by Aidan Young
This interview was a blast for me. Wendolyn Bird is an expert in nature connection for young children and a delight to talk to. Jon Young also weighs in with wisdom shared from his visits with the Kalahari Bushmen. You can jump right into the interview below, or read on for a little story of mine that I find useful in priming my brain for this conversation.
Listen online or download the audio (show notes continue below):
It was one of those February days in the Bay Area that make me grateful to live here; close to 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We had just finished harvesting the chickweed from the shady side of the meadow. Now the winter sun cast across the field at an angle that belied its warmth and settled across our picnic blanket. We sat with a handful of 5-year-olds, and their mothers, and it was time for a story to go with our lunch.
My co-instructor pulled out the book “Over In The Meadow,” a book I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. Together we sang: “Over in the meadow, in the sand and the sun, lived an old mother turtle and her little turtle one. “Dig,” said the mother. “I dig,” said the one, and they dug all day in the sand and the sun.” As I sung I was 5 again, and I could hear my mother’s voice singing along with me. I remembered her warmth as I snuggled next to her and I couldn’t help but smile at the little ones in front of me, cuddled up with their moms. In that moment, I knew exactly how they felt. Maybe they will remember that moment in 30 years when they sit down to read to their children.
As that little boy in my memory, my imagination blurring the lines of reality, I became the turtle. I can still feel the sunshine on my shell as I write this. Imagination and imitation have an incredible power to involve all of our senses and etch experiences into our brains in a way that intellectual discourse seldom does. It is in this space that children under 6 live most of the time. When I pretended to imitate a deer or a fox, I could almost feel my ears or my long, bushy tail.
When engaging with young children they are much more likely to follow you than listen to you. They are in a space of imitation, imagination, and experimentation. They are ready to become a crow, a lizard, or a ninja turtle at a moment’s notice, but not so interested in facts unless those facts are playing out in front of them in a way they can experience directly. I’ve seen a young child lay perfectly still on their belly next to a gopher hole because we just saw that gopher come out a moment before. But when I told them about the gopher hole the week before they couldn’t care less. They want to be where the action is.
Believe it or not, there was a time in your life when you didn’t know what time it was, what day of the week it was, when your next deadline would be. There was a time when “present” was all you could be, even if what you were present to was totally imaginary. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, babysitter, or family friend, if you’re planning to spend some time with 5-year-olds, I would ask you this: can you remember a moment in your own childhood like Over in the Meadow? Maybe there was a day you spent in your back yard creating a little village out of sticks and leaves, or that time you became your favorite singer and had a concert in front of your mirror. Whatever it is, if you can let your inner 5-year-old out, you’ll have a blast.
I believe that it’s more important than ever with this age group to make sure that we care for our own state of being before engaging. In order to create a space where these young children are free to explore and experience the world around them, we have to be in a space where we be present, playful, inquisitive, and supportive. And, knowing they are in a place of imitation, we must be careful to bring our best energy to each and every moment.
Wendolyn and Jon share some great insights into this experience, from the perspective of both child and mentor. I enjoyed digging in with them and I hope you do too! Thanks for reading. - Aidan
Listen to the Podcast:
Interview Outline and Show Notes
0:00 - Introductions
0:58 - Jon: background and history with Wendolyn
2:50 - Jon: history and background of nature connection
11:24 - Wendolyn: nature connection
14:55 - Wendolyn: the young child’s mind
19:24 - Wendolyn: nature as the classroom
21:13 - Jon: Nature connection and the importance of modeling and mentoring
35:09 - Wendolyn: Parents’ expectations and understanding, learning to ground
43:48 - Aidan: grounding, mentoring, and modeling
46:50 - Aidan & Wendolyn: hazards and developing awareness
50:33 - Wendolyn: supporting development and learning
52:53 - Wendolyn: observation and meeting children where they’re at
54:52 - Aidan: need for being grounded to enable mentoring
55:35 - Wendolyn: on grounding
57:27 - Jon: on grounding and inner tracking
60:07 - Aidan: grounding, and what are you bringing to the moment? The value of gratitude routines
63:40 - Jon: the words before all else
64:52 - Closing thoughts
by Josh Lane, Deep Nature Connection Mentor
Here’s a story about two very different journeys, each taken by the same person on the same trail. The outer conditions are virtually the same in each story. The real difference in each journey occurs within the attitude and the attentional focus of the person in question.
There's something instructive in this story that speaks to the importance of cultivating presence in our lives, and about the gifts that developing a greater awareness can bring us in our lives.
Download the Audio or Read the Full Story Below...
Let's imagine person number one. Or, “personality-awareness-expression number one”… this is a person with a certain agenda, and that agenda is driving their behavior and their awareness. It's impacting how they experience the world around them, and the quality of that experience.
So, this person has woken up in a hurry. They hear their alarm and they jump up out of bed. Maybe they jump in the shower, then grab some coffee, a quick something to eat, and run out the door.
They’re hurrying because they’ve got to get to work, or they have to drop the kids off somewhere, whatever it is, but they're in a rush and they basically just grab everything they need and run.
They can barely hold everything as they get out the door - they've got the coffee mug in one hand, a backpack or whatever they're bringing with them, a jacket, all their stuff.
They run out the door in a hurry and jump right in the car. Quickly, they start the engine and then zip off. Their primary thought? Where do I need to go. What do I need to do. Just getting it done…
So that's experience number one, and maybe you are reading this, and perhaps some of you are thinking, “Wow, that sounds like my typical morning right there!”
I know I've certainly had plenty of days like that, and probably many of us have and do. Now the question is, on the way from the door to the car or even before that...
What did that person notice about the world around them?
Note that in the story, a lot of the attention was particularly directed to the future: What do I have to do next? What are the five other things I have to do this morning? What do I have to grab and bring with me? And then, what am I facing in this next step of my morning?
Basically, it's all about getting ready for the morning. Of course, it's important to be able to meet what's coming towards us efficiently and on time, and to have the things we need; these are important skills for thriving in today's world.
But, there can be a cost with this approach. The cost appears in the quality of our interface with the world around us. When we're caught in the mind state of “I need to get somewhere fast,”and this becomes our day-to-day mode of operation, we can miss a lot of what's around us. What’s more, we might also miss some of the more subtle qualities that are moving inside of us, overlooking our feelings about what’s going on in our inner world.
Still, we have things we need to tend to. So the quality of awareness may get shunted aside, so that we can get towards our goal quickly. Sometimes, maybe you just have to do that. Maybe there doesn’t appear to be another option. Still, we can ask:
How much room for awareness is there, even in a busy moment like that?
Are there some simple things we can do to slow down and nourish our awareness?
Maybe we can’t slow down our outward motion, because we have to move fast to keep on track. We have to get things done fast, but:
Can we find some more spacious and aware inner space in the midst of the action? And, what would that do to our morning or to our day if we were able to pull that off?
Now, let me paint a picture of person number two. Let's imagine this is actually the same person as before, now with a different mindset. This new inner attitude is affecting their behavior and their experience.
Let's say this person has spent some time with a nature mentor, and they have adopted some routines of awareness that are supporting their mindfulness and presence. So now we observe the story of person number two. We might also think of this as the story of “personality-awareness expression number two” (if we think of personality expression as inclusive of a set of awareness routines embedded in one’s experience).
So now it’s the same person from before, but on a different day - maybe six months later. They still have to get to where they're going, and their morning routine hasn't overly changed that much. They still have the same responsibilities, the same duties to fulfill, and the need to get somewhere on time. They have a lot of things to get ready.
Now, though, this person has cultivated some mindfulness practices. So that alarm still goes off in the morning, but now when they get up, instead of jumping right into the shower, they take a moment to welcome and greet the day. They take a few deep breaths and just sense their body. Maybe they’ll stretch for a minute, wake themselves up a little, and really feel their body for a moment. Maybe they even pause and take a moment of gratitude, just to think about the opportunities of the day that are coming up - even just for a minute. Maybe while they're in the shower, they're just thinking “Wow, what am I grateful for today that I get to do today? What might I get to learn and grow into today?”
So already, through just a few subtle awareness changes, the mindset is shifting. There's a positive energy building, and an outlook for meeting the day that brings optimism with it. Then, when they are taking that first sip of coffee, they take a moment, perhaps even a second, to savor the taste of that coffee, to fully to smell the aroma. Or, to take that first bite of food very mindfully. Even if there's not time to really slowly eat the meal, even just taking that first bite with mindfulness can change the impact of that meal, to bring that much more nourishment and engagement in what's happening there.
Then, they gather everything up that’s needed for the day. In the midst of that gathering and action, they are now just being fully aware of the body, being aware of those around them, and having the sensations of it all. Now comes the realization that in the midst of busyness, one can still be relaxed.
So, this person is experiencing a sense of peaceful action, all within the same time frame and general routine that they had six months earlier, with only slight modifications. Then there's another little moment of opportunity: in opening the front door to leave home, they pause as that door opens, standing just for a moment on the front porch. In the transition out the door, they take a moment to extend the awareness out, intentionally noticing what’s outside the door - is there a robin on the lawn, a squirrel nearby in a tree, what do the clouds look like today? They feel the breeze, sense the humidity or the dryness in the air. They take a smell of the the scents on the wind, feel the breeze on the skin. Then, they walk to the car and really feel each footstep as a meditation, even if it's just 10 steps.
Just pausing at the doorstep and doing something like that, which can literally take 10 seconds, can now open a doorway to a whole other level of connection. Now your yard, your neighborhood, and your body becomes allies for awakening into a more connected, grounded awareness.
This kind of simple awareness routine sets you up to be a bit more relaxed and present for whatever you're headed to next.
So, those are two very different experiences, and two very different walks down the same exact "trail" for the same person, but with different approaches in their mindset.
This is a simple example of an awareness practice we can all cultivate.
I’ve found that in the mentoring journey, some of the most powerful changes and transformations occur when we find simple, small ways to bring moments of awareness into our daily life.
It's not necessarily about disappearing into the wilderness for a week, although that's nice. It’s great to do that when we can, and it's important to to get that kind of recharge time away from the demands of daily life. Really, though, these little small transformations that are so potent come from taking an extra 10 or 30 seconds or a minute at different points in your day that vary your routine.
Find small, consistent ways to bring little pulses of connection into your senses, into your gratitude, and into your awareness.
I invite you to consider and ask:
What can you do in this week, just as one little positive disruption to your routine, to bring in that greater awareness and mindfulness to your experience?
Have fun - happy connecting!
Josh Lane is a lead mentor with the 8 Shields Institute, offering personalized mentoring in wildlife tracking, heart-mind-body awareness, and connection with the natural world.
For 20 years, Josh has practiced mentoring skills that support transformational journeys for individuals and groups, as passed down through the ancient arts of holistic tracking, bird language, Qi Gong, and other primal awareness skills. A storyteller, author and presenter, Josh’s work has appeared in various online trainings, books, and articles.
Learn more about mentoring with Josh on the 8 Shields Shikari Pathway page.
In today's post, 8 Shields mentor Josh Lane shares how you can expand your sensory connection with nature through the ancient art of tracking.
by Josh Lane
(edited from the audio recording)
As a nature connection mentor, I often get to interact with people around the world, and I observe people's reactions as they connect with nature. One thing I consistently find is that through time in nature, people say that they feel more rejuvenated… they feel a creativity emerging within themselves that maybe they had felt had gone dormant, because of overwhelm, or just from busyness or stress. So clearly, across the board, one of the responses is that nature rejuvenates us.
But, one thing I've also noticed is that many people feel like there's something more that’s possible in their nature connection experience, like there's a deeper layer of connection that they feel tugging at them. Maybe that feeling comes through in a way that's a bit indiscernible or hard to define, almost like a whisper in the wind.
This whisper from the earth is an ancient longing to connect, to know the rhythms and patterns of life in the forest, in the fields, in the mountains… to feel that on a deep level, and know how to participate in that rhythm. In fact, it's part of our inborn neurobiology.
If you look at the time span that we've been here on Earth as a species (and of course there's different estimates of how long we've been here as a species, but generally around at least 300,000 years or so is a pretty conservative point of view at this point in time, with the evidence that has been found so far…), for however long it's been, much of that time has been spent in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Our ancestors depended on their awareness of place to navigate the landscape, to find food, to avoid danger - to do all the things they needed to do to thrive and survive. So, for most of the time that we've been here as a species, our senses have been adapted to this deep relationship with place: with the patterns of the land and with the sky, and with the plants, the animals, the weather patterns… with all these different changing textures and substrates and cycles.
This is what our senses really are adapted for. Even after the perhaps 10,000 plus years for many of us having an ancestral background of an agrarian existence, with it’s shift from a hunter-gatherer mindset, yet, we still have that same ancient sensory capability inside us.... even as we moved further into the Industrial Revolution, and now into this Digital Age (which is just a mere pinpoint in that huge spectrum of time)... here we are, with that same inborn sensory capacity longing to connect with those primal natural patterns.
So that's the "whisper" that I often hear about from people - it’s that desire to experience the full potential of what their senses have to offer them. That desire becomes a mystery: How do we do that? How do we engage in that really deep way with our place?
This is where the routines of tracking come in. Jon Young calls this holistic tracking, not just looking at footprints on the ground in that mud puddle, wondering who left the tracks - although that is in itself a powerful practice - but, connecting that track to the entire landscape, to the whole rhythm and texture of that place.
The holistic viewpoint asks us to connect the track to the entire ecology: why did that red fox leave those tracks in that mud puddle? Well, where are the raspberries right now? If you're in that season and raspberries are coming into fruit, well, the red fox is probably looking for those. At other times a year, the fox might be looking mostly for small mammals. So there could be a variety of things drawing that fox across the landscape. The track there in the mud becomes an invitation to look at the whole ecology of place, and what's driving (either pushing or pulling) that animal through the contours of the land.
As we are out there tracking, we can open our ears up, too… maybe we'll hear the juncos that fly up off of the ground with their quiet but sharp little alarm calls, one after the other. Then the robin flies up, and then another bird takes off, and suddenly we realize there's something moving through that raspberry thicket! So if we are fully present in the moment with mindfulness, and we're tuned into the birds, suddenly we realize that, hey, maybe that fox is in there in the thicket right now, moving right here with us in this moment.
So, the track becomes an invitation to be present to what's going on. The questions become a doorway to engage our senses fully with that place, with the mysteries of the land. We start to develop a routine of connecting with the same place over and over, of rhythmically using our senses and activating them, and then coming home and asking really good questions in our journal. This creates a feedback cycle in a positive way that continues to reinforce our sensory experiences, and helps us map them out and make sense of them.
This is the cycle of holistic tracking. It’s an awareness practice that we can integrate in our lives - and in really simple ways - just by asking, “What's happening right now at my place today?” Have a sit spot that you go visit often; it could be right in the backyard or in the local park. Or, have a tracking area around that to regularly investigate. Maybe you’re not feeling called to sit, but you like to wander. So, wander through that place. Maybe you walk your dog there every day already, so it's just a matter of bringing in a few more questions, and looking a little deeper at the landscape as you walk.
Connect with the place all the way from the ground up to the sky. Methodically look, sense, and feel what's going on. Ask, “Who's moving here? What are the other life forms that are here, what other animals live here? What sign might they leave behind? What are the birds saying in this moment? What direction is the wind coming from?” These kinds of questions start to open up our senses in a really magical way.
These practices are routines that I share with my clients in the Shikari mentoring journey, which is the holistic tracking pathway that we have at 8 Shields. This is what I specialize in. I've had the honor to help people around the world learn to embody this skillset in a one-on-one setting, where we focus on this type of connection with place, by engaging mindfulness through the senses.
Typically, we meet once a week on the phone for an hour, and we also offer customized practices to do in the field in between each session. Then, during that time one-on-one, I’ll listen to the stories that the person has brought in from their experiences in the field at their place. Through Coyote Mentoring (through the asking of very strategic mentoring questions) over a period of eight weeks, my role as a mentor is to tease through that story of their experiences and bring the participant to a new level of questions.
The mentoring journey cycles in this way each week, and the client goes out again with those new questions and experiences the landscape in a deeper way. We set a life-long learning groundwork through this mentoring process. We supplement the learning through very specific research techniques into the lives of the animals, into mindfulness meditations, and into different ways of engaging the senses. Bit by bit, we get further into the story of these animals’ lives, and with the greater ecologies they're connected to.
Through this kind of mentoring, we develop the “Shikari mindset” - the skill of looking at the landscape and quickly taking in a lot of information, just because you know that place so deeply. Now, you know the patterns that are moving on the land, and you also feel your own relationship to those animals, to the birds, to the trees and plants… and how you impact that place, too. You recognize how you, too, become part of that story in a really conscious way.
These are all things that go into the Shikari journey. You can learn more about Shikari here. We periodically take new folks into that one-on-one experience. It's also a great way to learn the mentoring methodology, just by experiencing it for yourself. A lot of folks have commented that once they go through the training, they are then able to very naturally help others with that same methodology, because now it's in their very bones, because they've embodied it.
So that's just a little bit about the Shikari pathway, and some simple ideas that you can start to apply right now right in your own place. Whether you're walking the dog in that same spot every day, or if you get out in the garden, just hit pause on the way there and look and sense around. See what's going on and ask some questions. Keep a journal, and build out your observations over time. That's a really simple way to start building a depth of ecology of understanding about your place.
When we engage our senses this way, remember that we're activating some very deep parts of our brain and our senses. As we do this, we come more alive in some really new and amazing ways… these practices help us feel connected to our place on the Earth, and into that place within ourselves of awareness and mindfulness. So, have some fun with that, and happy tracking!
Josh Lane is a lead mentor with the 8 Shields Institute, offering personalized mentoring in wildlife tracking, heart-mind-body awareness, and connection with the natural world. For 20 years, Josh has practiced mentoring skills that support transformational journeys for individuals and groups, as passed down through the ancient arts of holistic tracking, bird language, Qi Gong, and other primal awareness skills. A storyteller, author and presenter, Josh’s work has appeared in various online trainings, including Awakening the Senses in Nature and Backyard Bird Language. In addition, he’s contributed to books and articles on bird language and holistic tracking, including What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World.
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