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.
by Aidan Young
I’m so excited to share this conversation with you today! I recently had the chance to connect with Jon Young, Dr. Nicole Apelian, and Victor Wooten, and reflect on their experience with the San Bushmen from the Kalahari and what they have learned from the trip. We talked for more than an hour and there are some great stories and pieces of wisdom in there.
Listen online or download the audio (show notes continue below):
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Since our conversation, a question has been with me:
What is connection, really? And, especially with regard to nature connection, what is the value of connection in our modern lives?
I have heard the 8 Shields Model described as a collection of principles designed to facilitate deep connection to nature, to other people, and to ourselves. The stories of the San suggest to me that connecting with the world around them is at the center of their values. As our common ancestors, they give us a look into our own nature. What can we learn from them?
For half a million years or so, our very survival depended on highly developed senses and an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world around us; connection was necessary for success. Recently, an evolutionary millisecond or so, we have specialized and modernized, and no longer have the same needs from a survival standpoint. But, the evidence points toward an intrinsic yearning for connection, whether or not we still need to find our supper in the forest or stay out of the leopard’s path.
What, then, IS connection? Why do we need it?
What if connection is, essentially, love?
What a brilliant survival strategy it would be to align the feeling of love with developing an understanding of the world around us. And, before you dismiss my idea as some new-age utopian fantasy, think about this for a second: when it comes to the subjects that you know best, where your knowledge is almost a little freaky, don’t you LOVE those subjects? I’ll tell you this: no one has ever made me practice music. They don’t have to. It’s a 100% bona fide love affair.
In any case, you don’t have to worry about whether this idea is true, but let’s try it on for a little while and look at connection through this lens:
Most of us can identify with the feeling of really loving a pet, and we experience that feeling as reciprocal. Is it really that much of a stretch to think we could develop that same relationship to the robin in our back yard? As our awareness, our connection, with the world around us grows, so too our caring and love for the world grows, which draws us to connect further. It’s a positive feedback loop. Imagine how much fun it would be to live in a world where you connected with the other animals and plants like you do with your pet!
Note, the connection we are talking about here is NOT the same as knowledge. That would be like looking at a photo of a dog and then claiming you’re connected to that dog. Sure, you know it exists. That’s about it. Connection can’t be “understood,” it must be “experienced.”
Listening to the stories of the San, I was struck by how committed they are to taking time to properly welcome and greet every person they meet. There’s such power in being seen and included in the group. We are much more likely to have a positive experience when we feel safe and welcome. Imagine your favorite times with other people and a few things are likely to be true: everyone is included, you’re having fun and laughing, or you’re sharing deep conversation, maybe even tears.
Taking the time to greet and welcome someone makes them feel safe and connected. When we feel connection with those around us, we are much more likely to act from a place of love and understanding.
Often, our bodies are in one place but our mind is somewhere else. Routines like circling up and sharing something we’re thankful for helps us to become present. What would it be like if we took the time to do these things with the people in our lives?
Connection to Self
In the recording, Victor describes how he felt “free to be me” when he was with the Bushmen. If we spend enough time in connection, feeling safe, welcome, and accepted, what emerges? Our natural interests and personality. Each of us is drawn in a unique direction. What does it look like when we are allowed to be drawn naturally?
Surrounded by others that welcome and accept us, it is also safe for us to grow and learn, and for us to seek help and guidance when we need it. Imagine living in a community where everyone was “someone I can talk to.” Imagine living in a world where your true gifts were being shared with your community, and so were the gifts of everyone around you.
The San value people and connection first. Of course, they live very simple lives. They don’t have mortgages, or cell phone bills. It is, admittedly, a challenge for us to juggle the necessary complexity of things in our lives. But, let me leave you with this: what if you put people and connection first? What if you put love, and being loving, first? How would things change?
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy our conversation!