Origins Project – Interview with Jon Young

An Interview with Jon Young explaining the project to work with San Bushmen in creating a site for advanced nature connection experience.

Early Influences of Nature Connection

Meeting and greeting; arrival in the Kalahari.

Meeting and greeting; arrival in the Kalahari.

In some ways, the Bushmen influence has been the center of my life’s work. I will acknowledge that I didn’t know that at first. It’s hard to really track when my life’s work began, but you have to look at the root of my life’s work as my own journey to nature connection, people connection, self connection, as was guided, instinctively but expertly, by two wonderful elders when I was a small boy. One elder was from Poland and the other from Ireland. This is my maternal great aunt from Poland, Carrie, and my grandmother, Cecilia McCormick, on my father’s side.

Jon Young dancing with Guta, the main teacher

Jon Young dancing with Guta, the main teacher

Both of them had these really, really amazing instincts about connecting children to nature. Again, I’m going to say instincts, because I don’t think they knew they were doing it. I think they just did what was done for them when they were little. They kept my sister and I in these wonderful loops of running out, doing stuff, coming back, and reporting. You know, the classic experience followed by story of the day that we make so much importance of in the 8 Shields network. That was foundational, so I think there’s this sort of ancient root connection that is neurobiological in both these elder women and me as the young child, and my sister as a young child.

Tom Brown’s Influence on Jon’s Journey of Nature Connection

Guta teaching visitors and children how to harvest in the bush

Guta teaching visitors and children how to harvest in the bush

Then, of course, in 1971, when I met Tom Brown Jr., he was looking for the person to take to the same level that he was taken to by the mentoring of his mentor from an ancient tracking lineage, Stalking Wolf. I think I probably woke up in 1975 or 1976 to this realization that something was happening for that was different than what was happening for the other youth around me, because Tom’s mentoring was so subtle and so question driven that it felt like I was doing everything, which I was. He was just giving me really advanced errands to really connect me to all the plants, and animals, and trees, and birds, and skills such as working with fire, and building shelter, and gathering roots and medicines, and this kind of thing.

Gathering berries.

Gathering berries.

By the time he wrote his first book and opened his school, the Tracker School, I was deeply trained in what his school represented. Naturally, I came on at the age of 18 as an instructor in these ancient arts of interacting with nature in a variety of ways. It wasn’t just about primitive skills. It was about these subtleties of awareness and understandings of the natural world that allowed me to be a helpful instructor. That was right when I was finishing my first year at Rutgers University and really wondering what it was that I was going to do with these years at college.

University Years

Upon reading his book, The Tracker, I became aware that he was using a lineage of mentoring that was profoundly rich and highly guided by this traditional form. I decided at that point that I needed to research that form, to see if it was just him or if it existed in other cultures. I wasn’t an anthropology major, I was kind of an environmental science major, but my advisor was kind enough to let me design my own research already. I was a rabid researcher by that point. Tom had raised me to be a researcher, anything I wanted to know, I could hunt for the answer and find. He had turned on this deep passion in me as a tracker, really, to track whatever I wanted to know. I was a very activated, passionate undergrad. I think the professors didn’t know what to do with me, because I was kind of awake in a way that nobody else was, which had its ups and downs, because I would engage in debate with them and take them off subject in ways that they didn’t always appreciate, but I wanted to know.

I think they shuddered and snuck out of the room as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t catch them at the end of the lecture, you know, so I wouldn’t tie up most of their time. It didn’t matter, because I had this great professor, Dr. Ehrenfeld, who as an informal advisor to me, but who was kind enough to sit with me as an elder and incredibly brilliant conservation biologist who really enjoyed my passion, and really helped to guide my research, and to give me clues where I should look for this and that. I was turned on to all the resources in the anthropology library system and took anthropology classes, and then began to research and gather, I think the best way to describe it is a kind of a map. A map of the sorts of activities and processes that children are taught in indigenous cultures, especially hunter-gatherer, nomads, from sandy places.

I didn’t limit my research there, but because I was guided by Dr. Ehrenfeld among other professors that it’s important to have an area of focus because there’s too much information out there, and if you don’t have a limiting context, then you can go insane with the amount of information available to you, and you sort of lose your way. I understood that, because in some ways, it was like tracking itself. If you’re tracking a deer, you ignore turtle sign, and the sign left by woodpeckers, and the sign left by foxes, and you just focus your attention in this diverse landscape of information on the things that the deer may have left.

For that reason, I chose the hunter-gatherer, nomadic cultures from sandy places as my sort of baseline for research, but that didn’t stop me from also looking into the practices of the Haudenosaunee people of the eastern forest region because of the Great Law of Peace, for instance, and the nuanced power that it had to hold this map that I was researching. Yeah, forest culture that was doing a lot more agriculture, but still, they really had nuanced understanding of how to switch on all the neurobiological functions in their children in order to get them super connected to nature.

I also looked into the roots of my own family lineage. All through Europe and Ireland, and also in northern Canada. I was very interested in what defines cultural practices that pass intergenerationally that connect people. As it turned out, that’s the framework from which I was looking. My main thesis question was, “Why are some people so unbelievably connected to nature, and why are others not?” The hunter-gatherer, nomadic, sandy place lineage piece was also related to the Apache lineage that my mentor had, so I wanted to have the basis for comparison with what Tom Brown did for me as a boy.

Harvesting tubers.

Harvesting tubers.

In beginning my research, I began to tabulate what these cultures had in common, in Australia, in the Asian steps, a little bit in the deserts there. I didn’t do too much in the middle eastern desert cultures, but a little bit. I did a couple of different African tribes. The San Bushmen being one of them. Also in North America, Apaches and Lakotas, because Lakotas seem to have a powerful scout and tracking tradition, even though I couldn’t pin them entirely to sandy places. In doing all this sort of comparative tabulation of practices, I began to realize that as I was filling in my table with columns and rows, that the San Bushmen seemed to be doing everything. The Apaches might be doing something that the aboriginals were not doing in Australia. However, the Bushmen would be doing it. The aboriginals would be doing something that the Apaches weren’t doing, but the Bushmen would be doing that one, too.

As the table filled in, I began to realize that the Bushmen were doing everything. Instead of discovering that later, I began to really look at Bushmen, and I started to dig into resources, and short little black and white film clips, and Larens van der Post writings, and other writings from different people who have lived among them and observed them. I began to realize that it was like the Bushmen seemed to be holding the master cultural map, and that, for whatever reason, these other indigenous groups have less. They still have significant things on their map, but they had less than the Bushmen did. I didn’t understand what that was until years later.

Jon’s years with Ingwe and Wilderness Awareness School

Ladies playing an instrument.

Ladies playing an instrument.

In 1983, I was fortunate to begin working with Ingwe, who himself was born in 1914 in a Western Cape province in South Africa, and his family moved to Kenya, east Africa, when Nairobi was just wooden buildings at the end of a train stop. His family were the Kenya settlers, his dad and his mom, and they had founded a very large coffee and cattle farm right on the edge of what was called the Akamba Reserve, which was land that the British colony government allowed the Akamba to choose for themselves. It was traditional Akamba land. Before the missionaries got in there and started working with the Akamba, Ingwe was there, adopted by a family, because there was no other British children around for him to play with, so his only playmates were the Akamba children, and he had a village of Akamba elders.

Playing music in the Kalahari.

Playing music in the Kalahari.

The other thing that Ingwe talked a lot about was, first of all, these Akamba were amazing trackers, hunter-gatherer nomads living in sandy places, but he said the Akamba constantly deferred to the San Bushmen people who were there, these tiny little remnant populations, as the true masters of tracking. They constantly deferred to the Bushmen, which Ingwe then was influenced by the San people themselves directly. Now I had an elder who grew up as an amazing tracker, very similar to my upbringing with Tom Brown, except that Ingwe grew up in an entire village, so he had a whole intact system there that he was working with, and he saw this map that I had researched, and he saw the significance of it. He emphasized that what the Bushmen were doing was really powerful in the way that they were connecting their children to nature.

Centering on studying the San Bushmen

You could say that really, as far back as 1979, the Bushmen became the center of my life’s work. I didn’t get to meet them in person until the first trip took place with Nicole Apelian there with our friends in Botswana. I was very well prepared to meet them for the first time, because I had really not only been studying their cultural framework for all these years, I had been thinking about ways to apply their cultural model within what we now call the 8 Shields’ Art of Mentoring work.

Preparing melons to serve.

Preparing melons to serve.

No problem. You know, it’s essentially the simplicity of what the Bushmen do, and it’s primary influence. It’s not tied up in a lot of ideology. It’s not tied up in a lot of spiritual belief. It’s very pragmatic. It’s very down to earth, and it’s very relatable. If the Bushmen are doing something simple, an action like a greeting custom, it’s easy to see how they do it, and there’s no complexity to it. Anyone can do it. The actions that they undertake to connect with each other and with nature are very observable and very modelable and people can immediately get it. I discovered that early.

I took something that I saw the Bushmen doing and brought it to a children’s program in 1983, which is what Ingwe and I did, we started Wilderness Awareness School in 1983 together based on this table, basically. “These are the things that are being done. These are the things we’re going to build into our programs.” We found ways to integrate this into very modern children’s lives, but we found that the children immediately took to these things, like fish to water. Now I understand that that was a neurobiological response. Their body, their very cells were yearning and longing for this instinctively, and they immediately responded. It was like giving water to a plant that was drying out. You know, there’s immediate response.

At that time, you have to understand also, I was a professional environmental educator, and I had been since 1976 starting as a volunteer for environmental education programs in the local park system. I was really aware of the pedagogy of environmental education and I could see very clearly that what the research I was doing was demonstrating was a very different model than what environmental education was offering. I was finding ways to incorporate some of the things I was doing in my own private programs where I had all the control over the model. I was able to incorporate some of those techniques directly into environmental education, and also got better results.

Cooking nuts and beans in the ashes.

Cooking nuts and beans in the ashes.

I’ve come to call the Bushmen the grandmasters of connection. It’s mainly because their map is the most intact. Not because they’re better than anyone. They’re some of the most humble people I’ve ever worked with. They’re not trying to be the best at anything. They’re just fulfilling on an ancient instruction that is directly reflective of the neurobiology of a human being.

Our original ancesters: The San

It wasn’t until I met Craig Foster, the filmmaker who created The Great Dance, and The Animal Communicator, and My Hunter’s Heart, and numerous award winning natural history videos and cultural videos for Africa.

Dancing with the girls.

Dancing with the girls.

Craig is an extraordinary cameraman and an extraordinary filmmaker, a visionary editor, but he really understands Bushmen culture. He was the one who opened my eyes to understand that the only humans living on the planet 200,000 plus years ago were people who basically genetically were San people. There was no other humans on the planet at that time. He explained that, and then I further researched and discovered that this was actually there to be read and to be seen, that human beings all came out of Africa, out of that San Bushmen root stock, essentially, and then they moved around the planet and diversified into the various races, and forms, and cultures that they currently exhibit.

Essentially, the way I look at it, is that when the San people were in their original form, they were pulling this wagon behind them, which was their culture. The further the wagon got away from its original place, and the hardships of migration, and moving to different parts of the planet over thousands of years, things fell off the wagon. In essence, I think the reason their map is so complete is because they’re still doing what they’ve always done. For that reason, they’re incredibly significant in that they represent a living demonstration of what’s common to the neurobiological needs of humans everywhere.

Learning from the San

Because their very existence is threatened, there’s very few of the San left. It is incredibly important to help the remnant people all we can and to research and catalog as much as possible while they’re still here, and to get their input as consultants and trainers for the very things that could very much transform human disconnection issues at a very accelerated rate. This is an incredibly important need that our people have right now on the planet, though most people don’t know they need it. Once they discover and experience it, they know they need it, and then they want it. Most people are far on the other side of the line of discovery. They haven’t yet even suspected that something might be wrong with connection. It’s like a frontier far beyond the edge of what people are thinking about in modern times.

Dancing and singing.

Dancing and singing.

There were a couple of young boys that came with their mom one year. The youngest, maybe was four or five, and the older one was seven or eight. I don’t remember exactly the age, but I spoke to this mom years later, and she said that those few days that they spent with the Bushmen, they relive every single day. That the children instantly knew that the Bushmen had something that they desperately needed. Without words, they knew. They began to imitate them and take on these things, and the little objects that they got from the Bushmen when they visited are the most prized things that they have in their lives. They came back to America, and California, and just lived as Bushmen. Any free moment they had, they were imitating and pretending they were with the Bushmen.

That being the most dramatic display of influence from just a few days with the Bushmen, what it did. Now we’re talking many years later, they’re still doing this, right? This is something that Ingwe spoke to about the Bushmen. He said that once you’ve been influenced by them, you’ll forever think about them. There’s something incredibly, he would say “charming”, about them, but also something incredibly magnetically important that you knew they were onto something, on some deep soul level. That is the general effect that everybody reports in some way, shape, or form. It boils down to, “My nervous system has been exposed to the field that it’s designed for in the way of culture, and now I really think about it all the time.” 

This is what I hear from people – people who do nature connection work through the 8 Shields movement, who come on these trips. They go there knowing that they’re going to receive some kind of transference of something nonverbal that will alter the way they approach their work. Everyone who works in the 8 Shields movement who’s gone on the trip and then talked to me afterwards has said it’s really revolutionized the way they approach nature connection work with children and adults.

Art of Mentoring, imitating the San Village Experience

It’s a fundamental transformation of something core within the individual. It’s below language, so it’s really hard to find words for it. I think that the example from the children is the most dramatic one. The thing that I’ll compare it to is we have one of the early advisors and board members for the 8 Shields work, Scott Rautmann, and he comes from Sun Microsystems and IT world, but he was exposed to the 8 Shields work first by attending something based on the Art of Mentoring modeling. When he was there and felt it, and when his wife Carrie was there and felt it, and when his boys where there and felt it, it transformed the way they parented, and the way they homeschooled in Hawaii where they lived. It was completely revolutionizing.

Cooking the Kudu meat.

Cooking the Kudu meat.

Scott, being a very pragmatic individual, made the observation that it wasn’t until he had the experience that he was able to discern that there was something that needed to be done. It was like the immersion in the field itself was a primary motivator. He calls it the experience envelope, and without having experience in Art of Mentoring, a modern person doesn’t realize that something’s missing in their modern life. Once they’ve experienced this pseudo-village, it’s quite literally a simulation. We essentially imitate Bushmen culture, giving every single participant a simple little fun thing to do that adds to the culture. If there’s 200 people there, there’s at least 200 little cultural things happening that create this cogenerated field that actually has an influence on that below language, below thought realm, and activates that neurobiology.

You could say that the Art of Mentoring as an experience is a gateway to understanding that something is needed in modern times that isn’t there. It’s like it wakes that instinct up. For all the years, I created Art of Mentoring formally by that title in 1995, and ran my first official Art of Mentoring in Washington State there as part of the training to move Wilderness Awareness School to Washington from New Jersey. I actually had a bunch of really intelligent, well meaning people, who really wanted to help but who didn’t have the experience, and didn’t know exactly what it was that I was bringing. We had to create that gateway for these adults, so they would be like, “Oh, that’s what we’re doing.” Once it was awakened, they could find a way to help support and grow the community.

Harvesting with the san.

Harvesting with the san.

All over the world now, Art of Mentoring’s run. People enter them and are transformed by them in seven days, and leave that Art of Mentoring saying, “When I get home, I have to do things differently, and I have to start incorporating more of this connection modeling.” Let’s just say that Art of Mentoring is maybe running at 50% of the power of what the Bushmen are doing without even trying. We have to create the simulation by artificially stimulating all these things, but the Bushmen are doing it at a super high level without effort, because they’re just in their natural state. They’re generating that Art of Mentoring field in this village experience without knowing they’re doing it. That’s a lot of what’s activating their children. It’s the collective.

When you take any human being and get them to relax a little bit and open up to connections, and then you drop them in with the Bushmen for even just a few days, it gets directly into their DNA, and it just shakes things loose, and gets things moving on that deep level that makes them realize, “Ah, I need this in my life. I need more of this in my life.” When they get back home, they all report that it’s like they went back into a less dimensional reality. It’s like when they were with the Bushmen, there was more aspects of reality available to them, and when they went back among their friends, and family, and modern peers, they found that there was less there. They could literally detect the difference.

This is what adults tell me. They could detect a difference in the way people behave in their unconscious, disconnected patterns in modern times. Of course, it creates frustration and also a sense of longing to get back to that place where people really care about each other, and where there is true connection and value happening. That would be kind of an averaged-out story, but I think you’ll hear in the interviews with individuals various expressions of this story.

That right there is the intrinsic shift that turns someone from a planetary destroyer to a planetary caregiver. That is why I did what I did. In New Jersey, in 1979, I was surrounded by people who were so disconnected from nature. By the way, they were more connected to nature then than modern people are now, so we’ve lost even further nature connection since that time, because of the shifts in lifestyle.

Modern Limits to Conservation

My big concern in New Jersey was that conservation wasn’t doing enough, and there wasn’t enough people involved, and we were losing species in my own area, where I had become very bonded and deeply connected. I was literally watching species disappear in my lifetime that were very much a part of that native habitat. I felt this tremendous sadness and loss, but everybody else just rolled their eyes. “Oh, come on. You know, we’ve got to live in the real world,” was kind of the standard response. For me, I was like, “Wait a minute. Something has to be done.”

Learning about herbs in the Kalahari.

Learning about herbs in the Kalahari.

It was clear that when I worked for my dad as a lobbyist, and we were sitting at the State House in Trenton, and the Sierra Club was giving this amazing presentation to the lawmakers about why this needed to happen, and why this didn’t need to happen, and why it was important to do this and preserve that. They were all nodding and the presentations were so well done, but in the end, the lawmakers already knew how they were going to vote. That was already set. I realized at that point that environmentalism and activism wasn’t even getting the job done because the mainstream people were so fundamentally disconnected that they weren’t going to make that choice intrinsically. They hadn’t bonded with nature. They didn’t know something was missing. They didn’t know something was being lost. Therefore, they acted as if it didn’t matter, because to them it didn’t.

Deep Nature Connection through contact with San Bushmen

For me, the big question was, “How can I get these disconnected people connected in the most efficient manner possible?” I know if they have that experience of living with the San, that is obviously a really good way to get there, which speaks to the importance of the Origins project, really. I discovered, as Ingwe and I developed the Shikari Tracker Training Program, for instance, that people who went on the deep tracking journey as was practiced by, and is practiced by some Bushmen today – but was practiced by all Bushmen at one point – this way of building relationships and bonds with the animals – and the plants, and the birds, and the ecosystems, very methodically trained the nervous system. Just like yoga can train someone to be flexible and healthy, and a certain relationship with their own body, or any kind of physical workout can slowly attune you and get you to a more optimized state, that this was like the 24 Hour Fitness of the human nervous system.

Explaning the sacred hunt of the Kudu.

Explaining the sacred hunt of the Kudu.

We saw 15 year-old’s from modern families in suburban New Jersey activate it at the level that Pete is talking about within a few short months only meeting once a week, by incorporating certain routines into their everyday life. Again this stuff came straight from, let’s just call it, the Bushmen cultural experience, through the tables, and activities, and processes of my research. Let’s just say, it’s an ancient formula that all of us share on the planet whether we know it or not for optimization of our nervous system. Because we are so distant from our ancestors who are the San Bushmen, we’ve lost many of the things on the way again. Most of them, actually. As soon as we are exposed to these things in a meaningful, experiential, qualitative way, we remember, and we wake up.

10,000 disconnected experiences put us in that state of complete disconnection and isolation from nature where we are no longer conservationists, but we are now consumers. 1,000 connective moments can restore us to remembering that we are part of this planet, and that we very much are responsible for its wellbeing, and the wellbeing of one another, and the wellbeing of ourselves, and the unborn generations. That’s what turns on that instinct. That was literally the vision and mission of my life’s work – to find the most efficient way to get as many people awakened back to their original design, essentially, so that they naturally want to care.

When you’re with the Bushmen, it only takes a few hundred moments, small moments of connection with them, because of the field that they generate that acts as an accelerant.

Another metaphor, or it’s not even a metaphor, it’s the same principle being applied on a different scale. Take any individual on the tracking journey. If they do it by themselves, they’ll move much slower than if they gather two or three people and do it with them. They could go every day tracking by themselves for 10 years and get nowhere near as far as if they went once a week with three friends, because there’s something about our nervous system that require support from other humans in order for the connection to come home. When you’re with the Bushmen, it’s even more accelerated, because there’s nothing blocking that full commitment to connection in their being. They generate this tremendous field of connection that activates the nervous system of anyone in the presence of it. That experience makes it really efficient.

Jon with the san children.

Jon with the san children.

Obviously, we can’t get everybody on the planet to go hang out with the Bushmen. That would be a disaster, and it would overwhelm them, by the way. The field would be burst by the sheer mass of disconnection that would come by too many people coming at once. You really have to be careful about how many people come, and how you cultivate their experience so you don’t overwhelm the Bushmen circuit, if you will.

The hope of this vision and mission is to reconnect people efficiently. It’s all about efficiency for me, because people are so busy and so modern that we have to be the best at this. We actually have to be really effective in our modeling or we don’t get the result we’re looking for. We now have that map, and we have that formula, and we can multiply this by the numbers of people who are willing to be stakeholders in this process. People won’t become stakeholders in the process until they’ve had the experience. It’s like a conundrum in a sense. How do we get enough people through the experience envelope to awaken the instinct, to want to be stakeholders, and then get them the right trainings and experiences so they can do more?

Restoring San Culture

There are more than 500 projects globally based on this the San model. They’re all experiencing success in the modeling and struggle in the phenomenon of being “forming edge”. The nice thing about the cutting edge is that it’s always moving towards innovation that’s needed. You know, just from the sheer volume of research and development that visionary people around the world are doing in all sort of fields, the cutting edge and the forming edge move every closer to where we are as we move closer to it.

Preparing the tuber just harvested.

Preparing the tuber just harvested.

There are two parallel developments that are occurring at the same time. On the one hand, the Bushmen have set their own bar internally for cultural restoration. They know that when they lost certain pieces of their culture, they lost certain relationships with nature that their elders are still talking about. This year they described this, that the elders remember growing up with animals that didn’t run from them in fear, and that they had a much stronger and beautiful relationship with the animals in their lifetime, and that they see that their young people aren’t experiencing that, and they feel this tremendous sense of loss for that.

Now, the Bushmen themselves have figured out which cultural pieces that they dropped due to modern influence that were responsible for getting the animals in that relationship with them in the first place, or getting them in that relationship with the animals, is more accurate. What they’re doing is they’re creating their own self regulations so that within the Origins Project land, where they’re going to live, like a living museum, they’re going to practice only those cultural things, and outside of the boundaries of that land, they’ll be as modern as they choose, but they’ll come into their consensus about which pieces need to be practiced here.

It becomes an immersion program for them to restore their own relationship to what their ancestors experienced, and what their elders experienced. They know that they only have a short timeline while their elders are still with them to achieve that, so they set a high internal bar for themselves. We have to support them to do that, and we will, because I certainly understand that. I’ve seen so many projects around the world set these internal bars for cultural behavior that have caused deep nature connection to occur for anyone exposed to it.

One example being Wilderness Awareness School choosing on their own land a fire that Ingwe consecrated and blessed. He said, “Let this be a sacred fire where people will come, and sit, and speak of hope for the mother Earth and these future generations, and let this fire only be lit by ancient means. No lighters, no matches. Hand drill, bow drill, fire saw, whatever, but it must be done in a traditional way.” Because everybody since 1996 has kept to that promise, that little piece of dirt has influenced tens of thousands of people in this amazing way to build this beautiful relationship with fire, with storytelling, and with these primitive skills, awaking their desire to be tracking, and to be learning the language of the birds and the language of the plants, and how to use the plants for this and that.

It’s had this amazing, let’s just call it a blow-back influence. It’s those kinds of cultural internal commitments that can shift a community in ways that you can’t even predict. The Bushmen are going to do that at a very much higher level, because they have more pieces that they realize are missing, that they’re going to have a higher bar in that regard. We really have to support them to do that well.

Advance Studies of Nature Connection and Tracking

We will work with these people that understand the influence of the deep nature connection processes of Kamana and Shikari [8 Shields Programs]. They need to cultivate, basically, participants in that deep journey, and when they get to a certain level of training, and a certain level of experience, and certain attributes of connection markers are turning on in those individuals, those are the people that we want to bring to the Origins Project experience. We need to cultivate a calendar of visits to the Kalahari that are carefully crafted so that they don’t overwhelm the Bushmen with visitors, and that also the visitors that are coming are the closest to that moment that Pete describes.

Hanging the Kudu meat to dry.

Hanging the Kudu meat to dry.

It’s basically the best use of the resources we have. “Oh, this person is so close to that big breakthrough. Let’s bring them to the Bushmen. That’ll get them over the hump.” 

It’s not an exclusive thing either. It’s just that we really need to be sensitive to the Bushmen’s need not to be overwhelmed by people straight off the street with no nature connection experience. When we’ve brought people who have little nature connection experience in their background with the Bushmen, it becomes a big job for Nicole and I to be interpreters. We spend a lot of time talking about what is happening, and we meet with a lot of psychic resistance, because they don’t have the internal understanding to really relate to what we’re saying. In that way, I feel like I’m working really hard, and that the Bushmen feel a little bit drained by the experience.

2017 was the year where almost the entire crew was really ready for the experience. Nicole and I celebrated 2017 as the best year ever, because everybody was primed and ready for that threshold experience, and when they got there, they didn’t have a lot of thinking to do around this Bushmen experience. It was more celebratory, because they were really ready for this experience, and the Bushmen were really ready to give them the experience, just by being themselves.

That 2017 year was a real lesson and reflection in the proper cultivation of participation in the project. We have to be careful. In some ways, this is reflective of our friend Mark Roemke who’s 15th Don in the Ninjutsu lineage with Hatsumi Sensei at the center who’s the grandmaster. People who start in Ninjutsu in their first few months, they don’t go to Japan to learn from Hatsumi. It’s only the people who have gone really far in Ninjutsu who get to be with Hatsumi, because he’s looking for those who have walked the farthest so he can help them the most, because they’re the ones who are the most ready for the lessons he’s going to give. If you brought all beginners to Hatsumi, you’d basically kill the poor old man from draining his energy.

It’s just really making the best use of the resources that we have at hand, the Bushmen being a tremendous wisdom resource, but you really need to be ready for what they’re giving in order to get the most out of it. Rather than overwhelm them, do your homework. Prepare yourself by going on the journey of tracking and nature connection first, cultivate some of the human relationships around it like in the John Popoli story, and get to a certain understanding of how this is working within yourself, and within the others that you’re sharing time and connection activity with, so that when you go with the San, you know what you’re looking for. That’s going to be the second piece.

Developing the Shikari Tracker Network around the world will be really important so that there’s enough participants globally to feed into the cultural tours that the Origins Project will offer. That’s our promise to the Bushmen. They’ve asked us to continue to bring the really good people to them, because they have the experience of exposure to public tourism that doesn’t go so well for them, and then they have exposure to what Nicole and I cultivate, curate. They now know that what Nicole and I are doing is really different from what they’re experiencing from other visitors. They’ve asked Nicole and I to essentially play the role of curating who comes, how, and when these things will meet.

Development of the Origins Project

I think that there’s many ways in which people can help. For one thing, there’s obviously going to be a lot of development needs – fundraising for the land, fundraising for the international projects related to this. So obviously, if we can get help in some underwriting for the research and for the project sent to support the various leaders including us at 8 Shields to really be able to be free to concentrate on this, that would be great. If they wanted to participate in the project, it would be important to begin for instance exploring Nature Connection through online resources like Awakening the Senses [8 Shields Program], which speaks so clearly to how this connection modeling is different from what they may be used to. And then actually undertaking, going outside in their own yard and awakening their senses in the way that we’re talking about in a very primary way.

So just actually getting involved in that way, and then perhaps dropping into some of the deeper mentoring courses with 8 Shields or getting involved in a local 8 Shields effort, whether it’s a children’s program or an adult program like a tracking club, to really undertake that for starters for their own personal journey. So that they might join us one day in the Kalahari on one of these trips, or join us in one of our international conference calls, which happen weekly, where people are actually doing this and speaking about this in their everyday lives. Inform yourself essentially, get to know what’s going on.

Start going on the experience yourself. You could get a sense of what connection feels like if you’re interested in birds by reading, “What the Robin Knows,” for instance, which is a book that I authored with Houghton Mifflin. So that’s where I would say. Start by doing and getting involved, and then getting your kids more involved in nature, and really starting to inform yourself. What is connection modeling and why does it matter? And again, Awakening the Senses would be a great place to start. But we could sure use help on the development side as well. You could donate through the 8 Shields Children’s Institute partner, The Nature Connection Mentoring Foundation, and earmark your donation for the Origins Project.

One of the things that haunts me is that it’s now scientifically known and maybe not widely culturally accepted, but at least scientifically known, that the human genetics all point to one ancestral stock, and that’s the San Bushmen. The majority of our genetic lineage comes from this one main trunk, which is our ancestors, all of us, our ancestors. And we may have differences with our immediate ancestors, people who we knew in our lives that passed on recently. We may have some grumpiness towards them, but then again we may actually really love them. But you know that back there our ancestors loved us. If you go far enough back you find the Bushmen. And the thing is, their descendants are the remnants of our ancestors who still love us.

And they still feel this love and concern for our well-being, and they’re very deeply concerned about how disconnected we’ve all become, and the effect that that’s having on the planet. And they really, really want to help. What’s haunting for me is that these are the collective ancestors of all humanity, and they are dispossessed of land, their rights, and self-determination. What does it say about the human species when our own ancestors are neglected and dispossessed, and treated in a way that gives them no dignity, and no power to be themselves? And this is our opportunity to at least help one small group of them get back to what they really truly desire, and what they truly long for, and what they truly have expressed in their own creative and intelligent way. This is how we want to be. This is how we want to live. This is our self-determination.

So I think symbolically when this project gets landed, it’s somehow going to affect all of the DNA of all humans in that collective way of morphogenetic fields. I think it’s going to have a significant foundational impact on all humanity, even if most humanity doesn’t know it happened. I really feel that there is a very important, energetic and spiritual symbolic thing happening here. Something is being put right that was knocked off track thousands of years ago by actions of people who had lost their understanding of what it means to be human, and did very cruel and unimaginable things to these Bushmen.

It’s still continuing in different ways today. Not as bad as it was when you used to be able to get a hunting license and hunt for a Bushmen like you could hunt for a rhino. But I’d like to see healing there, as a symbolic gesture to heal the original historic trauma. Because if they are the original human beings, the original first people, anything that happened to them is related to all that has happened to everyone. And I feel like there’s a symbolic planetary healing that can occur by helping support this endeavor that they so care about, and they so have the vision for. This is not us helping them do what we want them to do. This is us helping do what they want to do, and therefore helping all of us having access to something that’s like a neurobiological truth for all of us.

So they are a very important resource library of our history that haS been lost by most everyone else on the planet. So I think this is really, really important. To me it’s like one of the most important things that I’ve ever undertaken to really see them land on this project and be able to gainfully support it. In doing something they love that helps everyone around the world, right, through media, through courses, through online learning but also through direct experience.

​​​​Help Create a Legacy of Ancestral
Connections for Future Generations

With your donation to the Origins Project, you become a co-creator in spinning a powerful and durable rope of connection between our ancient past of sophisticated  wisdom and our re-awakened future.