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

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Natural Awareness - How did it evolve?

All my life I have had a close relationship with nature, on my return to the UK after leaving the British Army I attended a course run by Thomas Schorr-kon of Trackways, were he talked of Nature-Awareness, suddenly I found a language for what I had always known deep inside, it was like a breath of fresh air. I remember feeling safe and trusted enough to be open and honest with Thomas (who I had only known for one day) about my personal thoughts and feelings. Some years later I had my first opportunity to use Nature-Awareness therapeutically with adolescents who attended various state and privately run programmes, during this period the adolescents (consisting mainly of young-men) were asked to define the term ‘Streetwise’ which I believe is fear based (Brown, 1983 & Russell et al. 2000) in order to illustrate how they, as individuals function on the streets, which can be immersed in violence, drug dealing and gang warfare.

Natural-Awareness games are used to demonstrate that they have the necessary coping-skills and senses (which they employ on the streets to survive) to engage in their own personal-development, by channelling their negative energy in a positive way. In 2005 I worked with addicts (in a 12-Step centre) for the first time; prior to this I had no real experience or understanding of addictions. I was invited to run Nature-Awareness workshops, the initial response was overwhelming and with each workshop I encountered new experiences. I was presented with behaviours I had never seen before; this allowed me to explore new and different approaches to my work. Nature-Awareness continued to evolve as I learnt and understood more about addictions, through my personal experiences, observations, university and by sharing/processing significant events with professional colleagues within the addiction field.

An example of Natural-Awareness evolving was expressed by a colleague who related his experience 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).

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. Jane a counsellor in active recovery had this to say about the Drum Stalk. “As he led me, I was aware of not being in control and liking the feeling. I had a sense that my chest and heart were open, my breathing flowed freely, my mind was empty and my body was vibrant in the effervescence of nature. That God shape “hole” that I live with each day, felt like a God shaped “whole”. I felt safe and free within a sense of belonging”.

Recently I was invited by Thomas to run a Natural Awareness session for his year course, at the end of it Thomas came to me and said “you have given me a whole new methodology of looking at what I do with Nature Awareness”. What a wonderful compliment, but more than that it showed me how far I have travelled on my journey, thanks to my connection Nature and my Creator and more recently working with Addicts, who have helped me grow immensely.

Natural Awareness helps people who have an addiction to expand their awareness and understanding of the world around them, were normally they would be the centre of the universe and for some NATURE was filling the void that they so often experienced, it became clear that I was now working with peoples behaviours while out in nature. The experience of being in nature to me means that I can look at myself without pretending to be someone who I am not and to feel that I am not being judged or rejected or mocked. Nature/Mother Earth is in my mind unconditional, she cannot be controlled or manipulated, and therefore she is a powerful teacher. I try to understand my relationship with myself in nature, my relationship with my peers in nature and my relationship with my creator in nature.

Therefore I felt that I needed to define what it is that I was being presented with, when I asked a group I was working with what would in their mind best describe what we were doing together other than using the words Nature Awareness, their reply was quite clear, they said “Natural Awareness” which I instantly liked, I decided that I would sit with this for a while to see how I felt about it. While taking some of the guys to Narcotics Anonymous one night, one of the women gave me a book to read, it was Neal Donald Walchs (2006) “Home with God” which was one of the follow ups to his famous book called “Conversations with God”.

While reading the first chapter God says to Neal “All human beings are born with all the wisdom of the universe imprinted on their souls. It is in the DNA of everything. Indeed “DNA” could very well be used as an acronym for Divine Natural Awareness” (p.5). All I can say to you is this, in that moment I felted like I had been plugged into a wall socket, because my whole body was just electrified and so Natural Awareness was born, in fact I really like the idea of Divine Natural Awareness. Why? Because it says to me that WE ARE ALL CONNECTED TO EACH OTHER, to the trees, the birds, the insects and to all that is and that ultimately Nature gives us an awareness of a Power Greater than our selves.

Friday, 25 February 2011

This leopard has changed his spots

Driving back from Narcotics Anonymous one night I had a realisation, it was that I had changed many of my views and I had become aware of doing things differently. This was a direct result of working with people who have an addiction I found that by being with them, they were teaching me about myself, without realising it.

So, as I dropped them off at the rehab, I turned and said to them all, that while they were making every effort to get into active recovery, what they did not realise was the gift that they also had.

I continued by saying that because of them "This Leopard has changed his spots" and I thanked them.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

If an Animal has to Die...

If an animal has to die so that you may live, then you have a responsibility.
Will Lord

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind Part 2

More brief stories of my close encounters with birds.

Treecreeper: I was once doing a Sit-spot in New Jersey USA when I saw a Treecreeper flying towards me, as it approached it was clear it was heading straight for me. To my amazement it landed directly above my head in the tree I was sat against.

Red-necked Nightjar: While out for a bimble in a National Park in Spain, a Red-necked Nightjar flew past my head to my right and landed in the track just a few feet in front of me, now that was something special.

Red-headed Tit: While birding in Hong Kong with some of my German friends we came across a family of Red-headed Tits two adults feeding four young. This was the first confirmed breeding record for Hong Kong

Egyptian Goose: I was out one day with another German friend when I came across two Egyptian Geese with young. I later found out that this was the first breeding record for Germany.

Ural Owl: My mate and I did a tour of the eastern block about 12 months after the Berlin wall came down. One night in the Czech Republic we were playing a tape of Tengelmann's Owl in the hope of finding them, when we got a different response. It was an owl responding to our tape, we ventured into the woods to see if we could find it, the wood was so boggy we were forced to climb along fallen trees and with our batteries ruing down on our torches we caught a good view of our first Ural Owl. Later in the British Birds magazine we read that there were only 10 known pairs in the whole of the Czech Republic, talk about a needle in a hay stack.

Whimbrel: I was up in Islay one year when I had the most amazing experience of having a Whimbrel land just two feet away from me and it stayed in this close proximity for around twenty minutes.

Merlin: While collecting records of birds on my local nature reserve my attention was drawn to a commotion going on behind me, as I turned to check it out I saw a Cockatiel fly within a few metres of me screaming at the top of its voice and just six inches from its tail and in very hot pursuit was a Merlin. They disappeared in the woods in front of me and suddenly it fell silent.

Tawny Owl: I was trapping Tawny Owls when on one occasion I closed the net behind this particular owl a little too quickly, as we were recording its details I became aware that I was bleeding. On closer inspection I saw that I had a razor sharp cut along my thumb which was delivered by the Tawny’s talons, I had not even felt it.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Nature Awareness - I will never forget that day...

Before I met Geoffrey I had only a vague idea of what Nature Awareness was. I mainly believed it to be a way of reconnecting with Nature but not much more. I certainly didn’t realise how powerful this work is and how it can be integrated into more mainstream treatment methods. I am a Consultant Psychiatrist and a few years ago I was working at a recovery centre where Geoffrey was working as well. One day Geoffrey suggested I join a group of patients to see what kind of work he does. Out of pure curiosity I went along. I observed and observed and finally participated and became part of the experience.

I will never forget that day. My whole perception of the power of nature, our inner power and how the two are connected completely changed. I saw my patients gradually shedding their fears, truly connecting in ways that I didn’t believe were possible for them. In my work I treat a wide variety of psychiatric disorders including addictive behaviours. Many of my patients struggled with feelings of emptiness, isolation and lack of connection with others and the world in general.

Traditional treatment methods often alleviate symptoms but struggle to timely reach many of these patients. By working with Geoffrey I had the privilege to observe how Nature Awareness is able to make a difference in patient's recoveries. Nature Awareness was able to create the bridge that we were unable to create. Suddenly these same patients started to feel connected, related first to Nature, then to others and finally to themselves. What we call resistance or defences simply melted away and the true self was able to freely express itself with no fear but with all its power.

Many experiences in life have the ability to make us feel better. Unlike them, Nature Awareness is able to enhance people’s capacity to trust, connect and have a wider vision of things, enabling them to respond to more traditional treatment methods.

In the scientific community, experiences like Nature Awareness are still widely unknown and unexplored. I strongly believe though that this kind of experience is able to create the missing link between what we call “pathology” and a life of emotional fulfilment.

Although my field is mental health, I see a much greater potential to this work than the mentally ill only. Opening up this language to children for example can allow them to grow feeling more grounded, connected, empowered in a way that is unique and mostly unavailable to them nowadays. This book is a beautiful gift to all those who are willing to try out some new fun games and unexpectedly find themselves moved and empowered by Nature, others and our own true selves.

Dr Karin Dorell

Consultant Psychiatrist

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Natural Awareness – Help was only a whisper away...

The Art & Sceince of Natural Awareness Weekend Workshop

Quote from T. M. : “We started with Chi Kung and emotions began to flow. They were then settled by meditation before beginning the exercise to “find our tree”. Connecting with the woodland was by far my favorite task. The sense of achievement in being able to feel my way around this environment blindfolded and return to a safe place by the tree I had first been shown was exhilarating. After every task we had had opportunities to sit around and check in which gave everyone the chance to acknowledge their feelings while so far out of their comfort zone.

My weekend was full of kindness and support, and gave me a chance to challenge my ability to stay present, open and hopeful in a challenging environment. There were people there with different addictions but all of us had unreasonable fear in common. This weekend put us in situations such as walking blindfolded in the woods at night, where we could practice sitting with those fears knowing that help was only a whisper away. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, made some new friends and came home with a feeling of real accomplishment.”

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Power of Men in Nature.

Here is an e-mail I received a while back from a dear friend who I have not seen or worked with for the best part of ten years or more.

Ian and I worked with young men from Essex who did not have a Dad in their lives and when you heard their stories it would bring tears to your eyes and put your own life into perspective. I have nothing but respect for our youth of today the saying, ‘we had it harder in my day’ I feel no longer applies as I would not like to be a young person today, they are under so much pressure and with the lack of guidance be it parental, social or culture, is it any wonder they display unacceptable behaviours (but by whose standards are these behaviours unacceptable?) true they have a responsibility in what they say and do and this letter for me proves that very thing.

If we as men take our rightful place, this is what can be achieved.

What is lovely about this message is, sometimes you wonder if the work you are doing is having any effect, in your heart you know it is, but sometimes you just need to hear it, and along comes the Big Guy as I like to call my creator and sends me a message like this one.

Hi Geoff

Nice to hear from you! I met one of the young men we worked with in the very first group just last week. He is a caring and involved dad now. During our talking he asked after you. He still remembers the blindfolded, bare foot walking in the woods that you did, sensing the trees. He was still affected by it, with a sense of wonder and a big smile on his face!


Long ago I stopped believing in the saying ‘you have to earn respect’ I feel this sets people up to fail because they have to reach your standards of which they know nothing.

I feel it is more like this. I do not know you, who you are or what you are about, therefore I will afford you all the respect your rightfully deserve as a human being. The only time that respect is lost is when you do something to take that away. However, I will always leave the door open for you to come back home again. This way you have the responsibility for your own thoughts, words and deeds.

Drawing from: Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind - Part 1

I thought I would just share with you some of my encounters with birds over the years this part is focused on Birds of Prey.

  • Prairie Falcon: Canada driving along on the prairie during a Med Man exercise I looked out of my window to see a prairie falcon come up alongside my truck and at eye level. This magnificent bird stayed with me in that position for at least a good mile, what a thrill that was.
  • Sparrowhawk: I was walking down a track during one of my bushcraft courses, when at eye level this female Sparrowhawk was flying straight at me. She was about 10-20 feet away when she realised I was in her way, she then banked up and round to her left and weaved her way through the tangle of branches with expert precession.
  • Burrowing Owl: Once again in Canada during another Med Man exercise I spotted six individuals of this rare bird and as a result of reporting this sighting the whole Battle Group was moved to the other side of the range.
  • Hobby: While waiting for a flock of swallows to land in the maize field so that we could trap and ring them they suddenly took flight, we desperately looked around to see what had caused them to take fright. Then from between my legs this Hobby appeared and caught one of the swallows, he had used us as a screen from the swallows.
  • Long-legged Buzzard: Yemen in a wadi on our way back from a great days birding, when we were gifted with the most magnificent display ever. This summer plumaged Long-legged Buzzard was grabbing branches, flipping over and swooping just some seventy five metres in front of us, this breathing taking display lasted at least a good fifteen minutes.
  • White-bellied Fish Eagle: Hong Kong I was out visiting one of the small Islands as I was walking the shore line, I was treated to this Fish Eagle catching a fish from the water’s surface just a stone’s throw away.
  • Sparrowhawk: While sat in my car making a phone call. A Sparrowhawk appeared from my right from a driveway flying just inches over the bonnet of my car it then dropped to just a few feet above the road, oblivious to the fact it could of at that point been hit by an oncoming car it raced off down another drive way and after about fifty meters it swopped up and over a wall with an inch or to spare. I wonder if it caught what it was after.
  • Golden Eagle: As I stood there stretching having just climbed out of my vehicle just over the raise came this Golden Eagle passing over my head, I could almost reach out and touch it.
  • Ferruginous Hawk: I was taking a walk on a very bright and hot day on the prairie in Canada, when I felt this rush of air by my head forcing me to duck, I looked up but could not see what it was the sun was blinding me, several more times this happened something was trying to attack me. As I withdrew I got to see what it was, it was a beautiful Ferruginous Hawk protecting its nest and of course I had wandered to close to it.
  • Marsh Harrier: While watching a Western Marsh Harrier quartering a reed bed just outside our camp in Canada I suddenly became aware that I was being surrounded by Coyotes.
  • Short-eared Owl: I use to like staying on Kidney Island in the Falklands, during my first visit I was given the pleasure of experiencing two Short-eared Owls close up. They circled just above around me several times outside the hut I was staying in.
  • Little Owl: We were out trapping an ringing Little Owls in Germany when on one occasion my friend who had his arm down a hole of a tree looking to see if there was a Little owl in it. He suddenly gave a startled sound we turned to see a stoat running up his arm and over shoulder and if that was not enough some time later in the same position of a different tree he encountered Hornets. That’s when we took to our toes.
More to come check back later...