An interview with Jon Young,
Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature
Peacemaking and Community
Josh Lane: I’ve heard you speak about nature connection as a primary “nutrient” for human well-being – you have mentioned that Richard Louv calls nature connection “Vitamin N” in his book The Nature Principle. How does connection relate to human creativity? What have you learned that supports creativity in the modern life?
Jon Young: I spent 35 years intentionally researching the things that get us more deeply connected to nature; creativity is directly involved in the connection process. When I was younger, I thought it was all about the “hard skills,” like primitive survival skills. Those types of skills certainly play a role, but there is much more to look at. The context in which they occur, the cultural basket that holds the skills or activities, is where a lot of connection comes into play.
A Mohawk elder named Jake Swamp eventually came along and helped me see some of the deeper layers behind the connection process. When I moved to Washington state in 1995, I was faced with the need to jumpstart a nature-connection based community. I suddenly had to articulate things that I had never had to speak about before, about mentoring processes and community. That was actually the birth of the Art of Mentoring.
We brought in understandings that Jake shared with us about Peacemaking – ways of relating with each other that support peaceful and clear communication, which are essential to build unity. We looked at how to apply those processes in our particular community building situation, and we explored the universal aspects behind those teachings. We started a regular evening storytelling series just about Peacemaking, and an ongoing potluck community gathering. These pulses of connection started to build momentum for our community to grow and develop; the threads of relationship found a place to grow.
A Social Technology
JL: In a way, a potluck or a storytelling gathering is a type of social technology – these are actually vehicles for social processes to unfold within – they create a space for Peacemaking and other connection-building cycles to occur.
JY: Yes, that’s right. And if you look around the world, there are often times of the year across different wisdom cultures when it is natural to gather in family and community, to look deeply at one’s web of connections – what we call more universally the Renewal of Creative Path process. When the winter sets in, and the nights are long, it is a natural time to gather around the fire, a time to share the stories of the year, and of one’s lineage and important moments.
JL: Sharing a story is a way to connect. . . it helps us to reflect, and to celebrate. The voicing of the stories helps us prepare to look ahead as we recognize and gather the threads of the past. As we approach the winter time here in the northern hemisphere, what are some core elements of this Renewal cycle we can look at?
JY: We look at the whole tapestry of connection that supports our lives. This is a time to look back at one’s ancestry, at the patterns of synchronicity and vision that move through families over time, and the threads in each person’s life that change the course of one’s life – the major events, the meaningful moments. These are the core aspects of our creative path in life that guide us forward into our highest creativity and purpose.
A Recipe for Renewal
JL: There is a lot there, a lot of depth in all that. What are some basic pieces to the renewal process that people can look at to get started?
JY: First, there is an effective pattern to follow – individuals first renew their own path. Then they are ready to meet with their family and bloodline to collectively renew their lineage stories and connections, and then with their loved ones and partners. Then the community comes together to renew, and the guilds would then meet.
JL: So a “guild” would mean groups of people with a common interest and focus. . .for instance, if you have a tracking club or a bird language club, all the people involved might come together to look at the last year, celebrate the achievements, look at what was learned, and paint a picture together of how to move forward?
JY: Yes, that’s it. And if we were looking at the patterns in the Great Law of Peace, that the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy) people have as their foundation stone, then this type of renewal process would naturally want to percolate all the way up to the national level, and then across nations. In Hawaii, a similar pattern occurs in the Maka Hiki gatherings on a longer scale, through the fall into early spring.
JL: What are some specific connectors that could be looked at in these different phases – for the individual, family, and community levels of renewal?
JY: “Good medicine” comes when we are in the 8 Attributes of Connection. It’s then that we have access to our fullest creativity and communication with the world. So, review your good medicine – your moments of full aliveness and connection, as a first step.
Backtrack the stepping stones of your vision and gifts, the path of your journey. You can see that what is feeding your creative path is not about you and your ego; it’s about service and what supports the future generations.
We track patterns of synchronicity and connections with nature; we recall these moments that help us to see ourself, and we realize that there are these moments when nature helps us to move forward on our path, when there is a deep communication from nature to our inmost self. Someone might have special connections to thunder and lightning, or to a turtle; these specific connections can even pass across generations in a family lineage. What are you especially connected to in nature? Track these connections, celebrate them. Remember they are part of your story. They are teaching you something.
JL: It seems like we can see those cross-generational connection patterns in things like family crests, or lifeways like traditional herbalism and connections with specific healing plants that get shared down through time. After we track those threads of connection externally, what are some ways we can look within our own creativity?
JY: Then, we start to look at our gifts, the things we bring to the world from our deepest being. Sometimes we are the worst person to identify our own gifts; usually its the aunts and uncles, the grandmothers and grandfathers of the village that best see these gifts; today we can do that for each other as we gather and reflect on these things. Jake used to tell us that it is a citizen’s duty to look for the gifts in others, because maybe you are the only person that can recognize that gift and it is therefore your responsibility to help that person to recognize it themselves.
The Gift and the Wound
JL: Michael Meade talks about this, that one’s gift is tied to one’s inner wound. . .
JY: That’s very important to look at. There are compensation strategies that form like a web around a wound, and they often develop into a gift, a particular skillet. We can learn to see that, and it helps the healing process of the wound.
JL: It empowers a person to move forward in the world and really claim the gifts they are carrying. It’s a change of perspective.
JY: We also track out further, and look at what inner wounds and blocks appear that challenge us from fully living our gifts. We identify these obstacles on our journey, and the patterns they have shown up with. We look at this a lot in personal mentoring.
Releasing the projections that we hold towards others is a part of it. Perhaps even on an unconscious level, we may have attitudes against others that aren’t helpful. Perhaps there is a blame against others, or a fear, that we project outward that is related to some old wound we experienced when we were younger. Maybe something happened long ago that stopped our connection process, because it was too painful to connect, and that pattern is still playing out in our lives. We have to find love and forgiveness, and release that projection so we can live in the moment in the most free and present way.
Wrapping the Bundle
JL: How do you tie all that together?
JY: It all comes together in the weaving of the “ideal scene.” You can take an inventory once you have looked at all these different things. You then ask, “What do I want to see for myself, my family, my neighborhood and community, and for the larger world?” It’s like a giant New Year’s resolution, a sacred commitment for what you want to bring forward in life. You call on the deepest part of yourself with gratitude and paint a picture from that most creative place.
JL: Any recommendations for someone getting started with this process?
JY: Move forward on all this a little bit at a time. Build in small moments over a few months to keep this moving forward. Go through the pieces by starting on your own, then with family, friends, and community. Some people like to set aside a few dedicated days every year, or a couple times a year, and invite friends and family together to share these kinds of questions together. There’s lots of ways to weave this creative path process into your life. Give it space, give it honor, and give it love.
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 Shikari holistic tracking mentor with 8 Shields in Northern California, and has presented bird language teachings at various events around the U.S.