I attended my first Art of Mentoring course in 2009 at Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall Washington.
Here are some of the questions we were exploring through fun activities and adventures on the landscape:
- What does it mean to be mentored in the ways of nature?
- How do people change when they develop deeper awareness of the environment?
- How can you be a better mentor for positive personal and societal change?
We explored the world of plants, traditional survival skills, bird behaviour, wildlife tracking, and community learning tools.
And along the way we discovered a new way of helping people find inner peace, fulfillment and a deep love for nature.
Sounds pretty incredible right?
Everyone I’ve spoken to who has gone through this experience says it was one of the most powerful turning points of their life.
Everyone says this is worth exploring!
So today, I’d like to share some of the basics with you…
Starting with why the art of mentoring matters, and moving on to the specific tools & techniques of nature-based mentoring.
What Is The Art of Mentoring?
I’ll preface this by saying that the only way to really know the art of mentoring is to experience for yourself.
Now that’s out in the open…
The art of mentoring is simply a host of tools, attitudes & techniques that serve as the catalyst for an experience of deep connection between people & nature.
There are two sorts of people who I feel will really resonate with this path.
Connection Type #1 “The Rememberer”
This is the person who has already traveled a little ways down the journey of life, and is starting to feel like there’s something missing.
You might already have a career, a house, or even a family… but perhaps realizing that there are aspects of the fast-paced modern lifestyle that aren’t fulfilling you.
Somewhere deep down inside there’s this memory of being free to explore nature…
And how good it feels when you get out into the wilderness and simply be present with the natural world.
And you realize that it’s not just a recreational thing:
- You want to get more of the psychological benefits of nature in your daily life
- You want to go beyond a superficial understanding of how nature works and have deeper experiences outside
- You want to share those same experiences with your friends & family so you can live in a community with positive values & support systems
So the question is – how do you create that kind of lifestyle?
For many people, the leap seems so great that it would be hard to bridge the gap without their entire life falling apart.
But… That’s where The Art of Mentoring comes in.
Connection Type #2 “The Explorer”
Here’s the other type of person who really resonates with Art of Mentoring principles…
It’s someone who simply loves learning about the world and is seeking tools to maximize their ability to engage deeply and develop personal awareness.
Often these people are healers, coaches, or entrepreneur-types who recognize that nature helps to awaken inner human potential.
You might already be excited to learn about nature… And you might already have some basic knowledge and experience with the outdoors…
But you’re hitting certain blocks and challenges with trying to go deeper into awareness tools & strategies.
The sentiment is a bit like this…
“Nature is awesome! It’s so much fun to get outside and engage my whole body, mind & spirit with the elements! But how do I go deeper? How do I get a more real, tangible, and meaningful experience outside?”
Again… Art of Mentoring gives you the tools to go very deep into nature studies and your engagement with the natural world.
One of my goals in creating nature-mentor.com is to bring quality Art of Mentoring based tools & learning opportunities to people who are unable to travel long distances or attend live events.
Now let’s talk about the tools & techniques of mentoring!
Nature Mentoring Tools & Techniques
One of the first goal of the Art of Mentoring is helping people build meaningful connections with nature.
Why is that important?
Simply by knowing nature deeply, it changes how you think and feel about the plants, birds, trees of your local ecosystem.
You’ll start to have real relationships with the animals and patterns of nature… And these relationships start to affect you on mental & emotional levels.
In the same way that you might feel for a hurting friend, you’ll start to experience empathy with the natural world.
It’s a bit like this…
You know how you can often tell what your close friends & family are thinking & feeling even before they tell you?
There’s a similar experience that happens through knowing nature very deeply, and it will result in changes in your worldview & changes in your perception that bring rise to creative impulse.
I’m going to describe some of these major tools & techniques of nature mentoring.
But first it’s really important to mention… This is not just about intellectual knowledge of nature.
Simply knowing facts and figures about the environment doesn’t truly help people feel connected with the natural world
The goal is to create real life sensory engagement and attunement with the patterns and rhythms of plants, birds, trees, seasons, weather, even the sun, moon, stars.
So the emphasis of nature-based mentoring should never be on knowledge of facts & figures… but rather on slowing down, getting into your senses, paying attention & getting curious to look more closely.
It’s a much more human way of interacting with the world.
As such… all the tools & techniques of nature mentoring are carefully applied for the purpose of helping you to slow down, use your senses, pay attention to nature & get curious.
Watch for this theme as we run through 3 of the big tools for nature mentoring…
Tool #1 – Core Routines Of Nature Connection
Here’s the basic idea of core routines…
Spending time in nature isn’t something that you do just once and then suddenly results in enlightenment (Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice?)
You can’t just go camping once per year and expect to awaken the full potential of your inner naturalist.
It’s like any kind of exercise or personal growth goal. It takes practice and ongoing healthy routines.
Thankfully this just means you get to have lots of fun, exciting adventures outside all along the journey.
The curriculum of any nature school using Art of Mentoring based tools & techniques might include such activities as:
Bird language, wildlife tracking, sneaking & stalking games, quiet sit spot time, learning about herbs & plants, permaculture, primitive skills & survival training, harvesting, crafting, wandering & exploring without an agenda.
If you wanted to facilitate a deep nature connection journey for yourself, these are the exact activities you might choose to practice on a daily or weekly basis.
(a little bit every day is better than a once-per-year retreat)
It’s a huge range of activities, but you don’t have to do all of them.
The key is to pick one or two that are most interesting to you and develop those interests until they become an irresistible & irreplaceable part of your life.
In truth, it’s less about what you do, and more about how you do it.
Just remember the mantra…
Slow down, use your senses, pay attention to nature & get curious.
If you do that then you’ll be golden!
Mentoring Tool #2 – Storytelling
Storytelling is one of the most powerful and under-utilized tools of deep nature connection mentoring.
That’s because being outside in nature is only one part of the mentoring equation. The other important part happens inside your own mushy brain!
You can think of it like this…
Core routines are sensory activities that happen outside in the natural world. Storytelling is a sensory activity that happens inside your brain.
As a mentor… you can share stories with people that will evoke vivid imagery and guided experiences in the minds of those listening.
Those stories are like a map for invisibly teaching people how to use their awareness & pay attention to the world.
As a student… by sharing your nature stories & experiences with a listening mentor, you get to revisit your memories and reflect on a deeper level.
The result is that you learn faster.
You become drawn into your senses and more likely to slow down when you encounter plants, trees, birds & wildlife that are part of the stories you’ve heard and told before.
It also creates an opportunity for the third major tool of The Art of Mentoring.
Can you guess what it is?
Mentoring Tool #3 – The Art Of Questioning
Yes I ended that last section with a question.
(I’m sneaky like that!)
Questions are one of the best ways to expand awareness, overcome resistance to ideas and subtly guide people towards making their own conclusions.
People love being engaged through questions, but they hate being interrogated and tested.
It’s important to find the right balance.
If you do find the right balance, the result is pure magic and can produce rapid transformation in seemingly miraculous ways.
How To Ask Great Questions
There is a formula for asking great questions…
You always want to meet people where they are focused. If someone is really into plants… ask them about plants.
Start with what people are already curious about… and lead their awareness outwards into new areas that provide ever expanding perspectives about nature and beyond.
The goal is to expand awareness and help people become more aware of their blindspots… while simultaneously reinforcing their strengths and passions.
Let’s say someone is really into developing plant knowledge.
You might start off the conversation by asking them about what they’re learning. Like this…
What have you been learning in your plant studies lately?”
And they will respond by saying something…
I found this amazing new patch of wild roses and I’m excited to harvest the rose hips this fall.”
Based on this initial response you can start asking questions about related topics to help them access the memory in greater sensory detail.
This is also a great place to share anecdotal stories and join others in their curiosity.
That’s so cool. I love rose hip tea. It’s one of my favourite things to drink in September. I’ve been trying to figure out if there are any birds in our area that eat the rose hips. Have you ever noticed anything like that?”
Now this is a tough question, and I don’t expect them to necessarily know the answer. Getting the answer isn’t actually the important thing here.
The important part is whether they consider the question and what happens in their mind while they think about it.
If it gets them to look more closely & expand their awareness, then it’s a great question!
People will always respond either by getting more curious and interested, or sometimes by feeling challenged.
You can monitor how your questions are affecting people by paying attention to their body language & what they say in response.
If they say something like…
I don’t know.”
And get really quiet or start to shut down… Then the question is too hard. You need to back up and ask more simple questions.
But if they say something like…
I don’t know but I think there was a bird nesting there. I think I’ve seen hummingbirds go after the flowers before. It seems like rose hips would be a good food source”
This person is demonstrating that they’re ready for advanced questions.
It’s important to find the right balance of questions. If your questions are too easy then the student will become bored. If your questions are too difficult then they might get discouraged.
Overtime students of teaching methods that rely on questions will become incredibly curious and self-driven in their learning.
You know you’ve succeeded when their level of expertise surpasses yours in their particular topics of passion.
There’s a lot more I could say on this topic.
If you want to get some practice with a basic formula for the art of questioning, I invite you to check out my nature memory journal template.
Finding A Good Mentor Of Nature Awareness
I mentioned earlier that the best way to learn about nature mentoring is to experience it for yourself.
In the fast-paced world we live in, I am a big fan of making formal commitments.
You’ll be more likely to follow through on your nature discovery goals if you state your intentions and goals with an experienced listener who wants to support you along your journey.
In an ideal world… Find someone who has already invested thousands of hours studying and practicing their outdoor skills and has experience with coyote mentoring (another term for the art of mentoring).
These people can be found at local nature schools, running childrens programs, tracking clubs, etc.
Nature skills instructors are often over-worked and under-paid so try to offer them something valuable in exchange for their time and energy.
This could be volunteer work in their programs. Or if they offer adult programs – support them financially by taking their programs!
It’s always a good idea to offer money for their time. Both you and your mentor will be more invested in the relationship when there’s money involved.
If you can’t find anyone local – I sometimes take on mentoring students by distance. Feel free to setup a time to talk with me if you’re interested in learning more about what we can explore together by distance.
There’s so much more I could say about the art of mentoring. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
If you want to learn some cool tricks for exploring nature in a sensory way, check out my forest secrets video training.
Hi I would like to buy the book Coyote Guide connecting with nature second addition. I’m in Ontario.
Brian Mertins says
Hi Gloria, they were recently getting ready to print a bunch. Hopefully they will be available soon 🙂
Seher Atasever says
Hi Brian, I am so happy to find this website, thanks a billion!!!
I attend an outdoor school in Guelph, On and now want to run a free Nature Connection program for homeschoolers.
Salmon rush time is here so i thought starting these days would be a good idea. Kids are aged from 4-12. I have my copy of Coyote guide (didn’t finish yet). What would you recommend for the first day of the meeting?
I’m planning to start with a circle of gratitude. We’ll have a stick and everyone will take a turn to introduce himself and mention one thing to be grateful for. Then some kind of relaxation, meditation and awareness time. Then 1 game+ awareness of feelings during that game. then treasure hunt, getting in circle and talk about the treasures we found, 1 more game, story and ending with taking turns by thanking for one thing in that day.
what do u think?
Also how can i find good stories to tell?
Thanks a lot! SEHER
Brian Mertins says
Hi Seher, great to hear from you! Your plan sounds like an excellent start.
With young children you sometimes have to be extra conscious of going with the flow (50/50 principle). It sometimes depends on how many kids you’re working with and how much energy they have, so you just need to be mindful of that. Are all ages together in a single group? If you have a volunteer helper, you might find it useful to split the younger ones for certain parts of the day.
The most important thing is to do your best and then take some time to reflect with your team afterwards so you can plan improvements for next time. Each session will get better as you become more experienced and experiment with what works best for your own personal style.
As for stories, sometimes personal stories are the best because there’s nothing to memorize. Do you have a favorite experience with nature that still inspires and excites you whenever you think about it? Or lineage stories are also great to share on the first day. You could share the story of how your own mentors inspired you to connect with nature.
Most of all, have fun out there! As long as you connect, they will too.