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

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Living in the world means that we need to take from nature...

The reciprocity of being in relationship with an other means that we need to give something back to replace what we take. If we don't give back then we call the taking exploitation. We need to feed nature and feed our souls, not just feed ourselves. This is the erotic relationship - feeding ourselves and, in turn, feeding the world, in a dance of mutuality.

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Monday, 22 February 2010

The Falklands and Kidney Island

My favourite island in the entire Falkland’s Islands was without doubt Kidney Island; I spent many a weekend on the island enjoying the solitude and the wildlife. The island is about one mile by about half a mile; it has a small wooden cabin located on one side of the island.

One evening while standing outside I was greeted by two Short-eared Owls circling around my head, what a magnificent sight that was. However, nothing prepared me for the sight I was about to encounter at the end of the island. I was watching hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters rafting just off shore and as dusk fell they started to take flight swarming around my head some flying so close to me that I felt dizzy at times, then suddenly they started to drop like stones and scurry off into the
tussock grass. Boy, they could really move. Both the Short-eared Owls and Sooty Shearwaters and their locations featured in the Breeding birds of the Falkland’s Islands which I had the privilege to do the illustrations for.

As my friends and I walked along the shoreline one of the guys went to take a leak ahead of us, suddenly we heard screaming as he came running out of the tussock improperly dressed I might add which is understandable when you consider that hot on his heels was the biggest Bull Fur Seal you could ever wish to see in your life. This fella commanded respect he was taller than and I am 6’ 4”. We found ourselves separated with the Bull in between our group and our friend on the other side, this guy only had to flinch and we would run, it’s always best not to under estimate seals they may look big and cumbersome but when they want to move they can.

On our way back I was jumping from one rock to the next along the shore when I had the fright of my life as I jumped onto a large boulder it suddenly moved and I found on one side of me was a head and on the other side was the tail fins of an elephant seal, thank fully I was off in a jiffy and that it was a small elephant seal which did not give chase.

More story's to follow soon...

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Men are from Mars - Your Cave Is Bigger Than Our Cave...

Several years ago I went up to island of Islay in Scotland with two addiction counsellors to meet up with Jeremy Hastings, we were there to recce the possibility of using an area on the island for a wilderness therapy programme for people with addictions.

Prior to this I had spent a week living in a cave with Jeremy (the cave is on the left of the top photo). This time we went only for a 24hr period, on arriving in our chosen area we assigned a cave to the counsellors to live in, and Jeremy and I stayed in a cave just across the way from them (see bottom photo). Both caves needed to be cleaned out as they were full of goat droppings, these goats had been left behind by the Vikings I believe.

The day was spent exploring the possibility's of a wilderness programme and it was felt that the counsellors would be the best judge on how addicts would respond to this programme. The next morning we were up early and I became aware of a change in the behaviour of our two addiction counsellors, their body language and energy had changed, quite how I was not sure at first.

As Jeremy and I prepared breakfast the other guys went off for a walk, some time later something caught my eye and I looked up, just over the rise to my front came the guys looking very much like they had something on their minds.

I said to Jeremy "check it out Jeremy look at their body language they look like something from the OK Coral " as they got closer to us it was clear something was not right. They stopped just in front of us, and looking down at us they said "your cave is bigger than our cave" Jeremy and I both smiled and I said "bloody hell guys you have only been here less than 24hrs and already you want to start a war over you has the biggest cave".

We had to laugh...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Warrior of the Light

A Warrior does not keep company with those who wish to harm him.
Nor is he seen in the company of those who want to "console" him.

He avoids anyone who is only by his side in the event of a defeat;
these false friends want to prove that weakness is rewarded.
They always bring him bad news. They always try to destroy
the Warrior's confidence, all under the cloak of "solidarity."

When they see him wounded, they dissolve in tears, but,
in their heart, they are happy because the Warrior has lost
a battle. They do not understand that this is part of the fight.

The true companions of a Warrior are beside him
always, during the difficult times and the easy times.
Paulo Coelho

Tree with spines

In September 2009 I was in Boulder, Colorado where I was presenting Natural Awareness to a group of wilderness therapists from all over the world. During my six hour workshop I took the group through Meet a Tree, by now most of you will have guessed that I really like this activity.

One of the members in the group was from South Africa who I shall call David and as I watched him, it became clear to me that there was a resistance within him to engage in Meet a Tree. He made several attempts to find his tree however he kept heading in the opposite direction to his tree. It is important to beware that the activity is not always about finding a tree; it is very much about exploring who we are and looking at the situations that are presented to us within the game and our relationship with self in nature.

While people are taking part I am watching them very closely, I am looking at their body language and I am checking out their energy and where I feel it is appropriate I will intervene. I usually ask them what is going on for them, what are they feeling and what can they relate that feeling to. Be it an addiction or whatever, together we explore that based on their response to the questions and what they feel the answers to their experience/feelings are. I then get them to refocus by carrying out a small exercise and asking them to tune into their tree, then I set them off again. Their sight-guide in the mean time is observing the whole process from 5m away and no doubt they are gaining lots of insight about their partner and more importantly about themselves during this time.

Once he was happy he set off again, this time taking a direct line to his tree which was a good 50m away and required him to move through a cathedral of trees to get to it. I observed him continually trying to get to the trunk of his tree through very long branches; these branches were all on one side of the tree, reaching from the ground upwards, the other side was reality clear of branches. As I watched him trying to connect with his tree, an image of hedgehog's spines came to me.

At the end of the activity we processed people's experiences of the activity. I asked David if the branches had anything to do with his life right now. He replied yes, his family were dumping all their problems on to him, he felt this was because he was the only non addict within his family and that he no longer wanted their problems, he wanted to push them away and the long branches were an expression of how he feels about them, as he explained this he was clearly quite emotional about his situation, he felt wanted to keep them away, that he no longer wanted their problems.

I have no idea how David got on, on his return to South Africa and do you know what, nor do I need to know as I have learnt to let go and trust that things will work out for the greater good. I am not here to fix people. I am but a small part of their journey and that for me is an honour and a privilege.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Why was she not pleased with his commitment to their relationship?

I once worked with a guy who took part in Meet a Tree. Having arrived the evening before under the influence and was now in detox, John from what I can remember wanted to take part in Nature Awareness even though there was no need for him to do so. I remember he really engaged with the game and at the end having found his tree appeared to be overjoyed with his experience.

It wasn't until some months later that I found out how much of an impact finding his tree had on him. During a gathering of patients past and present he had brought his wife along, and he had enrolled them both on the Nature Awareness activity I was running on that day. He introduced his wife to me, he was very excited and he was telling how much the experience had meant to him in terms of his active recovery he felt he would not return to drink ever again and he was keen for his wife experience the game as well. I looked at her face and I can only tell you what I think her expression was saying. It said to me that she would believe it when she sees it; felt that she was just waiting for him to relapse again, as that is what normally happens?

So off they set, he as her sight guide he was almost childlike as he seemed very excited, on their return I took his wife through the process of sending her out to find her tree, and off she went not looking to keen to do it. On her return she said that she had not found her tree and that was that, it was all very matter of fact.

I felt that John wanted his wife to share in his experience, so that they would have that common connection and that she would understand how he was feeling now, for her it did not work and in a way maybe she did not want it to work.

What do I mean by that? Well, recently I was working with some friends in the same field and a situation arouse which took me back to that day several years ago, I suddenly made a different connection to what might have been going on for her. She did not want him to get better because if he did, perhaps there would be nothing left of their relationship, as she may have, dare I say using him a a drug and if he fixed himself so to speak, she would have nothing?

Who knows what was happening only they really know? I can only trust that I am completely wrong and that they have found their Love again and are truly making a good life for themselves.

Dublin, have I been here before? An Awareness of a different kind...

I believe I discovered a part of myself that I never knew existed... I would ask that you keep an open mind as what I am about to tell you is my truth and may not be your truth.

Janine my daughter was working for Lufthansa in Dublin and I had gone over to see her on Easter weekend, I had not really given the time of year much thought and it was now my second visit to this fair city. Once I had settled in, Janine gave me as a gift an enlarged photo of me serving as a soldier in my home town Belfast. I was aware of some feelings stirring inside of me, feelings that I had not experienced before and that I had no reference to, what do I mean by that?

For example, if I said these feelings felt like butterflies in my stomach the vast majority of people would know what I was experiencing, and these feelings that I had no reference to left me confused as to what they meant.

Anyway, we decided to take a walk up the hill from where the post office is located, a parade was taking place there and I felt it would be good for Janine to have that experience, by the same token I encouraged her to visit Belfast to experience my culture as well, no right and no wrong here just an attempt at getting her to experience a part of Irish history if you will.

Jerry Adams was giving a speech that day outside the post office and we had planned to go and listen to it, I have to say I felt a resistance to do that, but none the less felt it would be good for Janine to experience that also. We were up the hill and a crowd had gathered a few speeches were made and the Proclamation of the Republic, also known as the 1916 Proclamation or Easter Proclamation was read out. At the end the crowed were joined by a small what I can only term as an honour guard of drums and flutes. They started their march down towards the post office with a drum roll which has to be said sounded amazingly like a sub machine gun being fired.

Soon after this I had to leave to catch my plane which meant there was no time left to go to the post office for Jerry Adams speech and so I left to go home.

I spent some time exploring these feelings I was having, still with no reference as to what they were, when it came to me, perhaps these feelings were from a past life experience which I believe to be true, in that I was one of the artillerymen on the streets that day. It is worth noting that in this life I served in the British Army as an Artilleryman. Since that realisation I have not had them feelings again, could it be that I was meant to return to Dublin for some kind of healing or resolution to take place?

Who knows...?

Rites of Passage

Some years ago a friend and colleague and I were working with some young men from Essex and who were without fathers or positive male role models in their lives. We had decided that as part of their programme and to celebrate their achievements that towards the end of the programme it would be good to spend a weekend in the woods doing some wilderness living skills and nature awareness activities.

We set them the task of building a group shelter and along the way if any issues came up we had all agreed that we would deal with them as a group which meant that if someone had a problem they could call circle time and if it was safe to do so we would stop and sort out the problem there and then. This happened a few times during the day and it was good to see these young men dealing them the problems in a responsible way and coming to an agreement with each other to everyone satisfaction, it has to be said that at the beginning of the programme they were very negative about their lives and what the future might hold for them.

At the end of the weekend course we wanted them to have a 'Rites of Passage' as I said to celebrate their achievements and for this we drafted in a friend of sixty plus years, he was to take on the role of an Elder. As darkness fell on their last evening together, we then set them their task which was to make their way to the far side of the sixty acre woodland we were in. They had to stalk up to a camp fire which was being guarded, their mission was to remove a cylum each and return to their shelter without being caught by the 'Hunter Force' which WAS out looking for them. The cylums (see picture) glow very brightly in the dark, so to conceal these and not be detected by the 'Hunter Force' was a job well done.

Their task was completed once they passed under a tree that had broken in two and was laying in such a way that it formed an archway. Just a short distance from the tree was the shelter they had built and standing at the entrance waiting to welcome them home was the Elder, behind him a roaring fire with hot stew on the go and the sound of drums playing could be heard and felt by them as they approached the archway.

As I said they all completed their task without being caught, because they had all taken their time and had truly immersed themselves into their mission. Once they where home safe and sound they could not wait to share their experience with the Elder myself and my friend, well we were in the background just letting things unfold with our hearts filled with the joy of these young men.

It was an amazing sight to see them engaging with the Elder in such a way that we had not seen since we were kids, it was clear that the healing that took place between them was solely for them (remember these men were without fathers) our job was done and so we retired to bed safe in the knowledge that something quite amazing had happened that night, something I am guessing they will never forget.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Nature Awareness through the eyes of Victoria Mew's

I can feel tree roots running diagonally down my torso as I slowly belly-crawl through the shadows with the rich smell of the earth just centimetres beneath my nose. I can feel layers of charcoal and mud cracking on the soft skin of my face as my expressions explode with changing emotions of concentration, excitement, anxiety and fear. I can see figures, silhouetted in the growing darkness by the firelight, looking out to the shadows which hide me. For all the 12 year olds around me these shadows have been transformed from fearful places to avoid into refuges of safety. The game of the fire stalk goes on.

I’m on a Trackways camp playing a night game with the kids who’ve come along. Thomas Schorr-Kon, the founder of Trackways, uses games such as these to connect children to the natural world. He works from the understanding that people protect what they care about, and they can not care about something they don’t know. So by forming connections between children and nature, the next generation might do a better job of taking care of the environment.

“There!” comes the shout from a boy on the other team. I freeze. And again out comes the detector, guided step by step to the place the boy thinks he sees one of us who’re advancing. “Right here?” asks the detector. The boy confirms. Is it a hit or a miss, hit or miss? “Miss!” calls out the detector. Hearing that word, I breath out, feeling all my muscles relax around me and only then noticing that I’ve been almost holding my breath that entire time. I pause momentarily before venturing on. The fire is about five body lengths away.

This afternoon Thomas explained how once upon a time, when we lived in small tribes, there would have been scouts, and that even now in other parts of the world people still depend on these skills for survival. He taught us some tools to increase our awareness. He taught us how to see in a whole new way, using our peripheral vision. “You just put your arms out and wiggle your fingers and draw them back to see how wide a sphere of vision you have. In doing that you will have changed from your normal ‘tunnel vision’ to ‘wide-angled vision’”, he explained. In wide angled vision, we can notice minute movements whether it's the wind moving branches of a tree, or a person across the circle jiggling their knee, or the flick of a deer’s ear who might feed the tribe. “Although whilst in wide-angled vision you'll find you are able to focus on your full field of vision rather than just a single focus, you do have less ability to define shape and colour, but you are much more alert to movements.” There was no doubt that most of the people looking out at us from around the fire were using wide-angled vision now.

I begin venturing out into a more open area between the bracken around me and the young trees just the other side. I’m almost at the grove of trees when the shadow of the big oak tree I’m relying on vanishes. More wood on the fire. I lie still, not knowing how visible my left leg is and wishing my shoes didn’t have that stripe of white on them. About four body lengths away.

I could have just pulled my leg into the new shadows, but Thomas had just taught us how to see acute movement with wide-angled vision. Fortunately, he’d also taught us how to move in such a way that did not catch others’ eyes. He taught us to slow our movement down so that when moving in an upright, walking posture, your leading foot feels the ground first before you transfer your weight onto it. He calls it ‘fox walking’. He shared with us how to crush charcoal and mix it with water to make a dark, matt body paint to break up our human shapes and help us merge into our surroundings.

I slowly move my leg into the shadows hoping nobody around the fire just saw a log disappear before their eyes. The boy who had sent a detector out and didn’t get a hit had to look into the fire for 5 minutes and is now complaining that he has lost his ‘night-vision’ and he can’t see anything. One of the girls on their team asks him to be quiet as she thought she heard something. And again, a detector is sent out to the opposite side. I take advantage of the distraction and move a little faster towards the flickering light beyond the blackened outlines of benches and people.

Thomas has been working with kids and adults outdoors since 1994 after his training with Tom Brown Jr. who founded the Tracker school in New Jersey. He explained to me how people start on these courses in a fearful state of mind. “What you don’t understand, you fear. And what you fear you try and destroy and that’s the state that most people are in relation to the natural world.” He sees it as his job to break down that fear and introduce them to nature, help them understand it and then fall in love with it. Here’s why we’re all having fun tonight – unknown to the participants they are starting to overcome fear of the dark.

My body is rippling over the ground following the shadows. I notice that I have no concept of how long we’ve been out here. Tenderly compressing the dry leaf litter underneath me. I don’t want to startle it. Don’t want it to shout out with a loud ‘crunch’ and give me away. I hear “Hit!” and two boys leap up from the shadows. It's hard to tell how close they got to the fire. They start sharing their stories in excited chatter with details that just seem to keep bubbling up out of them. They join the team who are watching for us. About three body lengths away.

I imagine I’m a scout sent on a mission to get information about another tribe. I wonder at how good their skills must have been to do this even without the blanket of dark covering them. Without the birds sleeping, I would have to be making sounds and movements so small that they didn’t even disturb perching birds around me. The peoples on the land long ago would know something was up if they heard birds alarming. When the birds have nothing to fear, then their song and behaviour is like a tranquil lake. A person comes in and it's like a rock has been dropped into the lake. Birds send out their alarms like concentric ripples. Unless, of course, you know how to move with the natural rhythms. And again my focus comes in.

I bring my attention back to my every move. I’m sure that any moment now they’ll hear me. My heart pounds. What if the firelight is reflected in the whites of my eyes? I inch closer. Slowly. More slowly now. About two and a half body lengths away. This game is just one of the many exciting things I got to engage with this weekend. Thomas lays out a plethora of survival skills and activities. Each one draws different individuals into a connection with the natural world and “provide(s) us with a lifetime’s worth of study, that no encyclopaedia can be completed upon...whether its tracking, learning about crafts or different ways of making fire, edible plants or medicinal plant use…understanding the language of the birds, understanding how to move silently and invisibly. Any of the topics that we pick up, we don’t ever have to put down.”

I get to what looks like another safe spot. It's the last fairly big tree before the benches. Ahead it’s just low growing stuff. I take a rest here for a moment. About two and a third body lengths away. So many kids in the ‘modern’ world don’t get these experiences now. When these kids first showed up, they said “oh my god, that’s really dirty” as Thomas tells me is typical. Which is funny now that they couldn’t be more dirty! Charcoal and mud on their faces, and scattering leaf litter on top of themselves to blend in more. What a transformation! But, as Thomas pointed out, “there’s clean dirt and there’s dirty dirt. And in the woods it's mostly clean dirt, it's not the kind of dirt that you have in the city. That is dirty dirt, that is polluted. You know, where we’re talking about earth and good micro-organisms at work as apposed to a build up of toxins.”

My reaction is to freeze. All my muscles become tense. What was that? Something just scurried over my right forearm. It was very light. It was soft. Hardly a sound. Now all I can hear is my hurried breathing. Breathing in and out, in and out. I’m worried I’m moving too much. Up and Down. Up and Down. “You’ve got 10 more minutes. See how close you can get!” And why is it so few of us get these kinds of rich experiences? Thomas talks of how “risk management caused a real reduction in the amount of outdoor activity that took place. It has got to the point where it has become ridiculous, you know, conker trees being cut down because it is dangerous to have one in the playground. Well, its funny, they’ve been around in the playground for hundreds of years and it’s never been a problem before, so why are we being so over protective?”

My face about two body lengths away from the fire, among bracken ferns. It smells different here. They’re more scratchy than the leaf litter - less noise, more movement. And how important is it anyway for kids to get outside? Thomas frowns…and goes onto explain how he hears from so many people that through the experiences on his courses, they finally feel a part of the world they were born into. He says “I think one of the problems is this idea that we are separate.” He shares how “even just the simple construction of a shelter can have a profound effect. I ran a class a while back where a group of adults built one shelter between them and at the end of it one of the women participants burst into tears. And I said 'why are you crying?' she said 'now I can build a home anywhere on Earth' and it was a profound experience for her to suddenly feel at home on the earth.” Thomas feels “that that sense of connection and that way of relating to nature is kind of the first bit of teaching that we need as human beings. And that then, the concept of reading and writing and so on, can grow out of how we’re reading nature.”

A silhouette moved. It moved the shadow masking my face. “Here! Here!” “Forward, forward, a little to your left, another step forward. There, right there.” Detector: “Hit!” Disappointedly, I slouch to the fire. And then I realise that other than a few passing thoughts, I’d really had an empty mind for the last…well, I don’t know how long. I share this with Thomas. He explains that when using some of these techniques he has taught us and slowing down in this way, your brainwave state changes. What is considered normal for western people is not our actual normal brainwave state and that “we’re living in a state of being over adrenalized and just by going into a natural environment, we start to relax, our brainwave state starts to change from a beta state to an alpha state,” In the beta state brainwaves come at anything up to 30 times per second. Whereas the alpha state is as slow as 8 times a second. “Just sitting around a fire, just listening to the wind in the trees, changes our brainwave state and puts it back into a normal, an actual normal brain state.” Although scientists suggest we can reach alpha waves when in wakeful relaxation they reckon it is unlikely to reach these slower brainwaves with our eyes open.

Thomas agrees with this for when we’re in tunnel vision but finds wide-angled vision to be an exception. Even slower brainwave states are reached during sleep or some forms of meditation. He goes on to explain, “what I observe, the evidence if you like, is that nature is a huge biofeedback mechanism. We don’t need to strap ourselves to a computer and have our EEG [electroencephalography] measured, nature just does that anyway.” He tells me that if he’s with a group who’s been in the forest for 36 hours already and he then introduces them to some of the nature awareness material, fox walking and wide-angled vision, “what happens is that I can time it by the minute…within 6 minutes of them moving using the invisibility skills, the birds will come and start to sing around them in the forest for the first time. They won't have had an experience of having the birds coming and singing around them.” So nature not only detects our brainwave state, but responds to it.

I look around and see logs transform into children and white grins of teeth smiling up from the ground as “Time to switch!” is called out into the darkness.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Energy Tracking Exercise

Student 1: "I know he would not try and deceive me, but you would Geoff" that's what he said when asked what did he sense during this exercise. This is an exercise were people are asked to tune into the energy of the track as well as the physical sign and the results often astounds people.

Student 2: "We were also, I hesitate to say taught, encouraged/released to be able to feel the emotion/feelings laid down in the track that you can’t yet see. It may sound like BS but the group got a 100% success rate, even when the suggested emotion/thought for the track was changed mid way through it being laid".

Student 3: "On a different level though, I think you know that a few of my buttons were pushed during the “Meet the Tree” and “Energy Tracking” exercises. That was quite unsettling, but in a wholly positive way".

This exercise allows people to see on a physical level how we can affect others on an energetic level and vice-versa, while challenging the way they see the world around them, opening them up to another world.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Quotes from people who have taken part in - Meet a Tree

"When I found my tree it felt wonderful, I do not remember when I last had feelings."

"I felt that I have been given something deeply profound and I do not know what to do with it."
(Serving Soldier)

"Does this always happen? everyone in the group found their tree statistically that should not happen."
(Religious Person)

"This is weird... but I feel enlightened."
(Forensic Scientist)

"WOW, what fun I am going to have from now on."

Monday, 1 February 2010

Honesty - Meet a Tree

From time to time when playing Meet a Tree, some of the participants would point out to me that so and so is cheating, they are looking under their blindfold to see where they are going. At which point I would ask them to be quite and say nothing, some would get upset with me for not challenging them.

When the person who was looking under their blindfold returned to the start point I would ask them how did they get on, did they find their tree? And they would answer yes no problems, excellent I would say. Again I made no attempt to challenge them about cheating. However, other members of the group would.

That said when the sessions were over and we were about the head back to the rehab, often but not always the person who cheated would own up to it. I would then thank them for their honesty, at which point I would bring the whole group back together so that we could all share in that moment.

I would then ask them in relation to your addiction "when was the last time you were honest?" Some would respond with blimey its been so long now years maybe and others would say I do not remember. Once they had owned it, I would say to them again in front of the whole group. Thank you for your honesty and if you get nothing else from this session then take away with you the fact that for the first time in however long it has been you have been honest with us and more importantly with your self today. What a great start to getting into active recovery.