Article: On Connection, Leadership & Initiation

An interview with Salvatore Gencarelle, author of Man Among the Helpers and director of the Leadership Initiation Project


Josh Lane: The core of the philosophy and mentoring processes offered by 8 Shields is based around a key component – connection. What is connection to you, and what do you mean when you talk about “advanced connection practices”? 

Sal baseball hatSal Gencarelle: To me, connection can be boiled down into something very simple called LOVE. To clarify what I mean by love, we have to understand love in the healthiest sense. I’m not talking about the misplaced co-dependent obsessive love that is typically promoted as romantic love. I’m talking about a state and sense of connection which occurs at the deepest levels of our beings and psyche.

At this level there is no division between the internal and external realities; it is all seen as one in a synchronistic relationship. When living in this state of awareness, the internal and external worlds become miraculous. The divine can be witnessed in all aspects of nature, and through this an overwhelming sense of connection (Love) is developed.

The Advanced Connection Practices are methods to remove our limited, disconnected mindset and step into a deep state of awareness of our immutable unity. Through the Advanced Connection Practices we are brought into a communion with all aspects of nature. We connect and learn to communicate with the elemental aspects of the natural world through powerful and transformative techniques.

Sal sunset over badlands

Sunset Over the Badlands – photo by Sal Gencarelle 2013


We learn to communicate to the unseen aspects of nature and universal consciousness of the various animals and plants. We also connect to our ancestors and future descendants, rebuilding and healing the ropes which tie us to our past and the future. Through these Advanced Connection Practices we learn what it means to be a human being in relationship with all of nature.

What this looks like can be as simple as spending the day in nature doing core routines of deep nature connection, and then returning to the camp fire to tell the story of the day. It can also be as complex as creating a “sacred” space in nature and spending multiple days and nights fasting, seeking deep insight and guidance.


JL: What is an example of a simple universal connection practice that someone can use every day?

SG: There are many universal connection practices which can be easily used by anyone, every day. Once of the easiest connection practices which is talked about a lot – but often overlooked – is that of gratitude. I often recommend to my students that they greet each day with gratitude, as soon as they wake. This can be spoken aloud or silent, but most importantly is to really feel grateful.

Gratitude is a simple means to refocus ourselves in the present moment and remember that life is full of beauty and synchronicity. This action automatically begins to affect a person’s attitude, energy patterns, and reinvigorates the connections we hold dearest in our hearts. An upgraded form of gratitude is to think and feel the connection of gratitude to the natural world in all its forms and shapes, expanding our gratitude out to the whole world.

Another powerful and simple method of daily connection is to consume water with gratitude. One of the first teachings I give to my students is to communicate one’s love and appreciation to water each morning when taking the first drink. Water is a binding force which unites all life upon the earth. By recognizing this and consuming water with this level of awareness, we reinforce the connectedness of our life to all others. During the Advanced Connection Practices we come into a much deeper understanding of our relationship to water, which develops our love and appreciation.


JL: So, you are now going into year three of the Leadership Initiative Project, a process that mentors people in Advanced Connection Practices. Tell me more about that name and why you chose it. What is leadership in the context of connection? How do you see this learning path supporting regenerative, connective leaders?

SG: True leadership and connection go hand and hand. Without highly developed connections, a leader bases their decisions on narrow spectrums of experience and relationships. All decisions we make as human beings are shaped within us, founded upon our previous experiences and the influences of “our” internal and external realities. If leadership decisions are made solely based on our immediate human wants and desires, without a well-developed state of awareness, the results can be destructive. This can be perceived every day in the news in regard to policy-makers, corporations and countries with continual disregard for the health of the natural environment. There is a terrible disconnection between the value of the natural world and the needs/wants of the modern human. Our current leaders are both a product and propagators of this disconnection.

The expression of a state of being which is not in healthy relationship is what I call the “Disconnection Sickness.” This sickness and its symptoms have been a part of humanity for a very long time. Ancient cultures developed techniques to help people heal from this sickness and ensure life continued. These same techniques, which I call the Advanced Connection Practices, are just as applicable today as they were in the past, and even more needed. These Advanced Connection Practices are what ensured the development of the community leaders and invested stakeholders in each generation of wisdom cultures; these were the ones that guided their community in healthy relationships with balance towards sustainable and regenerative futures. The Leadership Initiation Project was generated using these ancient and proven practices which develop human beings’ awareness of interconnection.

Leadership with connection is basing decisions and policy from a place of awareness of relationships and interdependence over the long term. Leaders with connection are aware of their past; they are working towards a making the future a better place for all life, including human beings. Leadership with connection is not just addressing an immediate human’s needs and wants, with the attendant long term destruction that can follow such a short-sighted agenda.

Part of the path of the Leadership Initiation Project is to ensure that the participants develop the ability to become the Mentors of the next generations of leaders. By providing participants with the tools and techniques to build connection both for themselves and others, we are ensuring this ancient wisdom will be passed on and regenerate future leaders. The development of future Mentors is implicit with in the project.


JL: How does communication play into this process? Once we are connected, then what?

Communication is synonymous with connection. What we are in connection with, we communicate with. To build connected relationship we must be communicating. This is a fact of life. The Advanced Connection Practices and the techniques taught in the Leadership Initiation Project help the participant to develop the ability to communicate with nature. The natural ability we all have to communicate with the animals was demonstrated recently in the film called The Animal Communicator. This same communication is possible with all parts of nature.

Through the connection practices, we begin to build relationships with elemental aspects of nature, by communicating and listening (i.e. see connection with water above). This expands out to the rest of the natural world and also to the human world. We learn to listen deeply with a quiet mind to the smallest voices, and we learn to speak using our finest words. Deep communication with all of nature is one of the main goals we hope each participant develops to a high degree by the end of the Leadership Initiation Project.

Hearing the voices of nature allows leaders to “tap” into perspectives and understandings that are beyond the human ego. Having the ability to hear even the smallest voices of the natural world helps leaders to be more aware of the impact of human actions. This expanded awareness, and the ability to communicate to all life forms, is critical to human beings potential to flourish.


JL: We looked at “leadership” and what it means to you. So what is “initiation,” and how does it relate to leadership and this path of connection that you describe?

SG: Initiation is the threshold that we cross at critical moments in life. In this learning path, we provide initiation to people into becoming fully alive, passionate, vibrant, and living their dream in health and happiness. To be in deep communication with all of nature, and to be fully activated and truly helpful and standing strongly on one’s path in life.

We initiate people into a deeper state of awareness, connection and action; to become healers of the Disconnection Sickness, and leaders which act from a place of connection and awareness for the future generations. Examples of specific initiation rites that are a part of the Leadership Initiation Project include rites of competency, Vision Quest, purification rites, adult initiation, and elder initiation.

Learn More about the Leadership Project on a Free Call with Sal @ Tuesday December 10, 1PM Pacific (Call recording will be provided to those who register)


Learn more about the Leadership Initiation Project

About Salvatore Gencarelle

Sal GencarelleSalvatore Gencarelle is a cultural bridge between Lakota healing ceremonies and the modern world. His intensive mentoring period required both dedication and sacrifice, spending 17 years as a ceremonial guide, creator, singer, and mentor under the direct supervision of a Native American healer. It was through this process that he earned the responsibility to pass the teachings on.

Salvatore’s  deep immersion into the Woptura healing lineage has also helped him to better understand the universal aspects of advanced connection practices that reach across cultures and time.

Salvatore is also an artist, photographer, freelance writer, a musician, and a healer working both the traditions of the Lakota and the modern world. He currently travels across the country teaching and helping others learn from his experience. Visit his website at:

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. Read other articles from Josh at