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PART 3: Grieving routines for Nature Connection and Culture Repair
This is the third part of a four-part series in which I discuss the four elements that Jon Young from the 8 Shields Institute says are needed for deep nature connection and culture repair. I decided to write about these four elements as a way of sharing my experience of attending an ‘Art of Mentoring’ (AoM) course in the Californian redwood forests with Jon last year. The third element that I am focusing on in this article is ‘effective grieving routines’.
The concept of having grieving routines was not unfamiliar to me before AoM as I have been involved in participating in and facilitating Joanna Macy’s ‘Work that Reconnects’ for the last 10 years. A core part of Joanna’s work is ‘owning and honouring our pain for the earth’ – be it confusion, overwhelm, sadness, fear, anger, numbness, or whatever feelings may be arising as a result of what is happening in our world today. She talks of these feelings being a completely rational response to the environmental and social problems that we are collectively facing. Just a few examples of the kinds of events that may be engendering these feelings are the war in Syria; the Trump win and subsequent actions he has been taking; fossil fuel addiction of governments in the face of climate change evidence and predictions; and the Australian government’s horrendous treatment of refugees. Sadly this list could go on for some time…. Add to this our personal pain and intergenerational trauma, leaving us all with much grief within us. Jon Young noted that many of his advanced students in nature connection seemed to be hitting blocks preventing them getting to the next level of connection. Over time he put this down to unprocessed grief, and this is why he now says it is essential for deep nature connection and culture repair.
Joanna Macy’s book, ‘Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy’[i], written with Chris Johnstone is a wonderful antidote to these feelings and provides simple processes that we can do on our own or with a friend to support us with processing and releasing these feelings. While there is a lot more I could say about Joanna’s work, what I will now share here are some of my experiences at the Art of Mentoring (AoM), and what those experiences taught me in relation to grieving routines.
One way that we were invited to process and heal grief at AoM was by attending the sacred fire. This was held in the traditional way of the Lakota when someone in their community passes on. The sacred fire is lit at dawn one day and then lasts for 4 days and nights, with certain protocols having to be observed throughout. At our AoM sacred fire, each dawn and dusk there was a special ceremony with singing which was very beautiful. The rest of the time, and at all times of day and night, people could come to sit and talk, sing, share, cry or simply sit in silence. It was a place for people to grieve people they had lost in their lives, or anything that was present for them at that time. Many of my friends (there were a group of 21 Australians attending) came often to the Sacred Fire, and deeply appreciated the sacred space it provided for grieving, healing and connection.
Spontaneous expressions of grief were also very welcome at the Art of Mentoring course. The most moving experience for me was sending the teens off on a 3 day hiking trip to the coast and back, and the conversations that transpired after this. The send-off involved the whole 250+ community of people gathering around the young people. The youth each spoke of their intentions for the trip ahead, and then the elders in the community gave them some words of wisdom. Then the whole group sang a beautiful song ‘When I was young’ as the young people picked up their backpacks and set off on their adventure. The group kept singing until the teens were out of sight, and I found myself shedding some tears. I was quite surprised at this sudden emotion as I didn’t know any of the young people heading off on their journey. It turned out I was not the only one. Shortly after, the group gathered around to debrief the experience. Many people revealed they had also felt emotional, and we talked at length about why this was, and the significance of holding youth in a space where they can be independent, and yet also part of a connected and loving community. What many of us grieved for was that we had lacked this in our own journey of becoming adults. The deep sharing that happened here culminated in the group standing with arms interlinked singing ‘Amazing Grace’. I would be surprised if there had been a dry eye in the open-air space in which we gathered.
What these experiences at AoM confirmed for me that there is always pain to (re)discover, having ways to express these feelings is incredibly healthy, and that this in turn enables deep nature connection and culture repair. One evening after telling us as a short version of the incredible story of ‘the Great Law of Peace’ of the Haudenosaunee nations, Jon told us that we all have to heal our own grief in order to be peacemakers. For me this concept of peacemaking is about living in peace with the earth as well as with all people – caring for the earth as we care for our loved ones.
I think that all of us need to find our own ways to feel and express both our personal pain and our pain for the world (and sometimes it is not obvious which of these is the source of the feelings, or whether it is a mixture of both). For me, nature is an incredible healer, and receiving the gift of healing from nature solidifies my connection to, and desire to protect this beautiful planet. Having regular nature time is therefore a wonderful journey of reciprocity and healing and can be a time and place to allow ourselves to grieve. However I think nature time alone is not enough to process the grief we hold, so having other ways to do this such as taking part in men’s or women’s groups, seeing a regular therapist, having our own healing ceremonies, taking part in Work that Reconnects processes, is really valuable . What are your ways? I’d love to hear about them.
Later this year (likely in September) I will be running a Work that Reconnects (WTR) workshop in Brisbane for those of you who are interested in this work. I am also part of a group that meets every second month and takes turns to facilitate WTR processes. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.
And stay tuned for the final part of this series which is about being exposed to role models who have the 8 attributes of connection. Until then, take care.
[i] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Warriewood, NSW: Finch Publishing Pty Ltd.
PART 2: Conscious competence in the Art of Mentoring:
This is the second part of a four-part series in which I discuss the four elements that Jon Young from the 8 Shields Institute says are needed for deep nature connection and culture repair. I learnt about this in part by attending an ‘Art of Mentoring’ (AoM) course in the Californian redwood forests with Jon last year, and decided to write about each of these elements as a way of sharing some of that experience.
In this post I am writing about ‘Conscious competence in the Art of Mentoring’. This is a huge topic and one that I will just be skimming the surface of here.
The 8 Shields Institute uses a model of teaching – ‘coyote mentoring’ that Jon learnt through his mentor Tom Brown Junior, author of ‘The Tracker’ (perhaps here in Australia we could call this approach ‘dingo mentoring’). For me this is an approach which is about encouraging people to learn for themselves by asking questions that support curiosity and the discovery of answers through observation and sensory awareness. It is about supporting people to connect to the life that exists around their home and bioregion, developing relationships and a sense of empathy with other beings.
A great example of this approach that I experienced at the ‘Art of Mentoring’ course was when a small group of us spent one afternoon with a herbalist named Erin. Rather than reeling off information about various plants, Erin first invited us to spend a few minutes with a plant and then come back to the group and use just a few words to describe the plant we had been with. Then, as a group, we spent time with a couple of these plants; one of these was a plant that none of us except Erin recognised. Erin invited us to describe the plant, drawing out adjectives from us and inviting us to use our bodies to show what the plant was like. It was beautiful to watch the elegant poses that people adopted, and to contrast these with the poses people made to imitate the redwood trees towering above us. Words that people used to describe the as-yet unnamed plant were ‘elegant’ ‘graceful’ and ‘flexible’, while words describing the redwood were ‘strong’ ‘serious’ and ‘solid’. Soon after Erin revealed that the plant was a willow – a plant used for basket making because of its flexibility. She pointed out to us how much we all intuitively knew about this plant just by observing it. Erin’s approach of asking questions to draw out the answers from us was wonderful, and her enthusiasm for the plants, contagious. It sure was a better way of learning than just hearing about the qualities of a bunch of plants.
Jon offers advice for developing skills in the art of questioning – to practice asking questions every day, saying that we can do this for ourselves by journaling questions to ponder through the day. We can also be asking questions to the children in our lives, supporting them to have a curiosity which can spur them on to discover the answers for themselves. In ‘The Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature’[i] the authors say that “when people experience a concentrated amount of Coyote Mentoring they will reach a point of nature connection where their awareness grows to include the impact of their personal lives on all others. A values-shift occurs, and people with fresh, new awareness begin to seek strategies of living that match their ethics”[ii].
The 8 Shields approach to mentoring goes beyond using Coyote Mentoring alone, and the authors of Coyote’s Guide say that ‘Cultural Mentoring’ is its partner. They say that having a healthy culture to support children in their journey of nature connection is essential in order for them to thrive. Cultural Mentoring is about having and being long-lasting mentors through people’s lifetimes, with each of us having a number of mentors who themselves are connected to nature. The authors of Coyote’s Guide say “consider how you might shape … culture so you cultivate not only the hearts and minds of our children, but the very soil in which they grow”[iii].
A starting point could be to think of the people that you could be a mentor for, and the people who could be mentors for you. At the AoM course Jon told us that it is rare for parents to be effective mentors for their own children, and that aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, and other older people are better in this role.
A fundamental part of creating this healthy culture is to have your own deep nature connection routines (see part 1 in this series) so you can be an effective mentor for nature connection.
Jon talks about a healthy model for life that supports people through all transitions, including rites of passage that prepare youth to become adults. Jon talks of a two year process to prepare for a Vision Fast, one such initiatory process (and one that many adults in modern society are seeking more and more). This length of time impressed me as it demonstrates a deep commitment by the mentors to the people going through it, and no doubt ensures a well-supported and transformative experience, that enables the participants to feel valued as a part of society and to discover their own unique gifts.
This is just one aspect of cultural mentoring; if you are interested to learn more there are online courses run by the 8 Shields Institute, and hopefully Jon Young will be back for a visit before too long. Stay posted on this via the ‘WiseEarth Education’ facebook page or the ‘Mind of the Mentor Australia’ facebook page. I also highly recommend the Coyote’s Guide, for anyone teaching or mentoring kids (or wanting to!).
The next post in this series will be on the third element needed for deep nature connection and culture repair – having effective grieving routines.
[i] Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote’s guide to connecting with nature. Shelton, Wash: OWLLink Media.
[ii] Ibid. p492
[iii] Ibid. p493
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Creating Deep Nature Connection and Culture Repair
PART 1: Deep Nature Connection Routines
Recently I was lucky enough to participate in a week-long ‘Art of Mentoring’ (AoM) course in California with the 8 Shields Institute. I was inspired to attend this course after doing two weekend courses with Jon Young when he visited Australia last year. At the first weekend I was blown away by the depth and breadth of Jon’s nature connection work, so having the opportunity to participate in AoM was a real privilege.
As a way of sharing a taste of Jon’s vast body of work I thought I would like to share a little about each of the four elements that Jon says are needed for deep nature connection and culture repair, and how I experienced these at AoM, the workshops last year and in my life in general. These elements are: deep nature connection routines; conscious competence in the art of mentoring; effective grieving routines; and being exposed to role models who have the eight attributes of connection.
In this post I will focus on the first of these – deep nature connection routines. There are many different (and interconnected) nature connection practices, including doing sit spots, sharing the ‘story of the day’, tracking, wandering, journalling, listening for bird language and doing sense meditations. As Jon simply and aptly put it, “We go into nature to remember we are nature”, and this is the core of why we do these practices…. and in doing so, we are living an antidote to ‘nature deficit’ as outlined by Richard Louve in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, becoming more connected and more able to live in a way that is in balance with the Earth and her cycles.
We did several sit spots at the Art of Mentoring, and Jon talks of this as an essential routine for connection. A sit spot is a special place in nature that you visit regularly and get to know intimately over time. My sit spot is a 10 minute walk from my house, right by an inner-city creek. My experience of this practice is that each sit is different – perhaps there is a new plant that has popped up, a bird call I haven’t heard before, an insight to be had, or simply an experience of coming back to myself. Invariably I also tune into my senses and become more open to perceiving in ways I don’t consciously do in everyday life.
Sharing stories of sit spots and other nature connection practices with others is a way to build a collective knowledge and connection. When I participated in the Bird Language weekend with Jon last year, we would go out in groups and share our observations with our small group first and the larger group later, building a bigger picture of what was happening in the bird world by putting our stories together. At the AoM our ‘stories of the day’ drew out some very special experiences, with several participants sighting a family of river otters. Also the evidence of bear scat, claw marks and tracks all painted a picture of the movements of our bear neighbor.
One day at the Art of Mentoring we went wandering in groups, bringing in several nature connection practices. We were each given a task, and as the ‘south’ representative in my group, I was tasked with paying attention to evidence of mammals, and in particular bears. As the only Australian in my group, I had to ask for my group members to help me with bear signs, and they found some scat for me (and a scat book also came in handy to identify coyote scat that we came across). I did manage to spot bear claw marks on a tree so was impressed with myself for that! Other tasks included catching a lizard, following a deer trail and ambushing another group. My group completed most of the tasks given to us, but it was certainly the case that the point was not to make sure we ticked all of these off a list, but to be open to the experience as it unfolded, keeping our senses open to the forest, and what we could discover in doing so. As well as having a lot of fun that day I think everyone in my group learnt something; connecting to each other as well to as the rest of nature.
If you are curious to know more about these deep nature connection routines, Jon is likely to be returning to Australia next year, so stay tuned for that. The Coyote’s Guide to Connecting in Nature’ by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGowan is also a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to learn more.
And stay tuned for the next three monthly posts on the other elements that create deep nature connection and culture repair.
Saturday 20th February 2016, 9am to 5pm, Herston
This workshop will explore how the cycles of the moon, seasons, our lives and our menstrual cycles and their correspondences can teach us about living with the rhythms of nature. We will tune in to the wisdom of the maiden (young woman), mother, maga and crone, all of which can offer guidance in Earth healing. We will also share some experiential practices and rituals that can foster deep listening to and a deeper heart connection with Mother Earth, and hence participate in her healing.
Contribution: $85 (Full) / $65 (Concession card holder)
Facebook event here
About the facilitator: Emma Brindal is passionate about social and environmental justice, living lightly, working with women, and fostering connection and care for the Earth in others. She has been offering Earth Connection workshops since 2008 and holding women’s circles since 2010. She is excited to be bringing these parts of her life together in this workshop, which will also draw from her learnings and experiences as a recent graduate of the School of Shamanic Womancraft.
Saturday 12th September, Simpsons Falls Picnic Area, Mt Coot-tha
10.30am-12.30pm followed by lunch.
This gathering will be a celebration of spring and all that it brings for us in our inner and outer lives. We’ll share stories of what is blooming in our lives and all around us, and offer our gratitude for the gifts of spring. We’ll follow the ritual with a shared seasonal lunch.
You’re invited to bring a symbol of spring for the centre of our circle, any stories, poems or songs to share with the group, and something to share for lunch.
Facilitated by Emma Brindal and Arlanda Rayne.
We can coordinate car-pooling for those needing or offering lifts – please RSVP to wiseeartheducation[at]gmail.com by 9th September if you want to do this. Also feel free to simply turn up on the day.The trip to Simpson’s Falls makes a good bicycle ride as it is about a third of the way up the mountain & you don’t need to be super fit to get there.
We look forward to celebrating spring with you!
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A ‘nature note’ to share to begin… recently I have been watching sunsets from my deck (so much earlier!) and have been regularly seeing a mircobat wheeling around catching insects after the sun goes down. It’s been a a wonderful show, and seems like another little step in getting to know the animals of this bioregion.
I also wanted to share that I was lucky enough to spend time in amongst the ancient Bunya trees and all the other life of the Bunya Mountains earlier this month. While there, we came across a seasonal calendar of the natural events that occur in the mountains. Does anyone know of one for Brisbane? I’m keen to develop my own, but would love to see an already existing one if there is one.
There are lots of wonderful events coming up in the second half of the year. This year WiseEarth Education is again supporting the Plastic Free July initiative, and I’m running a free workshop on going Plastic Free at Northey Street City Farm on June 28th. I’m also looking forward to the next Exploring Ecospirituality event coming up next Tuesday 23rd June. More information about these events is below in the WiseEarth Education Events section.
Some of you would have come to the author talk we hosted last year with Claire Dunn, author of My Year Without Matches. Claire is returning to Brisbane in August, this time to hold a Nature Connection and Earth Living Skills workshop.
Also, in October, Jon Young acclaimed author, presenter and ‘cultural design specialist’ is running two weekend workshops in Northern NSW. More information on these events, and more is in ‘Other Events’ below.
The features in this e-news include an inspiring and profound 5 minute video of Julia Butterfly Hill talking about disposability consciousness. She says “I know in my heart that as long as trashing the planet and trashing each other, a healthy, holistic and healed world is not possible. We can not have peace ON the earth unless we also have peace WITH the earth. Our disposability consciousness is a weapon of mass destruction.”
The other feature is a story on radio national about animal language. I’m always looking for new resources to share with people, so if you have any great videos, articles, activities or recommended books, please send them through to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter Solstice Blessings,