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

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.

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