would ask me 'His is my tree'? suggesting a bonding between them and their tree, indeed the Great Prophets found spiritual renewal in Nature Moses and the Mountain, the Buddha and the forest and of course Jesus in the desert or even an Addict Meeting a Tree.

Nature can and does touch us on a very profound and deep level.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Barred Owl of the Everglades

I was birding in the Everglades some years ago, when I encountered my first Barred Owl. On seeing this bird it reminded me of an article I read once which had been sent to me by an American friend, it was about a man who wanted to take pictures of Barred Owls in the nesting season and I had to do a double take on the date just to make sure it was not April the first.

It seems that this enthusiastic bird photographer decided that he wanted to take a photo of this owl during the nesting season, so off he set with camera, binoculars and a tape recorder.

He found himself a Barred Owl which was nesting very close to a broad walk, he got his camera ready and in order to get a good photo he wanted to draw the owl closer by playing a tape recording of the owl. As a result of playing the tape the owl attacked him, he then decided he would sue the National Park for allowing a wild bird to nest to close to a public broad walk.

I have trapped and ringed owls in the wild and in my mind this guy was in the wrong, if you go playing a tape of another owl in an already established territory, especially when they have young, you are going to be attacked because they will see you as another owl intruding on them. The best bit was his complaint was upheld.

Photo: Barred Owl by Wayne Willison check out his great pictures on his site

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Canadian Wild Dogs

My encounters with wild dogs in Canada from Coyotes to the hound of the Baskervilles...

My first encounter with wild dogs in Canada was just outside the camp we were based at near Medicine Hat as part of our military training. Just on the outskirts of the base is a small lagoon for the waste to run into, this proved an oasis for wildlife. I saw plenty of birds there from Black Duck to Palm Warbler.

There was some run off from the lagoon which flowed into a small reed bed, which was home to many species of birds such as Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl and close by I once saw a Say's Phoebe. There were of course the usual birds like Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-throat and Cowbirds galore.

One day while I was out by the lagoon birding, I was watching the Short-eared Owl quartering the reeds when I spotted some movement to the front but just to the the right of me, as I dropped my binoculars from my eyes I saw several other movements in the distance, all in different locations.

Suddenly I became aware that this movement belonged to a group of coyotes which seemed to be making there way along the reed bed as I turned to see where the owl had gone I caught in the corner of my eye another coyote, this one was sat watching me and he was no further than fifty meters away.

I scanned around some more only to realise that I was in fact almost surrounded by coyotes. I decided to slowly turn to the side of the closest dog and to slowly walk away from this situation. I have no idea what their intent was but I was not going to hang around to find out.

My second encounter was while returning from an ammunition run I was looking out the window of my truck, when I saw a coyote running past our vehicle, (it is worth noting that we were traveling at 30mph) and in hot pursuit of the coyote was what could only be described as one of the hounds of the Baskervilles.

It was a large dog almost Doberman like, but its head was absolutely massive in relation to its body (and I swear it had red eyes), I said to my driver look, that coyote is running for its life and that dog has only one thing in mind and that is to have that Prairie Wolf for lunch.

As they passed our truck the coyote changed direction, deciding to cross the track in front of our vehicle and in so doing it lost some of its traction, its back legs were going ten to the dozen when the hound was snapping at his back legs. The coyote back legs moved like a cartoon characters would in terms of speed. Once again the coyote changed direction and headed up hill parallel to the track we were driving along and then they disappeared over the hill, bear in mind we were still doing 30mph.

A short time later we saw the hound on its way back heading in the direction they had come from and he was looking pretty pleased with himself. I got to wondering how on earth did this dog end up on the ranges here. So I did some research and found that a lot of dogs had been released by the Black Foot nation when they went into the reservations and I guess this big black hound may have been one of the descendants from that time.

That day I will never forget.

My third encounter was after having had the shear pleasure of seeing a Prairie Falcon flying parallel to my vehicle at eye level, which had stayed with me for a least a mile before veering off, was.

Whilst driving back to base, I saw in the distance a sight I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime...


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Dance of the Beautiful Hummingbirds

I was in Belize 1998 working as the logistics manager for Raleigh International. One day I was driving down the Hummingbird Highway to the south of Belize on trip to recover one of our boats which had broken down.

On route I decided to stop for a rest by a river and of course to get some birding in as well. I was sitting on the spare wheel of Landrover relaxing when I was privileged to witness two hummingbirds dancing with each other.

Dancing is the only way to describe what they were doing, later when I shared this experience with the others on my return. The only way I could explain what I the hummingbirds looked like (which still does not do them justice) is as follows.

Imagine if you will.

Diamonds, Ruby’s, Sapphire’s and Emeralds on wings, this is how these hummingbirds appeared to me in that moment, as they danced around me, just to be in the presence of these magnificent birds was truly a wonder I have never forgotten and never will.

This experience also gave raise to the Hummingbird Meditation that I sometimes use when working with groups.

Monday, 13 July 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 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 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.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Merlin and the young man's anger

Merlin often helps me with my sessions, because sometimes people do not want to, or cannot bring themselves to, or do not know how to tell you what is going on for them.

However they often can express themselves to Merlin.

I was once working with a young man who was feeling quite angry about something and on this occasion Merlin had become quite aggressive, this is something she does not normally do, certainly not around others.

I became aware that she was responding to the young man's feelings, so I decided to talk to him through Merlin. I asked her "Merlin what is going on for you, why are you so angry you are not normally like this." I got the young man to also engage on the same level and we were able to talk about anger through Merlin.

She played her part wonderfully.

That's the power of Nature, Merlin had sensed his anger and responded in a way that allowed me to work with him through her.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Serenity Prayer with my own little bit added on.

Before starting my workshops I go into the woods on my own or wherever
I am working and I offer the Serenity Prayer out loud with my
own little bit added on (here in italics) at the end.

God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to now the difference.
I ask for this for the good of all and to harm none in the name of unconditional

After my workshops, I give thanks to all of Nature's Creatures and Spirits
for their guidance and teachings and of course to my
Creator for protecting us and for all that is.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Just a thought cont'd

Question: Who is Alternative?

Answer: Neither

Each has a place and value each offering something special.
It's all about being of service for the greater good of all and to harm none.
And not about the EGO (Easing God Out).

Birding Hong Kong & Mai Po Marshes

Some years ago I took a trip to Hong Kong I wanted to visit the Mai Po marshes for the birds and of course in and around the rest of Hong Kong. When I arrived at the reserve where I had booked accommodation at the research centre there, after I paid the cab driver his fare, I turned around and literally bumped into two German friends Andreas and Alfons, how random is that. They where staying a short distance away on an estate, so I pitched up with them for the duration of my stay there.

Mai Po holds many of the worlds rarities, in particular the Black-faced Spoonbill other endangered wetland species that visit the marshes are Dalmatian Pelican and Saunders' Gull. Spotted and Imperial Eagles are among the birds of prey that spend winter in the area including the Eastern Marsh Harrier.

On one of the many islands there I had great views of White-bellied Sea Eagle fishing quite amazing to watch. Songbirds include Olive-backed Pipit, as well as Styan's Grasshopper Warblers though the latter are tough to see I got lucky and had two brief views of one. On one of our trips out to the hills we got to see the Red headed Tits with 4 young that Andreas discovered, this is a rare sighting for Hong Kong and I believe it was the first breeding record for Hong Kong?

Chinese Egret is another spring migrant. The more common species include Curlew and Terek Sandpipers, Red-necked and Long-toed stints, Greater and Lesser Sand plovers and Red and Great knot; there are also globally rare Asian Dowitcher, Spoon-billed Sandpiper of which I saw a good number and Nordmann's Greenshank. The lagoons had Whiskered and White-winged terns also Pied Harrier. Mai Po is home to four species Kingfishers namely Black-capped, White-breasted, Common and Pied.

I was allowed to enter the fenced off area to gain access to the hides, for this I needed a permit and you have be out by 18:00 hrs, the fence has towers along it length every so often. On one of the days I was with my friends watching a log-billed Dowitcher just as it was getting dusk, I checked my watch and found that it had stopped, so we decided to make our way back only to discover the Gurkha's had locked the gate. I became a bit worried as I was still serving in the army and now I was locked out on the Chinese side.

Andreas said not to worry follow me, we turned right and walked until the fence stopped, at which point we just walked around the fence, there was a tower a short distance away and no one was manning it. I thought to myself, what was the point of locking the gates if you could just walk around the end of the fence.

While spending time near the mist nets at the ringing station fortune looked down on us, with a Black headed Bunting caught in the nets. Some months after our return I met with Andreas and Alfons and we talked about the next trip we were planning independently of each other. It turned out that we had decided to go to Nepal on the same day and to the same location, again how random is that.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Just a thought.

Regarding Alternative Medicine and Therapies. I believe everything has its place and has value and it is important to recognise the benefits of all medicines and therapies.

I often hear people disrespecting what is considered as alternative they would say something like 'Yes BUT THAT is an alternative therapy, meaning it has no value and no place in the modern world.

MMmm, I wonder the NHS has been around for just over 60 years and Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years. The human race has been connected to Nature for thousands of years and yet the modern world is but a tear drop in our time line and therapy as we know it now is still really in its infancy.

Question: Who is alternative?

Steps 1, 2 & 3.

A colleague likened his experience of Natural Awareness to the ‘12-Steps’ he said.

The Drum Stalk is like Steps One, Two and Three in Action” (Kaagman, 2006).

Step 1 (We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable), the blindfold represented him in his addiction.

Step 2 (Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity) the physical evidence of moving through a cathedral of trees (blindfolded) without coming to harm and trusting in his sight-guide.

Step 3 (Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him) the drum beating was like GOD calling out to him, finally his sight-guide who supported him during this shared-experience represented his sponsor or the fellowship (Alcoholics Anonymous).