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

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Natural Awareness How Does It Work?

Natural Awareness as medium motivates internal/external communication helping to 1) promote confidence and 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 (2000), 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. Nature-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 Nature-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 of their actions. 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-inter-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 where 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; it raised lots of questions for him. This is exactly what I want people to do, ask questions, in fact 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)?

Natural Awareness gets participants to connect with their heart and to transfer the lessons learnt from nature (be it connecting with a tree, an animal, plant or another human being) into an opportunity to change old behaviour thus creating the potential for new healthy behaviour to manifest, by becoming more self-aware. Within an established therapeutic-programme, individuals can reflect upon their experiences through listening, discussing and processing with their peers/counsellors who have shared a similar experience, by abstracting practical insights about their behaviour and that of others.

Natural Awareness could be seen as a “Halfway House” (Greenway, 1995, p. 133), who introduced this concept along with alternative methods like yoga and meditation into his wilderness-programme, the outcome of which was that before and after a wilderness-experience he found that “…dysfunctions almost completely ceased” (p. 133). Because Nature-Awareness comfortably functions between a residential and wilderness setting, (reducing our physical impact on the wilderness), nature becomes more accessible as part of an individual’s healing process. Lau & McMain (2005) state that “… recent innovations in psychological treatments have integrated mindfulness meditation techniques with traditional cognitive and behavioural therapies, challenging traditional cognitive and behavioural therapists to integrate acceptance - and change-based strategies” (p. 863), with the emergence of mindfulness (the so called Third Wave) models like CBT are advancing, creating the potential for greater integration of alternative-therapies.

While not a stand-alone intervention Natural Awareness promotes behavioural, cognitive and affective change demonstrating an integrated approach which synergistically works with other therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT), Transactional Analysis (TA), Gestalt (GE), 12-Steps (STEPS) which is used to deliver an end result GREATER than the use of a single therapy used in isolation, as an intervention Nature-Awareness can and does compliment main stream models.

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