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.