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

Monday, 20 June 2011

It was nice of you to put that Stag there...

My friend Stefan was out one day with a group of people in nature, some where from the city while others where from rural areas. They where asked to choose a route that they would like to walk along as part of exploring their relationship with themselves in nature.

During this time they reached a clearing and as they moved into it, they came face to face with a Stag. They stood for a while in silence watching it. Stefan then suggested that they slowly back up back into the woods and go a different way so as not to disturb the Stag.

A they discussed this experience, the city folk believed that Stefan had arranged for the Stag to be there for them to see, and some of the folk from the rural areas said, that while they lived in the countryside they had never come this close to a deer.

It is interesting that the city folk believed the Stag had been put there for them, I guess if you do not understand how it is in nature then that is just the way it is, but it also shows how far removed from nature some of us have become.

What hope for our children I wonder?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Our War - The Invisible Enemy


I have just been watching Our War, about our guys in Afghanistan and how they were dealing with being out there... seeing some of the footage reminded me of some of them special moments of when I served in the army and being with MEN.

Sitting in a field or wood up to your knees in mud, wet cold. Even when spring is all around and yet your in a place that does not fit in with your surroundings such being surrounded by wire with a Honey Buzzard calling above you. Special moments of taking the piss out of each other, a way of dealing with frustrations or just plain and simply to have fun with each other.

I loved the comment made by one of the guys to the cameraman just before going out on patrol "If I cop it tell YOUR mother I love her", this is humour that I love. In this new life you would not get away with it, this shows the deep bond the men form with each other which carries on into civvy street even when you disagreed with each other, the bond remains.

The smells, the sounds, the breeze on your face, freezing cold then being warmed by the sun in the early hours of the morning before heading out on patrol with MEN who you trust with your life. Waiting face down in the early hours for something to happen, moving through the countryside at the dead of night feeling you are the only people around and nothing else matters. Feeling the intense heat from the oil wells that are miles away, at ten in the morning as the heat of the day picks up and your in your truck. Being able to look at the sun with your naked eye because the oil filled smoke protects you from the suns rays.

Since being in this new life it has to be said those moments are not there any more, it is difficult to describe how that feels. Your body remembers, you remember.

I was reminded recently when teaching a tracking course up at Otterburn, the guns were firing in the background and I found myself in juxtaposition between the two worlds.

Life can be strange but beautiful at the same time.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Discover Nature Awareness - Review of Scouts vs Hunters


Overview: After initial introduction and spending a number of preparatory sessions developing trust within the group and teaching the difference between peripheral and tunnel vision, the game was on the whole a success. It was enjoyed by all the students, and they are keen to play it again.



Issues encountered: Awareness of self: Most students found this concept difficult to come to terms with. They found it challenging to look and think about themselves and how to improve.

Observation: Initially all students found it very difficult to sit still and observe using various senses. It was a skill that took time to develop, mainly with a number of them feeling uncomfortable in the ‘alien’ environment they were in.


Hunters blindfolded: This was the primary issue that had to be dealt with. Due to past experience/issues, many found it very uncomfortable to be blindfolded and to sit still. When questioned, they felt out of control, and all initially found it difficult to just rely on their ears. Staff observations on this proved that the students were very uncomfortable, with lots of fidgeting and not being able to sit blindfolded for very long.


To prepare students for this, a sit spot activity was done initially, and then moved on to blindfolding them all, with only staff being able to see. They felt that they were all in the same boat and more able to relax, particularly as they trusted the staff totally. I used this activity to develop the confidence in the use of peripheral vision. All students were to detect staff as they moved quietly amongst them, and also to try to identify which member of staff it was that was moving amongst them.


Peripheral and tunnel vision: As covered in the Hunters blindfold, many students found it a difficult concept to understand. It was easy for them to do when carrying out preparatory visual exercise, but once they were blindfolded, many found it difficult and uncomfortable. I think this is more an issue of trust, knowing that a student was walking amongst them who was sighted. The initial game was carried out with all students playing the role of the hunters; while a member of staff was the scout (this was successful as they were happy to trust staff). Once the students were happy with this, then they moved on to playing the game fully and beginning to trust each other.


Due to the nature of the group, I did not expect the game to be a total success the first time it was played. In total it took 3 sessions of slowly building up their confidence and trust within the group, before they were fully ready to move forward. Using staff as the scouts and all the students as hunters, helped them to move forward, and allowed the trust to develop and for students to feel comfortable while blindfolded.


The game is now played regularly and is working very well. A variation of the game has been developed, after suggestions from the students. In this, there is only one hunter (blindfolded) and a number of scouts who have to reach an objective. The most recent variation on this has been where the scouts have to creep up to the hunter without being detected. This variation can only be played with the initial group who have developed trust amongst them selves. I have attempted this by adding a new student, but have been totally unsuccessful, again due to the trust issue.


In conclusion, an excellent game, which has helped the group develop well after the initial building up period.

Manse Ahmad

Pupil Referral Unit

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Three Men and a Counsellor


One Tuesday in rehab I ran a nature awareness session in the pouring rain; we met at the meeting tree which was a lovely cherry tree. Three men turned up out of all the patients’ one of who was only 16 years old. I must admit I was surprised they came as the rain that day was quite heavy.

I informed, them that I was not on top form, in fact I felt that my fuel tank was empty and I was not sure I could be of any use to them. None the less they said they wanted to continue regardless. Little did I realise that by the end of the session it was I who got the healing, they were great they supported me and encouraged me, so much so that at the end I said to them “thanks guys you have filled my tank up spiritually”, we had a group hug and then went for a well deserved cup of tea.


Reflecting on that day, I realised they must have had a great sense of achievement ,for them to help someone who was meant to help them, which goes to prove they were well on their way to active recovery, in my mind at least… of course I have no way of knowing this as they never told me about what they had experienced.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Natural Awareness - How does it work?

Natural-Awareness as medium motivates internal/external communication helping to 1) promote confidence, self-esteem while 2) creating a sense of trust 3) in the “here and now” (Ward, 2007), 4) allowing individuals to connect with their hearts to a sense of place, 5) encouraging participants to be honest and take responsibility for their actions, 6) developing independence and creativity by, 7) helping 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.

Natural-Awareness employs the following games ‘Meet a Tree’, ‘Blindfold Tag’, ‘Drum Stalk’, ‘Fox the Fox’, ‘Tread of Intent’, ‘Plant Meditation’ and ‘Tracking’ also musical instruments; metaphor, guided-meditation, blindfolds and sit-spot to support people with an addiction. Some games originated from Cornell and Brown, while others came from sources unknown. Fox the Fox was created by McMullan & Nicholls, there after the majority of the games then meta-morphed beyond their original form as a direct result of working with addicts throughout the UK & Europe. Natural-Awareness unfolds, when participants are taken into what they perceive as an alien high risk environment, by being with like minded people they get a sense of [1] feeling supported by the group while [2] being externally/internally challenged, they’re presented with an opportunity to buy into (3) a process of establishing a healthy-relationship through developing trust with their peers/therapist, and ultimately with themselves, [4] for some individuals just the act of venturing into a woodland, putting on a blindfold is a ‘Huge Personal Challenge’.


Employing Rohnke's (1984, 1989) attitude of “challenge by choice”, participants can freely withdraw from a Natural-Awareness activity. By taking personal responsibility, they empower themselves to move forward, having made an informed choice, disengaging from an activity is seen as a positive lesson. As a metaphor I sometimes use ‘The Stone in the Still Pond’ by dropping a stone into a pond, the concentric-rings spread outwards until they reach the bank, they then return to the centre. Let’s break this down. [1] The stone represents the addict in their addiction [2] the falling stone represents old behaviours being acted out [3] the concentric-rings are the consequences of that action i.e. family, relationships, police, society more importantly [4] the concentric-rings returning to centre, represents the consequences. In this simplified explanation we are not dealing solely with an isolated event within the concentric-rings, rather the whole of someone’s process including their spiritual-connectedness.


‘Meet a Tree’ is the first game I start with, as it presents addicts with a physical-experience which raises questions like how did I find a tree in a wood, while blindfolded. It has been my experience, that when addicts take part in Natural-Awareness, and are open to exploring new experiences, it creates an environment were they will ask questions. It is at this time they are encouraged to find their own answers. Professionally, I use the language of the treatment-programme I am working under I discovered that addicts engaged better because of this approach.


With ‘Meet a Tree’, (which is not just about finding a tree), if someone does not find their tree that’s okay, I liken the process to a dartboard, the bulls-eye means they have found their tree, whereas the green is when they choose a tree next to theirs or stop just short of it, I consider these as hits and therapeutically allows me to work with their confidence and self-esteem. Its also about being a student/teacher at the same time, e.g. before starting one game, a participant set herself up to fail by stating to the group, that she would not find her tree. When she didn’t find it, she became very agitated and verbally aggressive. I expressed surprise at why she was upset, I thought she would be happy, when she asked what to do you mean, I reminded her of what she had said before starting the game and because she had not found her tree. I saw no reason for her to be upset, as she got exactly what she asked for.


She fell silent, then agreed she had said that, at which point she changed how she felt about the situation, choosing to continue she went on to find her tree. Her joy in achieving her goal was immense. While she worked on her negative thoughts and feelings (student) during the game and beyond, this allowed the group to observe they’re behaviour through her (teacher).


The games have no time limit other than what the treatment-programme allows, e.g. one person decided that it was a load of ‘tree hugging’ rubbish and was going to prove it. He took his partner around the centre, went inside the building made a cup of tea, sat his partner down (still blindfolded), had a smoke and after twenty minutes brought him back to me. He was not prepared for what happened next, blindfold removed, his partner turned and walked straight to his tree. He was totally shocked, raising lots of questions for him. This is exactly what I want them to do, ask questions of me, of them selves, question everything, but in essence question. [1] What has happen here (the physical) [2] internally what’s it telling me (the energetic) and [3] what does this mean, to me in my recovery (the spiritual)?