Photos from the 2013-14 8 Shields Immersion
Lessons from the Earth:
An Immersion into Nature Connection
by Josh Lane, 8 Shields Institute Mentor
In exploring the ancient skills of deep nature connection, I am reminded that all people around the world share something special that unites every one of us – our connection with the earth. Wherever we are, whatever we are experiencing, we are all supported and nourished by the earth for our entire lives.
Yet, this connection is easy to overlook in the rush and din of modern life. At every moment though, whether in the wildest forest or in the deepest corner of the city, the pulse of life from nature is moving, waiting for us to tune in – be it in the vivid colors of a mountain wildflower, or the erratic flight of pigeons on the run from an unseen Cooper’s hawk.
This past year, a group of people gathered weekly in the coastal hills of Santa Cruz, from the fall through the spring, to experience the teachings and mysteries of the earth through the seasons. The group came together every Friday for the 8 Shields Immersion, a program built around the “core routines” of deep nature connection.
In mentoring, we often find that the deeper learning occurs in reflection, as we search for the hidden lessons and nuances of our experiences.
This past year’s Immersion offered up many rich teachings. Below is a sample of the teachings that appear under the lens of reflection from this nine month experience.
Building the Central Fire
Finding good kindling – sometimes a challenge to gather in California’s coastal temperate rainforest – is the priority. Participants learned to search for standing dead branches, exposed to the wind and off of the wet ground. Other group members would create “Fuzz sticks” by carving into wet wood to expose thin curls of underlying dry wood.
The group would split in different directions and return with all the different sizes of wood needed to create the fire, from the pencil-lead thin slivers of kindling, all the way to wrist-thick branches needed to keep the fire burning throughout the morning. Then the fire would be kindled through the whirling of the hand drill or bow drill. Only primitive fire making skills would be used to start the fire, as songs were sung to welcome the flame. Once the fire was burning, then the day would begin.
Through the teachings of the fire, we learn about tending ourselves and our community. The tending of fire requires vigilance and awareness; a well-structured fire warms and protects us from the cold chill of winter.
Fire becomes a doorway to tracking and tending one’s inner world. How do we keep our own inner fires stoked?
On the Trail of Intuitive Awareness
The importance of holistic awareness was emphasized right from the start of the program. As everything is connected in nature, we seek to expand all of the senses and ask questions that bridge the larger connections of ecology, place, and the creativity that inspires us. While immersing in nature, we would often ask questions that engage the senses, so as to bring the group more fully into the present moment.
In this way, the stories of the landscape wove deeper into the group’s awareness. This role modeling of the engagement and curiosity that constantly pulls us to the edge of our awareness is a core aspect of the essence of mentoring.
Jon Young, founder of the 8 Shields Institute, offered workshops on intuitive tracking, a theme which carried through the entire nine months.
The elder Ingwe, who offered many teachings on tracking and nature connection while supporting the early days of the development of the 8 Shields mentoring map, shared in the past that when the five senses are engaged, the “sixth sense” of intuition awakens.
The information filtering through the senses each moment takes on an enhanced life and meaning; a higher synthesis of the senses blends into a feeling or insight about a situation (see my article on Intuitive Tracking for more on this topic).
Building on Ingwe’s theme, Jon showed the group skills for accessing the intuition in tracking situations, by opening the senses and also utilizing what he calls “The Storyteller’s Mind,” which is the faculty of the inner senses. This faculty can be honed by recalling with vivid detail the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of an event. Throughout the year the Storyteller’s Mind and senses were engaged with memory games, awareness tests, and tracking scenarios.
A simple game for engaging the Storyteller’s Mind, as presented in Coyote’s Guide to Nature Connection, is called “Kim’s Game” (named after the great detective known as Kim). Have a friend place 10 random objects on a table, covered with a handkerchief. When your friend uncovers the objects, you have 30 seconds to observe and memorize the objects and their placement, and then the items are covered back up. Then close your eyes and recall the appearance and placement of each item. Endless variations can be made of this simple but powerful awareness training game.
Blending with the Rhythms of Nature
During the year, the group also learned about the rhythms and “baseline” of the forest, by sensing the natural behaviors of birds and other animals. Opportunities abounded for observing disturbances in this “baseline” activity, as Cooper’s hawks, cats, and even eagles made appearances that caused birds to alarm in distinct patterns of vocalization.
The group learned skills to detect even more subtle cues of alarm, by engaging in night games and sensing the location of hidden people along trails in the complete darkness.
Going further into awareness training, Sensei Mark Roemke of the Santa Cruz Bujinkan dojo shared intuitive sensing skills used by the ninja, and guided the group through a series of ancient movement forms that emulate the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and the void. These forms build coordination, increase energy flow and also deepen one’s awareness of connection with the elements.
Combined with the ancient scout teachings of natural camouflage and bird language, the group learned how to effectively blend into a landscape and become unseen. One person’s camouflage was so good they even got stepped on!
Wrapping the Bundle
Many other experiences and teachings spanned the course of the year: plant identification, seasonal festivals and outdoor cooking, survival skills, mapping, wandering, music, trailing games, gratitude, animal forms, inner tracking and more were all woven into the threads of the experience.
Deeper connections with the redwoods forests, meadows and coastal sands wove layer upon layer as the group tracked different animals and their ways of relating to place. Understanding of survival skills grew by lighting the fire in different weather conditions, building shelters and gathering and cooking wild edibles. Each person grew through the direct experience of the elements, the group, and their own perceptions.
In looking back on the nine months, many experiences were gathered, and the reflection opens new questions that can only lead to further connections.
8 Shields Intensives and trainings include many aspects of earth connection, with an increasing focus on the power of creativity and healing that arise through direct connection with place.
Through advanced connection practices and mentoring in the arts of deep nature connection, 8 Shields offerings are filled with opportunities to cultivate a diverse skillset of life-enhancing understandings.
If you would like to learn more about being part of this kind of experience, please visit the 8 Shields programs page for links to upcoming opportunities.
An Earth Meditation
Take a moment to tune into the pull of the earth on your body… feel the sensation of your feet on the floor, and let your muscles relax into the pull of gravity as your skeletal structure upholds you.
While sensing the gentle and persistent downward pull, realize this is the embrace of the earth that anchors us all as we go through our life journeys. Let any stress or tension sink away.
Take a deep breath and sense the vitality and vastness of the earth, feeling supported and grounded. Sense down into the very core of the earth. Open to the sense of gratitude for the way the earth holds you in your life.
About the Author
Josh Lane is an avid wildlife tracker and bird language observer. He contributed to the “How to Learn Bird Language” section of the book, What the Robin Knows, and developed the Backyard Bird Language online course. Josh is a nature connection and holistic tracking mentor with 8 Shields in Northern California, and has presented at various events, including the 2013 National Audubon Conference. Read other articles from Josh at BirdLanguage.com.