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

Monday, 30 May 2011

When Two Worlds Meet.

On the 21st of this month I was up in Northumberland teaching tracking. On arrival at the woods I realised I was being transported back in time to over 31 years ago.

The woodland was between Otterburn and Redesdale on the edge of the artillery ranges there, and as I began to set up my tent I heard the guns fire for the first time in a long time.

Funny thing is it felt kind of reassuring in a way. Throughout the course there were fire missions taking place, even during teaching some of the lessons I could hear the shells sailing overhead and in the distance the muffled crump of the shell impacting on its target.

Life back then was good, of course it had its moments, good bosses, bad bosses, getting things right making mistakes some remain the butt of jokes even to today, and that's fine because you find yourself laughing at your own stupidity as well, perhaps even louder than the others. But in that laughter there is a recognition that you belong to a special group of people who perhaps within normal life in civvy street you would not get on with but none the less you have this bond with them and they with you.

Life was colourful, it had very distinct flavours which cannot be found in this life and perhaps nor should they be, maybe that's what makes that life special in its own right.

I also found that for the first that I can remember I slept for two nights without waking up once, when I shared this with a friend he suggested that instead of playing some tranquil music to help me sleep maybe I ought to play the sound of guns firing.

Was it the sound of the guns that helped sleep or was it because of some memory of times when you were in situations that were dangerous and yet you felt safe because of the relationship and comradery you had at that time Who knows.

And so to this life...

A life that is also very colourful and has its own unique flavour and style to it and as you seek to find your footing in this world of chaos, you encounter people who are just as special in their own right, your experiences are different but built on the ones that went before. This gives you the sure footing needed to move forward but without the closely knitted support that was very much part of the other life still, you move on.

Nature has, is and will always be a very important part of my life and I have been blessed to have been in some very remote places in the world, I have seen things that some can only see on TV, I have encountered wildlife at close quarters from the four corners of the earth.

Nature helps me to stay grounded she teaches me so much about myself and spirit helps me to understand the things that are taking place to see things in way so powerful you are left in awe at how it touches you

So here I am at this juxtaposition on the other side of the woods the guns are still firing the people I am with are experiencing knew ways of looking at their lives through the tracks on the ground while listening to my question. "who are you when you come to the track?" are you the student who wants to see wildlife through the story they leave you on mother earth, are you the policemen looking to prove something to get promoted, perhaps the search and rescue guy who wants to be with liked minded people and to give his dog real life problems to solve or are you the mother of the lost child?

So who am I when I come to the track?

I am me, the one who is open to learning even during the times I find it difficult to be open. The one who desires to be of service to others in the best way possible, the one who is happy with life and is not afraid to say, "well I f%@ked that one up" and now I am looking outwards to the new life that lays ahead and wondering how that will be, ones things for sure, it will be colourful.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Natural Awareness -The Coastal Journey

Natural Awareness -The Coastal Journey - 24th-26th June. This course will be run near to the coast where we will look at how Natural Awareness can be used as an intervention.

We will look at Natural Awareness an intervention based on your philosophy be it Transactional Analysis, Gestalt or 12-Steps, and do not worry if you do not have one just bring yourself you are the most important part of the course.

This is a course that is aimed at professionals and semi-professionals alike who work with vulnerable groups or individuals… for more details contact Geoffrey on or 07838732694

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Vital Signs:Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis

Hi Everyone.

Exciting news, well for me anyway. The work that I do has just got a mention in the above book. Funny how things happen just when you think why am I brothering to do this, why don't I just retire on my pension and chill out. Then something like this comes along to inspire and motivate you to carry on.

Dear Geoffrey

"I much enjoyed our meeting and look forward to further conversation... The chapter I wrote which refers to you has been accepted for publication and will appear in a book called Vital Signs:Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis, edited by Nick Totton and Mary Jayne Rust, to be published by Karnac around the turn of the year."


The Woodpecker led the Concentric Ring

During the tracking course I was teaching on at the weekend and I was explaining to the group about concentric rings/bird language and also how the San Bushmen talk about Zana (The Woodpecker) being the first bird to let them know if anyone was coming.

A short while after explaining this I heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker give off its alarm call and as I looked up and called to the group to pay attention, a Great-spotted flew right past us and some ten seconds or so later the Tit's and other birds started to burst through the woods in hot pursuit one might say of the woodpecker, it appeared that they were following the woodpeckers lead on which direction to fly in, away from the potential danger that they perceived was around.

We then scanned the woodlands in the direction the birds had flown from and sure enough there was a whole bunch of people walking along the broad walk in the woods.

I was only saying to the group just prior to this incident that sometime during the course I will try and throw a concentric ring while they were in their Sit-spots. Well, after that there was no need to throw one, nature as always had done the job for me.


Photo Courtesy of Rob Williams: Great-spotted Woodpecker feeding at the nest.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Sparrowhawk

I was up in Northumberland this weekend running a tracking course for Rob from Wild Harmony a really cool guy and a real gentleman and very excellent teacher.

Early in the morning on the last day I spent some time chatting with one of the students, we where stood on the edge of the wood by a dry stone wall, when two feet off the deck and flying between us at some speed was a male sparrowhawk.

As he flew between us he also brushed his left wing tips against my trouser leg, which surprised me somewhat as I though he would have avoided the contact for fear of injury. Either way this experience made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I was excited about my encounter with such a magnificent bird for the rest of the day.

I have had many experiences with birds of prey over the years one example took place in Germany while out ringing swallows, I had a hobby fly between my legs, but this, this was different.

And on top of that, the course was held very, very near to a place I never thought I would see again Otterburn. The last time I was there was about 31 years ago firing guns on the ranges, and during the weekend the guns where firing, it was nice to hear them again as it brought back some many good memories of that past life and now here I am in this new life joying the new memories, and new friends.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Can Cook Will Cook

Working with some young men over in Kent when I was part of Natural Pathways both Hannah and I had the pleasure to experience a young man come into his own.

He was a large boy who presented with low self esteem and lacked confidence within the group, the group on the other hand were loud and very active and we had the impression that this young man may have been the butt of their jokes and indeed we were soon proved to be correct by the groups behaviour around him.

It was during shelter building that Hannah became aware that this young man was not enjoying the task at hand, he appeared to be disconnected from the group. Then Hannah discovered that he liked to cook, so she encouraged him to do the cooking for the whole group over an open camp fire, to which he agreed, while the rest of the group got on with their shelters.

Then it came time to eat, the boys were worn out by the amount of work they had been putting into their shelters and quite simply they were ready for a break and a bite to eat. They all sat around the fire while the young man served them a hot lunch, and without much encouragement they all commented on how great the food tasted.

The young man smiled and they talked between each other, some asking how he managed to do the cooking and so on. In response to our questions they soon began to realise that everyone had something to offer the group, if one person could not do something then the group would find what they were good at and use that particular skill for the good and benefit of all. They were also able to recognise their own limitations and play to their strengths.

At the end of the day the group left as a group as opposed to arriving as some were part of and others were not part of the group.

All in all a great day was had, the same cannot be said for the mini bus driver, and that is another story in it's own right which I may share with you in person one day.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fox learns to Hunt through Play

It is important to understand the ‘value of play’ in relation to Natural Awareness and addictions.

Play is an important part of our growth, it can give us positive-experiences where today, play is all but ignored (i.e. lack of sports in schools), from play we learn about our boundaries and capabilities and according to Stuhlimiller (2003) “…learning from a positive encounter can thus become as permanently etched on the brain as learning from a negative experience”.

Natural Awareness is one such positive-experience that people wit an addiction, seem to enjoy and benefit from as one person put it.

“I learnt in a playful way that I can trust my instinct and other people”

(Kaagman, 2008)

In Natural Awareness participants are not just asked to take on the role of an animal (physical) but to actually become an animal whether it is as a wolf, bird or fox. By using different scenarios and playing these nature-based games, in silence and using positive/negative intentions, (energetic) and by connecting with their heart, the addict has an opportunity to observe their behaviour in others and to become aware of the power of their thoughts y observing them manifesting into the physical, without feeling judged.

In Natural Awareness there is no right and no wrong, there just is, by becoming aware of their inner-landscape through their experiences of the external-environment they may experience a power greater than themselves (spiritual).

Fredrickson (2004) informs us that research into animals has found that through play, young animals put in place behaviours needed to survive as adults i.e. ‘Predator Avoidance Strategies’, it may be that if we do not learn to play at an early age then our ‘Predator Avoidance Strategies’ may become flawed?

Play “…with its shared amusement, excitement and smiles, builds lasting social bonds and attachments” (p. 148). As the Natural Awareness games unfold and behaviours begin to manifest, appearing initially to be an external event, (however, the reverse is true) individuals learn to surrender to the process and to fully engage in play, their need to hide is potentially removed as they form a social identity based on their shared-experiences with their peers.

Natural Awareness provides an alternative way of looking at oneself. According to Fredrickson (2004) the resources accrued personally while experiencing positive emotions are long-lasting and increases “one’s personal resources…”, which can be drawn on later to “…improve coping and odds of survival” (p. 149), e.g. (Ward, 2007) an addiction counsellor believed Natural Awareness was integral to Jackie’s (her client) recovery. Jackie found something in Natural Awareness that, gave her joy and pleasure which enabled her to re-connect with herself through playing in nature, thus giving her the tools for the first time to work with her treatment-programme and hopefully to later draw on her experiences to help maintain her in active-recovery.

Her counsellor said that of all the therapeutic approaches she had used with Jackie none had helped her, it was only when she had experienced Natural Awareness that Jackie began to understand herself.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Letter from France

Spirituality and Nature Awareness

My name is John and I am a recovering alcoholic living in France. A little bit about my background is useful in understanding why nature awareness has been so important to my recovery. I was brought up in an upper middle-class home. My parents were quite normal and neither was an abuser of alcohol or drugs. My upbringing was not void of contact with religion. We went to church as a family and I was taught the keys to living a Christian life. The one important point I want to make is that, while certain noble principals for living were passed along to me, I never really connected spiritually with God. I have absolutely no doubt that the lack of spirituality in my life has been the major contributor to my alcoholic behaviours and the trouble those behaviours have caused in my own life as well as the lives of others close to me.

My first experience with nature awareness was in rehab by way of the “game” of finding my tree. I was blindfolded and a friend led me to a tree. I examined the tree and its immediate surroundings very carefully – touching, smelling, and walking around it. I was taken back to the original starting place, the blindfold was removed and I was asked to go find my tree. I was amazed that I actually found my tree. By the way, my friend went through the same experience and found his tree as well.

Following the first experience, I participated in several more adventures over the next weeks. All of my experiences were not as successful in the sense that I found a person, place or thing - blindfolded, but each time I participated I became increasingly aware of how my other senses guided me and enhanced my awareness of the nature surrounding me. I also had the experience of building trust in my friends who served as my guides and self-confidence as I became increasingly aware that I was able to use my sensory experiences (other than sight) and heartfelt awareness of my surroundings to survive.

Of all my nature awareness activities, the one that rests at the top of my memories involved me sitting under a tree with a guitar, again blindfolded. I was asked to play music which I thought told my story. I was not allowed to play “covers” or other artist’s music, or anything I ever wrote myself. The latter was easy – I’m not that good! My sincere apologies to those that suffered through my “concert”, but it was amazing that once I got going I felt I was able to set my story out for others, but not verbally as I would share in an AA meeting, rather through the music. After a period of time I heard my counsellor tell me that I had played enough and could stop whenever I wished to stop.

My blindfold was removed. Members of the group shared what they sensed I was trying to do (besides playing the guitar), and I was genuinely amazed at how many people felt that I was trying to tell my story and related their interpretation of that story back to me. The communication between me and the group was way beyond anything I could have imagined before the experience. But here’s the really spiritual experience of all – at the end of the session I told the group that I stopped shortly after my counsellor told me I could stop. My counsellor told me that he never said an audible word to me in front of the group and every member of the group confirmed what he said. I have no doubt that I heard my counsellor speak to me very, very clearly. This was truly a spiritual experience for me.

This brings me back to the beginning of my short story. I am still a person who struggles with spirituality. I have worked many of the steps in the twelve-step framework of AA. By far the hardest step for me is the third – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Having a belief in a Power greater than me is one thing, but turning my will and my l life over to a higher power is quite difficult for me. A major influence in getting me into contact with my higher Power and progressing to the point where I “turn it over” on a regular, daily basis has been nature awareness. Okay, maybe there’s not a bearded old man in the sky guiding me every minute, but I can see and feel nature around me. I can walk through a nearby forest and appreciate the trees, the grass, and the animals around me with a renewed sense of spirit and a feeling that there is a divine guidance in my life. Regrettably, I haven’t seen my nature awareness counsellor for many months now, and I have continued reading up on nature awareness.

I am very fortunate to have been introduced to nature awareness and having had guidance in putting nature awareness into my spiritual “toolbox”. I have been taught how I can draw on the spirit of nature and awareness to get me over the bumps or the rough times in life.

For this I am forever grateful.

(Names & Dates have been changed to protect confidentiality)