This page will introduce you to some basic routines that help people engage with nature in a high quality way.
One of my main goals in mentoring people every week on the telephone is to help them embody these routines on a deeper and deeper level.
As we spend time in nature exercising our awareness in new ways it helps us understand our place on a deep level and gain a sense of felt connection to a landscape.
Basic Nature Learning Routines
When looking at routines we’re talking about things that we do regularly in nature because they help us learn and grow.
There is a foundational two-step cycle that underlies everything taking place in the mentoring process.
Step 1: Having Experiences in Nature
Step 2: Reflecting on those experiences
Let’s break this down and start off by looking at step one.
The Sit Spot
A sit spot is simply a place in nature that you go everyday (or as often as you can) to sit and observe and simply be present with nature.
Just this one practice has an amazing impact on people.
As we sit in the same place over and over again we come to know that place very deeply at all times of day, in all seasons and in all conditions.
We learn to sink into the earth and it becomes an easy way to slow down and come to the moment with nature.
It’s great medicine for the hustle & bustle of the modern world.
If you were to pick just one activity to form the experiential side of your connective practice I would recommend taking on a sit spot.
In addition to the sit spot there are many other complimentary activities that help us learn and grow in a natural setting. Here’s a short list of some of my favorites.
- Animal Tracking: Tracking is a multidimensional skill that teaches us to use our senses, make good observations and develop good questioning skills. There’s nothing more exciting than tracking down the solution to a natural mystery.
- Practicing primitive skills & survival: There’s something very attractive about being able to make fire by rubbing sticks together. We learn so much about the different materials that nature makes available to us through these skills.
- Harvesting and using things from nature: Eating a pie that you made from berries you collected yourself tastes amazing and once you do it you will never see that berry bush the same way again. Becoming an herbalist isn’t just about knowing the plants…
- Listening for Bird language: Tracking down the movements of predators by listening to the sounds of the birds really calls us to pay close attention to the moment. We learn a lot by cultivating deep awareness.
- Wandering: Wandering and exploring natural areas helps us to get into a timeless space where we can make new discoveries. It’s a great way to connect with a new landscape.
Going to a sit spot and doing any of these activities will draw us to participate with nature in ways that people don’t normally do.
This alone has tremendous potential to impact us as people and deepen our connections but we can take this even further with step two of our nature connection cycle.
Sharing The Story of our Day – The Second Step in the Learning Cycle
In traditional cultures where people still maintain deep connections with nature as a way of life there is a common thread that when people come back from doing activities like the ones mentioned above they all gather together to share the stories.
Since everyone has an invested interest in knowing about the place where they live they are naturally curious and ask lots of detailed questions of each other.
This culture of storytelling and questioning draws everyone to pay exquisite attention to everything happening out in nature.
We can mimic this pattern to enhance our own experience by taking time to go over what happened either with another person or with a journal.
Simply by retelling the story we have to revisit in our memory all the sights and sounds that accompanied our time outside.
This is an incredible memory exercise that gives us direct feedback about what we noticed and what we missed. As we review our time from outside we learn to look deeper the next time we go out.
In an ideal world this is done with an experienced mentor who can listen to your story and ask you some good questions to help draw your awareness out.
If you’re working alone then you can facilitate this process for yourself by using these activities.
- Journaling: Nature journaling works like a written form of the story of the day. It can be as simple as writing down in depth a close encounter you had with a bird while at your sit spot.
- Drawing Maps: When we draw a map of a landscape it brings up so many questions about how exactly all the different features relate to each other. Which way is north? It really pushes our ability to hold a landscape in our mind.
- Exploring Field guides: Try to remember that plant you saw on your walk. Can you find it in a field guide? Flipping through all the different possibilities will build up your knowledge of the natural world.
- Asking Questions: Brainstorm your curiosity. Think about what you experienced and consider, ‘what am I curious about?’ ‘What questions do I have about this?’
As you engage with this cycle of experience and reflection over and over again you will be drawn to pay closer and closer attention to the natural world.
Your awareness will grow and you will accumulate vast amounts of knowledge for your place.
But there’s one more thing to keep in mind as you do these core routines…
Always Emphasize Quality of time over Quantity of time
If you have lots of time to spend outside that’s great.
But even someone who only has 15 minutes a day to spare can get a lot of benefit if they focus on having quality experiences.
Someone who goes for a 3-hour hike and stares at the ground 4 feet in front of him will have a very different experience than someone who sits quietly in one place for 20 minutes and observes what’s happening.
Here are three important routines we can keep in mind that will help us bring more quality to our time outside.
- Sensory awareness: Don’t just let nature pass you by… get into your senses. Close your eyes and listen in every direction to all the subtle sounds. Feel the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face. Sniff the air and take in its temperature, the moisture and any scents that are in the area. With eyes open stretch your visual awareness out to the periphery of your perception. Practice moving silently and presently… feeling the earth with every step. When you approach nature this way your mind will calm down and you’ll be much more alert to the many mysteries and creatures that are all around us in nature.
- Get into the mind of the animals: Instead of exploring the landscape as a human, see if you can imagine what it would be like to be an animal. You can even get down on all fours and pretend to be a raccoon or a coyote. Where do you feel drawn to go? What are you looking for and why? Getting out of our human brains can help us develop empathy with the natural world and it teaches us to look at the landscape from many different perspectives.
- Thanksgiving: By giving gratitude for the natural world it calls us to notice what is good in our lives in the present moment. It brings us to a positive state of mind that benefits our lives greatly. When we’re thankful for nature we notice it more, we care for the earth and we cultivate deeper awareness.
To Learn More
This page has been an overview of the main routines that I work with when I mentor people over the telephone.
These routines can be found with greater depth in Coyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature.
My mentoring services support people to embody the processes outlined in that book and at international Art of Mentoring courses.
If Coyote’s Guide provides a recipe for deep connection with nature, then facilitated mentoring guides people to put the pot on the fire and actually make the recipe.
If you’re interested in this then I always recommend you read coyotes guide or check out any of the audio programs by Jon Young.