Friday, July 20, 2012

How 'Core Routines' Can Re-Establish our Deep Connection to Nature

Much has been written about our disconnect from nature.  The topic has been approached from many fields.  Ecopsychologists are examining human thinking and behavior to explain our consistent disregard for environmental collapse.  Evolutionary Psychologists are considering what in our long evolution as hunter-gatherers might shed light on our relationship to earth.  David Abram, the ecophilosopher, in his brilliant book The Spell of the Senuous, reveals how the human mind is intimately linked to terrain and weather, and how the earth itself is a great mind of which we are all an active part. The biologist E.O. Wilson spoke of humankind’s innate love of living things and life-like systems in his landmark book Biophilia.  Paul Shepard, the revolutionary human ecologist who wrote many books, including Nature and Madness, described how the advent of agriculture 12,000 years ago has led to a kind of cultural madness that now expresses itself in outright hostility towards nature. Bill Plotkin is one a number of pioneers in the field of deep nature immersion, using the vision quest to help people discover their inborn gifts, their mythic soul destiny, their true purpose in this life.  Most recently, Richard Louv has written Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle, books that have galvanized public awareness of the role of exposure to nature in healthy human development.  In response to Louv’s book, the findings from a large body of scientific literature on the relationship between nature connections and mental health -studies conducted over the past 25 years- have begun to enter mainstream public discourse. 

With this growing scientific evidence for the importance of nature in human development, it is important to consider what kind of nature exposure, or nature engagement can begin the process of healing ourselves and our planet. Many people believe that simply getting into nature is enough, but there is more to the process of nature connection than simple exposure.  Jon Young, co-author of a brilliant book entitled Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, outlines a number of practices that can awaken our innate, empathetic connection to nature. 

Nearly everyone has had the experience of staring into a fire.  The dance of flames is captivating and mesmerizing. Fire gazing is an ancient human practice, something we have done for close to a million years.  Fire was central to the lives of the early nomadic ancestors who traveled in their small bands into the ice-age north, through Europe and into Asia over 800,000 years ago.  Evenings were spent gathered around the flames, as stories of the day’s activities filled the air.  Lighting the faces of the storytellers, cooking the foods from the hunt, fire also brought safety and warmth to the tribe.  This enduring legacy from antiquity makes fire something we feel in our bones.  Though we left this nomadic lifestyle with the advent of farming some 12,000 years ago, we are still all captivated by the compelling presence of a wood fire.  We spent 99% of our ancestry around this fire. 

I bring up this story of fire and its magnetic pull on our ancestral fibre, because our experience of fire in the 21st century reveals something of our long social evolution as tribespeople who lived with fire in an intimate and dependent way. 

Some of the practices outlined in Jon Young’s book, what he calls “Core Routines” for developing a connection to nature, are effective precisely because they tap into ancestral ways of knowing, touching those nerves of intuitive sense-making that are buried deep in our tribal bones. Many primitive skills, such as tracking, fire-making, flint knapping, hide tanning, trapping, hunting, plant gathering, herb preparing, basket making, and the like, are profoundly resonant with the deepest aspects of our psyche.  As we learn these skills, something in us already knows how to knap the stone and scrape the hide.  We are sympathetic to these skills innately and intuitively.  “Survival Living” –which involves the development of primitive skills- is one of Young’s dozen or so Core Routines.  Developing nature connection is not done accidentally during the weekend hike, nor through some mysterious osmosis beside the State Park stream, but actively through the practice of behaviors and routines that for hundreds of thousands of years have been the mainstay of daily human behavioral life during the Pleistocene.  Sit Spots, Story Telling, Bird Language, Sensory Expansion, Reverential Awe and Gratitude, Mental Mapping, Animal Mimicry, Intuitive Wandering, Joyful Questioning –these behaviors and others tap into something we already know, something buried deep in our tribal fiber as descendents of traditional nature-based ancestors, awakening a tremendous sense within us that we are imbedded in, and that we belong to, the natural world, this living breathing Mother Gaia. 

You can learn more about Core Routines in Jon Young’s book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.