On Children's Success Foundation's Nurtured Heart Approach

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Parents, let it be known that your work and dedication to your children cannot possibly be measured. For many parents, even if you had a thirty-hour day, you would not have the opportunity to delve into resources, practices, and consultions around all of the questions and challenges that you face in parenting. Thankfully, humans are communal. We specialize and we support one another. My job, then, is to dedicate my time toward effective effort and keen insight. Then to transmit it in a way that will be helpful for your everyday life.

Recently, as part of this service, I’ve been compelled to delve into the Children’s Success Foundation’s Nurtured Heart Approach toward working with emotionally intense children. What follows is my own summary of what I suspect could be helpful for some parents and some children. Parts of this will be helpful for everyone, for sure. This is quite different content from my book, but there are ways that it does fit. It has strong positive psychology underpinnings. It is a mindfulness practice of noticing what is true in the moment and not falling into reaction patterns. It holds a similar container to the wilderness: basic rules of nature that cannot be bent or compromised and that end up teaching us our power.

Before we begin, it is worth noting that your child is completely and utterly unique. There never has been and there never will be another constellation of life like your child. So, when we look at approaches and when we use labels like “emotionally intense”, please ground yourself in looking at these as tools to be uniquely applied to your living relationships.

Summed up, the Nurtured Heart Approach is a way to change patterns of negativity and escalation. It promotes positive attention and a container for cultivating innate greatness. It starts with authentic, neutral witnessing. It moves toward positive support and reinforcement. It then lays foundations for cultivating positive values and behaviors. It then lays the framework for effective and long-term compassionate consequences for negative behaviors.  The authors have been doing this for decades and all of their work is based on first-hand experience.

My suggestion is that, if you are struggling with a home situation that needs change, and your daughter or son is emotionally intense, then it is worth giving this a try. If you really want to work with this, I suggest buying the book and/or working with me (or another counselor familiar with the work) directly. This blog is meant to be a secondary resource. However, even if you don’t do this, it should be worth reading through and finding some different ways to think about your relationship with your child.

 

A Summary of The Nurtured Heart Perspective

 

The Reasoning

Our attention and our energy is what our children seek.

Culturally, we tend to put more intensity into a “no” than we do a “yes.” Basically, we intensify our speech and our actions when something goes wrong and we want our child to stop. We tend to not get as energetically charged when things are going fine. For emotionally intense children, particularly, we can look at our relationships through the lens of degrees of attention and energy. From that perspective, we are giving our child more attention and energy for behaviors that are not serving them than we are for positive behaviors.

“Many intense, intelligent children have fixated a greater part of their wits and intelligence on figuring out just how to elicit the strongest reactions from adults in their world.” -Nurtured Heart

When children test adults for reactions, they are testing to see if the adult can create a container that will adequately hold them. If they act out, it is a way of asking for more structure.

One parallel Nurtured Heart draws is with video games. They are, as we know, incredibly captivating. They all have clear, consistent rules with no compromise and with immediate feedback. The play and growth happens within this structure. You can’t bargain or whine or anger your way out of the rules. They just are. And children accept them. Then play and become skillful and empowered in the context.

The Nurtured Heart Approach calls for new actions in two categories of parenting:

1)     What we do in the way of being positive

2)     What we do in the way of setting limits

With emotionally intense children and stuck negative patterns, there is usually a situation where the child is addicted to negative attention. It is like junk food. It fills them up momentarily, but it has no long-term nourishment. So, it becomes a regular addictive pattern. Repeated negative attention also gets translated by the child as repeated failures, which creates low self-esteem. They begin to think “I am not a good kid.” Ordinary compliments then get redirected by this complex. They don’t sink in because the identity pattern is too strong.

Intense children have an insufficient frame of reference for being kind to oneself and setting limits on impulses. They need a relationship dynamic and structure that will get past their defenses. These kids have a lot of energy and intensity and are developmentally learning to apply the brakes in their lives. They are challenged with self-control. They also need a foundation of trust, nutritious connection, and gratifying responses.

One common parenting pitfall in setting limits and consequences is to intensity the rules or harshness of the consequences when the child increasingly acts negatively. If we look at this from the perspective of energetic payoff, we are giving the child more intensity, more payoff, for the negative behaviors. For the emotionally intense child, who is addicted to negative reactions, lectures, warnings, and reprimands are rewards of our attention.

Children often equate what we put our energy into with what we love. Some children sense that the only time they get a heart-to-heart and intensity is when they misbehave. Often, the only time they hear about the value of the rules is when they are broken.

This approach is a way to positively associate the rules and structures, to not feed the addiction to negative behaviors, and to support the innate greatness of your child.

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The Approach

To begin changing patterns, the authors recommend taking three stands as a parent:

1)     Refuse to give your child greater responses or more animation for negative behaviors. Not rewarding problems with your energy.

2)     Resolve to purposefully create and nurture success. Be relentless in the new pattern.

3)     Have clear rules. Have clear, consistent, true, and effective consequences when they are broken.

In the book, the authors supply an elegant story about the training of an orca. The trainers wanted to get the orca to jump over a hoop in the air. So, they started by placing the hoop under the water near the bottom of the tank. Every time the orca swam over it, she was given a treat. They slowly raised the hoop until, eventually, it was out to the water.

To get past the defenses of low self-esteem or entrenched addiction to negativity, the approach is to start with the hoop underwater, so to speak. What that means in parenting is to start by simple, neutral recognition.

Step One is active verbal recognition:

Simply state what the child is doing. No judgment. Just report consistently throughout the day. The truth as it is in the moment. Be very specific. 10-20 seconds at the most and then drop it. No follow up. No requests afterward. Just noticing.

Provide 10-20 active recognitions a day.

Examples they give are:

“I can tell you are hungry. You ate your potatoes in a hurry.”

“I notice that you are trying to get the battery cover off your radio. You look very focused.”

They do note that your kid may test you here, as it will be a new behavior. They give a little advice around this in the book. Simply trust the process. It is something new and they and you will acclimate quickly.

 Step Two is experiential recognition:

For Experiential Recognition, you simply recognize again, but you focus on the powers of a current or very recent event. You create a positive framework of that event so that your child can digest the nutritious elements of it.

Try to find several instances per hour that you spend with your child.

An example they give:

“Julio, I appreciate the positive control you are using. That is very helpful to your teammates and a healthy way to be powerful.”

Step Three is Proactive Recognition:

In the beginning of this chapter, they consider the difference between positive rules and negative rules. The Nurtured Heart Approach considers that, for some kids, positive rules (e.g. be respectful, be polite, be kind) are too vague. There is no clear sense of where the bounds are. Positive rules, in this situation, can often bring escalating patterns of challenging the rules.

The Nurtured Heart Approach advocates for clear negative rules to help guide these kids (e.g. no hitting, no swearing.)

Often, the only time kids hear about the rules is when they are broken. Instead, teach rules when they are not being broken.

Proactively recognizing when your kid is following the rules places rules in a positive context with positive attention.

For proactive recognition, give 10 or more rule-based successes daily.

An example they give:

“Jason, I see that you haven’t been teasing your sister, keep up the good work.” Or … “thank you for following the rule.”

If a child goes and breaks the rules immediately after you say this, they are continuing their pattern of seeking increased attention in the form of negative energy. Continue with your practice and it will break this pattern.

At this point, if consequences have to be issued, use familiar ones but given in a neutral and straight forward manner. No lectures, no reprimands, no threats. Remaining neutral is challenging and it will probably be tested, but it is exceedingly effective in the long run.

Step Four is Creative Recognition:

Creative recognition is a microscopic focus on the positive, the successes.

Here they talk about making requests. They advocate for being very clear when you are making a request to your child. Instead of starting a request with “could you please…” or “would you…”, phrase it with “I need you to…” or make it very direct.

For creative recognition, you may have to be tricky and simple at first. You simply make a direct request, and then recognize the positive success when your child does it.

Find 10 creative requests matched with success per day

An example they give:

“Hold the other end of this blanket, and let’s give it a few shakes.”

“I appreciate that you followed my directions and helped me by shaking the sand out of the blanket.”

Another example:

“I noticed that you picked up nearly all of your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper. I really appreciate that you listened and how you are doing what I asked. Now I need you to pick up the last two shirts.”

Step Five (Optional) is the Credit System:

The Book does talk about how to establish a credit system (extrinsic rewards for positive behavior) but they say it is not necessary for this approach, so I am not summing this part up. It’s up to each family if they use this credit system.

 

Step Six is Consequences:

At this stage, you will share with the youth that you have a new system for consequences. Frame this as a development of their success, recognizing the positive changes the youth has made. Now you will come up with very clear, simple, and utterly consistent consequences for not following the rules.

When the positives are in place, it creates the supportive foundation for consequences to actually help the youth. Consequences help to ensure the child that her life is predictable, protected, and that the boundaries can withstand being tested. They form a safe, enhancing environment.

Limit-setting does not have to be severe to be effective. They give an analogy of being pulled over by a police officer for speeding and being given only a $2 ticket. At first, you might think that it’s not much and you speed again. But then you get pulled over and given another $2 ticket. You get a ticket consistently every time with no negotiation. It is delivered without malice or lecture, simply, solidly, and with a loving presence. You speed again and keep getting tickets. And soon the nuisance of the consistent break in your momentum teaches you to slow down. It’s actually better to drive the speed limit. You start to enjoy it and soon you don’t really think about speeding. It’s just not a viable option.

Consequences will be consistent and unflappable, and the equivalent of a $2 ticket every time.

Your child is not out to get you when they act up increasingly. They are out to get your energy. They also are struggling with knowing how to apply their own brakes and watch their own speed.

Spanking, yelling, and even heart-to-heart sermons give energy for negative behavior. It feeds the addiction cycle. Even heart-to-heart sermons are often internalized as criticism and failure for a child with low self-esteem.

The bedrock consequence they suggest is a “time-out” or “reset,” but given in a very particular way that is probably different from one that may already be in place.

You have already established a foundation where the “time-ins” are becoming deeply more preferable. They are times within the bounds you’ve set for your child’s healthy growth where you give truly positive attention. A “time-out” will be received as a lack of energy at this point.

Consequences must be consistent. No compassion-based or exhaustion-based free pass for a behavior. This is a real parenting practice toward truly shifting patterns and creating a new container. Deep compassion is in the consistency.

Consequences are neutrally given. Any reaction while giving a consequence is a reward for the negative behavior. This can be incredibly hard to practice, but you can do it. One suggestion is to pretend. To think of yourself as a performer and act as though you are neutral even if you are reacting internally. This will be so much better for both of you as it becomes more of a true baseline.

No warnings. Warnings often build up to yelling or explosions (negative energy junkfood). They imply that breaking the rules does not always yield a consequence. Your child will then be driven to find out the pattern of when he can get around the rules. Warnings also tend to be inconsistent, which will confuse your child. If you were playing basketball and the referee arbitrarily ignored the rule about the boundaries at times, you would be very confused and probably spend a lot of energy protesting or trying to figure out that part of the game.

No reminders. Reminders are essentially warnings and they convey distrust and projected failure to your child.

We can’t stop children from breaking the rules. We can’t control them. It is worth saying this to them. They make the choices. What we can control is our response to their actions. It is no use worrying about how they will act, because it is out of our control.

“Time-outs” or “Resets” are powerful only in how “clean” they are:

1)     They are de-energized (with no negative reaction)

2)     They are issued in a way a sports rule might be issued. Immediately and with rapid turnaround upon completion.

3)     They are truly over afterward and you are completely back to positive foundations.

After a reset, you can immediately kindle the positive foundations by recognizing the success of the reset if your child does it well. Appreciate how they are engaging back into life without doing the behavior.

They recommend that resets are delivered instantly and in the place it happens as opposed to trying to make the child go to a chair (though they do give options for using a chair if it is important to you.) The resets are also always delivered as no big deal. A simple reset.

The time length is not measured but it is intuited by the caregiver. The reset begins when the child starts to calm. During the reset, there is no talking, hugging, or engaging whatsoever and no fiddling (within reason); There is no explaining or arguing a rule (much later you can invite to help them figure out what to do next time, but they need to ask well away from the incident.) When the reset is done, give verbal acknowledgement; don’t ask for apologies or any display of remorse or conscience. Go right into positive recognitions-based “time-ins.” The child should be expected to clean up any messes created just before or during the reset.  Completion of a reset is a success.

Safety is always first. Aggressive or destructive actions need to be intervened as you say “reset” with as little emotion as possible.

This new pattern may be severely tested in the first instances, so they recommend standing completely firm and persevering. This will change if you continue.

Power does not come from long time-outs; it comes from the magnitude of time-ins.

For major transgressions:
They recommend still using the reset. In addition to that, if the transgression is great, the child should know ahead of time that a further consequence will be community service.

 

In the book, the authors have recommendations for educators and thoughts on where the work leads.

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Where the work leads…

As we bend our minds more toward the positive and create firm boundaries that we don’t feed much energy to, we begin to focus our attention and our thoughts on the child’s greatness. We help the child to be attracted to the experience of her or his greatness.

The authors report that parents consistently report that this approach, when followed through, not only transforms the negative patterns for the child, but transforms the way the parents look at problems and overall relationships. They live more in the moment and they are unflappably attracted to cultivating the positive and life-affirming moments of living.

Again, this is a summary of the Children’s Success Foundation’s Nurtured Heart approach, and not my own work. Raising our youth is a complex and dynamic process that no one approach can encompass. May some or all of these perspectives and practices help you and your child in growing greatness, beauty, courage, and grace in our world.

-Matthew Fogarty

About Contemplative Practice

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One of my teachers tells a story about when he was younger and struggling with coming out of severe alcohol addiction and suicidal tendencies. He found help through the AA program, and was graced with finding a powerful sponsor who helped him through his hardest times. During one such time, my teacher was struggling with finding the strength to stay sober. He got in his car on a stormy winter day and drove out to his sponsor's land to ask him for help. His sponsor listened to him, then told him to go outside in the snow and stand by Cupcake. Cupcake was a very large buffalo. My teacher trudged out, the snow pelting his face. There he met Cupcake. Cupcake was standing still, his face directly into the wind. My teacher stood by him for a very long time, and he said that he began to understand. Cupcake just stood there and faced it. Solid. Unmoving. Cupcake did this all winter long.

In this post, we'll explore contemplative practice, what it is, and what we face through it. There is so much to talk about and experience with this topic. This post simply has a few things to consider when searching for a practice.

Things You Could Think About

The term

Contemplative Practice is a term to indicate a consistent practice of contemplation. If you look at the root of the word contemplation, it means "going to the temple." In contemplation, we commit time and effort to go to the temple within.

Contemplative practices can include all kinds of things: meditation, prayer, a nature-based sit spot, ceremonies, yoga, tai chi, chi kung, sensory practices, etc.

The reasons

The reasons for a practice are discovered by each individual through practicing. Here are some that come to mind for me. I know there are some should's in here. Hold them as you will. It is your own practice and your own relationship with the world that you are courting:

To Reduce Suffering: The practice should take us out of fixed patterns where we are creating our own suffering. Suffering is different from pain. Suffering is a deep pattern of resistance to what is. A contemplative practice should always be bending us toward the acceptance of the reality of the moment as it is, not as we would like it to be. This might mean, as the Chinese say, tasting bitter before we taste sweet.

To Increase Consciousness: This is not an idea. The increase in consciousness should be directly experienced and identified. Through contemplative practices, we may increase our actual sensory awareness, our mental faculties, our awareness of our relationships, or expand our identity. For instance, with sense meditation we might use a technique to literally practice seeing new aspects of our visual field. In a thanksgiving prayer, we bring our minds to our connections with all living beings. When we do this fully, in those moments we will actually feel differently, most likely perceive differently, and it will change our sense of identity. There should be some noticeable subjective shift while doing a practice. This indicates a real shift in consciousness.

To Develop Mastery of the Mind: This term comes from a Pali term, samadhi. I like it because people seem to deeply enjoy the pursuit of mastery. If the term does not work for you, throw it out. You could called is "suspended attention" or "executive functioning." The important part is that it develops the capacity to give the mind a specific task, to hold the attention, and to gain increasing facility with the task. For instance, in a body-scan meditation, the first task is to feel any sensations on the body while sweeping the awareness slowly and methodically from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. We train the mind that if it wanders, it is lovingly and firmly called back to attention. Again and again. It is trained. It is a learn-able skill. We increase facility by sharpening the awareness of each sensation. We dissect and dissolve gross sensations until we can feel the more nuanced sensations beneath.

To Strengthen the Noticing Mind: This is the mind that is not the reacting mind. It's not being in the movie of your thoughts, opinions, and reactions about the world. It's being able to step back and see that movie. To see the surrounding world as it is more clearly. And then, with the noticing mind, to realize that you can choose different actions. Wonder, detached observation, and shifting identity can all help increase this faculty.

Compassion: The more we know about ourselves, the more we understand others.

Some Characteristics

Consistency: This is key. A contemplative practice is different than a peak experience or a class. It is committing to the "same" practice daily. Honestly, it has to be daily. Of course, if you beat yourself up for missing a day, then you miss the point. But if you are too lax, then it's time to stand by Cupcake and recognize the kind of strength and wisdom such a practice is developing. It's all there in you. This is just a very skillful way to develop it. When we practice on the good days and the bad and the mediocre, it teaches the mind that it can engage with the above reasons in almost any condition. We practice when we are tired and hungry and full and happy and goofy and bored. We learn that there is a mind and bedrock of our being that is not really affected by these conditions. This really helps us when we end up going through some major life challenges. The mind inherently knows, through training, that the conditions will pass and it can maintain some buoyancy through the storm.

Wonder: Not-knowing. Curiosity. Adventure. The world is strange and we don't know almost anything. A contemplative practice has the characteristic of revealing this and letting us step into the place of a kind of child-like discovery.

Empowerment: We feel empowered by the practice because, literally, our consciousness is bigger. We discover new attributes of ourselves, and we realize new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. This could be physically getting stronger with less pain or it could be developing our attitude of gratitude.

The Choice

If you are just starting to establish a practice, it will probably be a process of courting something that you will actually do. This means paying attention to what you are curious about or drawn to. It often means testing out different things. Here are two suggestions:

Parameters: When you try a new practice, give it a fair trial and use the trial as a way to develop yourself. I suggest giving each one at least a 30 day trial. Do it daily. Choose an attainable goal. If thirty minutes a day seems impossible, then do 15. Start where you are. But stretch your edge. Make sure the parameter you choose is not too easy. And make sure that you are actually setting aside the time and space to fully do this one thing. You aren't doing tai chi while you are drinking your coffee, even if you are moving your arm mindfully. It's great to do that, but it does not replace the practice.

Know that, eventually, you'll get the most in your life if you dig into one practice for a very long time... maybe a lifetime. It's the best teacher. We just have to choose the one that works the best for us. All will have their flaws.

Traps: Beware of some traps. Too hard or too soft is disaster. The practice is, in part, teaching yourself the good balance here.

Too lax with your practice, and it won't really help you. If you are not "showing up" to the practice, it won't cultivate the benefits. Be ruggedly honest about whether or not you are doing it. Track yourself. Remember Cupcake.

Too rigid is just as much disaster. If you make it a commandment and use the practice as way to control yourself and your world, it will harm you and your relationships. You have to be able to adjust if you find that you aren't doing it, or that it is not working in your life. 

The middle way is best. The Chinese say, "Not hard. Not soft. Firm." Remembering the essential ingredient of Wonder will keep you on the middle path every time. I've just released an entire book about Wonder. Read it when you get a chance!

There is plenty more to say about Contemplative Practice. But this is at least a good foundation to work with. It is your journey, and it is actually a beautiful one. So much of you awaits discovery...

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A Reminder from The Velveteen Rabbit

Sometimes a tiny story yields such graceful reminders...

From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:

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"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

On Weather and Darkness

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This morning as the first strong storm of our stormy season rattled the windows, I became compelled to share some thoughts regarding the coming winter's weather and darkness.

Some of you have not worked with me through a winter, so this environment may be new to you.

In general, I would like to offer some ways to think about being outside during these times. I have found over the years that the weather can pose its own challenges as we are outside, and often these challenges are great opportunities. The first challenge is the mental one. When we are warm and dry and we hear the gusts and the spitting rain outside, see the darkness and consider the cold, there is usually an urge to stay in our comfortable, controlled environments.

I propose that the environmental conditions directly correspond to our personal edges of growth and empowerment. Almost every time we actually get ourselves to don our appropriate clothing and step outside, we find that it is not as bad as the thought told us. In fact, there is a part of us that rises to meet the weather. A strong and vibrant part. An alive and responsive part. 

For the mind, the thoughts about the weather are similar to our thoughts about any other challenge or stuck pattern that is not accurately perceived and is not actually serving us. We think it is harder and scarier than it is. Some part says to avoid it. But when we step into it and meet it, we find that we are more resilient and resourced than we thought we were. We find beauty and aliveness in the thing the mind wanted to avoid. We learn our power.

In the outdoors, we witness just how alive and nuanced the wild world is during these winter months. Birds, mammals, plants, fungus, and more are living full thriving lives. It is a source of inspiration if we look.

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So, I suggest holding this simple awareness as the days shorten and the storms come. What happens if you get outside anyway? What do you discover about the world and yourself that you would have never known if you had stayed in a building?

I encourage each person to consider how this fits for you, and I welcome a conversation about it if you feel compelled. Together, we can decide where you fit on the outdoor appointment spectrum and what your needs are.

Please know that I will continue to have appointments outdoors all year long, and my in-town appointments will solely be outdoors.

In the winter, at the North Shore Rd property, I do have the ability to have fire and/or shelter and/or an occasional indoor appointment in my office space. 

One practical point that will seriously help you to find joy and meaning in the outdoor experience is to come prepared.

This means to have rain gear and layers. A hot drink is a good idea. I will have butt pads to sit on and I often bring tea (but not always.) 

If the weather is dangerous or just too bad for any reason, we can reschedule. In my experience this is actually a rare case.

Feel free to contact me a call about this if you'd like.

I wish you all wonderful days and I look forward to being in the vibrant outdoors with you in the coming season.

 

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The Anxious I, Wild Thoughts, and the Big Us

In a documentary about her life and work, Marilyn Waring once reflected that she had developed the art of the dumb question. If you don’t know who Marilyn Waring is, you should. Serving as both the first female and the youngest member ever of New Zealand Parliament (beginning her service at age 23), she was uncomfortably oriented toward the truth. Asking simple and direct questions of other officials, employees, consultants, and aides became her forte. Before making decisions concerning the government, the land, and the people, she wanted to understand what she was doing and why certain systems were in place. As she reports, her questions were often met with befuddlement. Politicians were supposed to know how things were run and not to question the system itself. This propelled Marilyn much further down the path of what became her life’s work. Marilyn Waring’s life’s work is a rabbit hole for you, dear reader, to voluntarily hurl yourself into should you so choose. Just remember that Alice was never the same once she had visited Wonderland and that rabbit hole might leave you wondering why our land and our economy are at odds. Be warned.

Now, to be fair, my job for my people here by the drainage of the Nooksack River into Salish Sea is to counsel and mentor: to be one more person working to help us stay oriented toward health. My job is not overtly political and does not overtly entail facing the titan of the Economy. I love people. I love the natural world. However, as John Muir famously wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” I know from the woods that I can’t understand an oyster mushroom without eventually paying attention to the red alder on which it grows. To look deeply at that one wonder of a mushroom, I have to consider how the body of its host is so much of what composes it, and how that host is composed of the soil, the water, the air, the sun. Eventually, I have to see where the alder likes to grow, how it flourishes in the disturbed places, fixes the nitrogen to make good soil for the next succession of species. I have to look at the ecosystem itself, then the bioregion; I come to see how the Pacific Ocean is an inextricable part of that little mushroom. In the same way, I cannot serve the health of my community members, the health of the land, and my own health without looking directly at these bigger picture circumstances that are forming us at each moment. So, as a good naturalist, I quote Marilyn Waring and as a good counselor I take her counsel and ask dumb questions.

I have some big ones. Hold onto your heart, reader, (it’s a good heart) and please tell yourself that you can ride the rollercoaster of this whole paragraph before you commit to armoring up that little big-organ of love and courage. We’ll start with the harder questions: Why do I work with grade schoolers who are terrified of their academic performance? Why do I see high schoolers who are too disheartened by the state of the world and their lives in it to get out of bed? Why do I have college students who write me emails apologizing for missing class because of anxiety attacks? Why do I work with parents who have been trying to keep secret the ball of anxiety that feels like an upset autumn swarm of yellowjackets in their midsections? I suspect that every person reading these questions has a host of answers and that they are good ones. I suspect that it feels heavy on most hearts: big like a titan or a Goliath or the Economy. Which makes me ask more dumb questions: how is this all possible when I can see in every single person I have ever worked with a noble heart and a resource of deep wisdom? How can depression and anxiety maintain its hold on a person on a summer day when the hermit thrush with its bold chest blesses their world with the grace and grit of its mythical song?

A good counselor must work and pray (in whatever personal form it takes) to orient her or himself to truth. What else but the truth would one counsel in good conscience? So then I ask, what is the truth here? The truth that I can see is that answering these questions logically very quickly becomes a fractal task. It’s like trying to dig out a single web of mycelium only to find that it extends dozens of square miles and is intimately intertwined with every tree and plant it touches. There’s some use in understanding things this way, but it’s not always a good method. I think of myself as having a fairly good level of self-discipline and I’ll be the first to say that I’d drop my trowel after about thirty feet of that task. Media gives us a lot of information and we are culturally trained problem solvers. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than any one of us could possibly consume in seven lifetimes. But all of this information just doesn’t seem to be consistently giving us power. What gives us power? What answers to these questions feel like they work?

Some of us, myself included at times, might raise eyebrows at the suggestion of feeling an answer. Rest assured that feeling an answer does not mean giving the brain organ a time out. In fact, it means using more of our brains: including some of the deeper, older sections that happen to be guiding a large part of our behavior. Feeling an answer is more like having a relationship than it is like doing a math problem. Mathematics can provide elegant and precise solutions to some of the most complex problems imaginable without directly using a single living cell to perform the task. That is wonderous indeed, but our matters concern the web of relationships produced from the intellect, the emotions, and the core biological functions of living organisms. We well know that mathematical equations and strict logic alone don’t make for a very hot date or do much to resolve that heated argument with your significant other. Alone, they won’t lead us out of fear.

Inside the human brain, we find, according to one well-established theory, three layers of brain- each with distinct functions and each correlating with very different times in our evolutionary history. You can read more on the triune brain theory and I suggest you do if you aren’t already familiar with it (here’s one book suggestion that spends some time with this theory then goes on with some compelling education on the biology of emotions and relationships.) For the purposes of this article, let’s just settle for a simplified summary of a few key functions of said brain layers. The reptilian brain is the simplest and closest brain to the center- it controls your basic life functions and fight or flight responses among other things. The mammalian or limbic brain is the next layer. It contains processes around most emotions, connection with offspring and other beings, and play. Finally, there is the rational mind, most developed in humans- which handles reasoning, awareness, conscious motor control, and more. Subjectively, we might have a whole lot of rational thought going on about the object of our anxiety, but that rational thought, it turns out, is often working to simply come up with an explanation for experience. A very large part of experience is the nervous system state which may include arousal into fight or flight and the conditions of the emotional landscape. The nervous system state and emotional activity radically change the entire tenor and perspective of experience, thus changing the rational mind’s entire story for what is happening. Like finding something hilarious when you’ve had a few too many hot totties and obnoxious when you didn’t, our mental state (thus our biochemical state) authors much how we respond to what is happening in our experience. A more charged example: every one of us has felt attacked by someone, fought back or left the scene abruptly, felt angry and scared about what happened, and then had our rational brain tidily craft a story fraught with generalizations about how terrible the person is and how unfairly they acted. Every one of us has had the experience where, later, after the reptilian and mammalian brains have calmed down, that same rational brain looking at that same event came up with a very different story in which we realized that we were, at least partially, in the wrong. All fear is irrational. The rational thought and the fear are radically different languages serving radically different functions in our beings.

So, in order to work with such questions as I asked earlier, it’s essential to pay attention to how we feel and what state we are in. If we are trying to figure out why so many of us are feeling anxiety, the answer might not be predominantly in the language of the intellect. What we might need to do is navigate ourselves away from anxiety states first in order to be able to see the experience in a different light and find the perspective, the logic, and the language to better understand what is essentially going on. Instead of fixating on the malady, we can orient ourselves toward the experiences of less anxiety, of greater confidence, competence, and courage. Drawing from Gandhi, we might need to be the change we wish to see in order to understand it.

Joanna Macy, in her speech at Bioneers, cites Carl Jung’s belief that at the core of each human life is a question that that person must pursue. A person is fortunate if she or he discovers it. Joanna Macy learned her question: “how do I become fully present to my world, present enough to enjoy it and be useful, while at the same time knowing that we, the human species, are progressively destroying this world?”

Let’s sit with that for a moment.

How does it feel in your body to ask that question?

As Joanna has sat with that question for her long life, the resultant journey of feeling in her body and orienting toward being present in the face of difficult truth brought her to the work of grieving and empowerment. Her work reveals a path toward deep feeling and awareness with an amazing resiliency, joy, and courage. I know of few people as alive as she. I also know of few people with as vast a sense of Self as she. Explicitly and interestingly, her work became, in part, the work of extending her identity into the world. She became a kind of rock star of connection. Let’s unpack what I mean by this and how it relates to our personal experiences of anxiety and to our everyday lives here on the edge of the Salish Sea:

We are reminded every day overtly and covertly about why we should be afraid of our world. Strewn throughout a lot of media that is bombarding our precious little earthborn nervous systems and lodging itself in the memory banks of our consciousness are images of pervasive violence and the knowledge of the failing support systems of our wonderous biospheric home. Though many people in the Pacific Northwest don’t witness major violence first hand every day and enjoy a fairly robust wilderness nearby, we are conditioned to a low-lying state of terror and disempowerment. We share in a story where the problems are too big. People seem to be incapable of changing because we are too simple and immediate to think in planetary terms or embrace an abstraction of suffering so far away from us. But, what if, as Naomi Klein and many others suspect, we actually do care? What if we care very much? What if we are more connected than the slim line of our culturally dictated consciousness can fathom? What if this connection and care is making some of us feel small and sick, some of us frantically patchworking palliative care solutions, others reactionarily wanting the suffering to end by expediting an apocalypse? What if it is all, deepest down, because of caring and connection? What if the minds and hearts of our children are directly connected to our planetary state? What if this is a taproot of our adult anxieties as we usher our children into these uncertain conditions?

Take a moment and open the window or step outside, maybe just listen to the nearest bird song. If you have the opportunity, watch that feathery flitting songspinner bounce the tree limbs or swim through the ocean of air. Feel the edges of your eyes as you watch. Feel the temperature of your chest and the pace of your breath. Imagine yourself as that bird and how it must feel as you so small and light and full of vibrancy. Take just one moment to become that little child you still are inside and wonder at the elegance of the nearest plant. How it thought its way into that shape of being so that there will never be another expression like that one. Can you create a space, an acceptance in your experience of reality, if even just for a minute, where you can think and be like that plant? How does it feel in your body when you allow for this?

Maybe one reason for the anxiety and depression and host of other illnesses is because the bounds of our thinking itself is not offering generative responses to our problems. We don’t need solutions within the way of thinking- we need new ways of thinking. As our muppet-haired saint of science is said to have reminded us, “we cannot fix our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

Let’s pause for a second.

That’s really neat. It’s actually invigorating to think about. It summons the blood, as some would say and gets that spirit of adventure alive within us. Our job is to figure out how to think differently. What a great puzzle. And, truthfully, we homo sapiens love puzzles. We have had to puzzle through new ways of thinking plenty of times in our big history: tools, fire, ice ages, agriculture; we are made for this stuff. Any good group facilitator knows that if you bombard an audience with answers, they’ll eventually fall asleep. If you give them unsolved questions or make sure there are missing pieces in your presentation…

Yes, this is the part where, logically, I had better state that I don’t have the answer for how to do this. In fact, what I’m suggesting is that none of us individuals possibly can have the answer. It’s not an individual job. It’s not not an individual job either.

What if the vehicle for our empowerment and generative solutions is stepping into that caring and connection? What if it is the story that is the problem? Individualism and independence yield such tremendous gifts. As a mentor and counselor, I suspect a full half of my time is spent dancing with the individual identity and courting the arrival of that personal power, the personal gift that has not yet matured or that they are obscuring in some way. The other half is spent on connection: connecting the self to the big, dynamic world that is constantly a part of creating that self. An individual can be part of something greater and still be an individual. If you hold out your hand and make a fist, does the hand go away? It’s a fist and a hand at the same time- it just depends on what you’re paying attention to.

The above may seem obvious. Everyone has some sense of a personal self and a sense of being a part of something bigger: a family, a country, an organization… The story that we carry in this culture, however, seems pretty heavily weighted on that boot strap pulling I doing all the work. What if we are focusing too much on that individual I? Imagine for a moment your awareness floating up above you, expanding to a bird’s eye view so that you can see all the people moving about their day, all the trees bending under the changing winds and dropping sticks that shift a person’s path for a moment, the weather moving from sun to cloud to rain and all the little ways the living beings respond to those patches of light or the dry spots, the push and pull of the work clock as people are called from one place to another; spiral out further and imagine you can see even bigger slices through time: the grand movements of our forests and mountains being funneled into cities by trains and trucks, the call of the lighted world as our planet passes into dark phases of night and how the people are moved to the lighted spaces until they are moved enough by the planet to fall into sleeps, a good book or a viral video infusing the culture with a little shift in language and thought, the changes in legislation that flow like a ripple through our civilized world- shifting behavior and pace in school days, in work places, in homes, calling each person to shift their patterns just a little; each of us just a little at all times- being moved by our community, our weather, our plants, our animals, our oceans, our global community, the movements of our solar system. Now, with that mind, imagine how silly it must seem to think that you are fully responsible for your own health and wealth. Imagine how inaccurate it would seem for a parent to think that she or he is solely responsible for the raising of a child. How much is out of our immediate individual control? How much pressure and pain do we put on ourselves in believing that we must control these things?

That said, we are a part of these things. We are the movements of all of these relationships. What if the I is contributing to the bigger Us that is doing some serious work right now? What if each one of us is (like?) a neural network in a bigger mind? A neuron cannot hold the consciousness of the full mind, but it is a vital component of the system. A neural network needs healthy cells: healthy individuals. Part of how an individual cell gains its health and its power is in its organization and orientation in the larger body. Taking a healthy heart cell and putting it in your liver is not going to help anything out for the cell or the body. Dr. D.W. Smithers once argued that cancer is not a disease caused by a rogue cell dividing and multiplying until the host is destroyed. He said that it may be a disorder of cellular organization. He wrote, “cancer is no more a disease of cells than a traffic jam is a disease of cars. A lifetime of study of the internal combustion engine would not help anyone understand our traffic problems.”

Thinking this way may take some letting go of all of those weighty expectations on our personal ego and individual performance. Most likely letting go won’t correspond with a heaven-parting epiphany of gestalt understanding. But we may just feel a pressure release. We might start to think more clearly and those anxieties may drop along with our expectations. We may actually start to perform better and feel healthier, and interestingly enough, we may actually do a better job contributing to a healthy systemic response to the challenges before us. What is it like to purposefully enjoy participating in the big mind’s movement? What cosmic purpose and beauty could be felt as the cell that is instrumental in the orchestral creation of the heart organ? What if we are a bigger human mind? What if we are a biosphere figuring ourself out and human consciousness is just a part of the thought process? Can a blood cell act like an egg? No, but both are part of the body. Can I think like a five hundred year old douglas fir? No, but we are working together to create the bigger system.  

Maybe in finding “our place in the family of things,” as Mary Oliver writes, we are finding our humility. Maybe we are also finding our power.

So, back to those questions from early on in the article. Practically, how do we respond to the anxieties we feel and to the big systemic challenges we perceive?

As individuals, we can know ourselves and listen to our own landscapes. We can learn how the world of our own being works. We can work to be a healthy cell in a greater organ that is part of a greater organism: a healthy person contributing to make healthy people to make a healthy world. Considering the workings of our full triune brain and our full body, thinking very much includes emotional landscape and whether or not we are aroused into fight or flight. If we feel anxiety, it’s our individual and communal duty to learn how to move out of it before trying to solve any big problems. The state of an individual nervous system is like a climate in which one lives. It dictates so much of the conscious rational thought. You won’t find a salmon in a desert. No cactus in a rain forest. Such climates will not support such beings. You won’t find the truly courageous thoughts in the land of fear.

So, one way is to engage in a call and response with your own nervous system. To have a relationship. This means a lot of questioning, listening, and experiencing something new. What can you connect with to increase your sense of empowerment and decrease your anxiety-producing sense of pressure? What makes you feel truly, deeply, more happy when you do it? What increases your love for the world, yourself and others? What if we are to continually assess the performance of our own processors, our own minds in order to understand and establish truly regenerative response any challenges we face?

Gardens don’t plant themselves. It takes real work. You have to do it. You can plan a garden for as long as you want, but if you don’t do the work, you’re going to be eating that piece of paper you planned the garden out on instead of a season’s worth of fresh vegetables. You need to prepare the land, tend to the soil, cultivate the plants, and make sure they get everything they need. There are many steps in the process, and each step takes time and effort, and each step can be deeply appreciated.

 

A change of mind is radical by nature. You are growing a different garden.

The mind is such that repeated patterns get reinforced and become habitual. Habits will change when something else has more attractive force. Individualism wrought by culture is a set mental pattern. Including a biotic or ecological identity in our mindset means actually seeing that all things are connected, that it is impossible to separate the trees from our lungs. It means being bigger. This will take practice and repeated experiences to become a baseline. Thankfully, this mindset is attractive by nature, as it offers an anxiety release corresponding with deep empowerment. With this bigger identity, we may realize that a bounded nutshell of a single mind enjoys the infinite space and boundless possibility of connection. What it may not contain, as a single noggin, is the ability to hold the entire picture. But we are an integral part of the bigger process, the bigger mind that is holding that picture just outside of the property lines of a singular conscious experience.

How do we cultivate this identity? One good answer: Go to the wilderness. It’s the primal soup from which we all arise. The wilderness does not have to fit the Wilderness Act’s definition of a community “untrammeled by man.” I’m talking about the depth wilderness. The principle. The wilderness in the sidewalk crack. In the robin’s song at the edge of the freeway. In the moonlight on the water. The wilderness in your red blood cells. Every single cell inside of you is born of the same heritage of billions of years of wilderness’s vibrant responses to ice ages, wastelands, and the rending apart of the earth itself. The wilderness survives and thrives.

Love that wilderness. Love that it is in you, a part of you, and you a part of it. When we look at the world and see the condition of our own hearts and minds and those of people we love and care about, perhaps we can see that deep self-love is the only way to rebound from an ailing biosphere and a seemingly insurmountable wall of grief.

Going to the wilderness means cultivating a relationship. It takes showing up. Take time to get to know the plants around you. Walk in the woods. Learn the birds. Eat wild foods. Re-member your place in the family of things. Like any other practice, start simple and attainable. One plant, one song. Five minutes a day. But keep growing. Listen to your body and see how your state changes. Know the feeling of your blood pressure dropping when your eyes see the green of chlorophyll. Feel your cortisol drop as you step into the woods. Sense how your immune system boosts as you inhale the chemicals released from evergreen trees.  Get outside with your kids. Fast from the distractions that will try to keep your old habit patterns intact. Make your health and your claiming of this birthright a priority. Do this with others, with a community. Make it fun. Make it interesting. Follow your passions and curiosity around this, and know that you are serving your own health and the health of the world entire. Create our health. Tend to the anxious I by thinking Wild thoughts and become that indomitable Big Us.

The Wonder of The Way

It is likely that in you is a childhood wonder-filled memory of how you felt when you first witnessed a seed birth life. Perhaps, it was a bean planted in a dixie cup or a sprinkling of carrot seed onto raw earth. If you can, give yourself the gift of returning to that wonder. The magic of a simple, small, hard, and seemingly thoughtless thing bursting into an intelligent curl of becoming- pushing out and up and down to root and stalk and simplest leaf.

Now, please, give yourself the gift of remembering the you that wondered. Your hand smaller, your breath lighter, the bounds of your world unchecked. In you, the capacity to let that little sprout fill your whole attention and become a world of its own.  Your mind mostly feeling the sensation of the mystery: that experience beyond words. Someday, down the line, your adult mind, would seek to build wordy bridges to that place. But in that moment of you, there was no bridge, just the dizzying vastness of wonder that a single seedling could give.

The seedling grew and the wonder continued. As days passed, a plant came forth. As the season passed, the plant grew flower and fruit and seed of its own. Seed enough for hundreds more. This, though you had and probably have no words to capture it, was the witnessing of cosmic Truth.

Somehow, that mute seed contained not the contents or even the blueprint for the mature and unique plant to come. There was no knowing what, exactly, the plant would look like. Rather, it mysteriously contained the way of the plant. The way. Resilient and responsive enough to meet all the unforeseen conditions of storm and drought, hoof and hand. The wonder-filled way that is conscious enough to know how to, if needs be, extend a pale stalk through a dark place or reach deep root through a dusty crumble of soil.

I have heard it said that humans are not born, humans are made. Perhaps, in that memory, you are bringing your mind back to a moment of your own becoming- when you shared the mystery of life with another being and your two beings imprinted the living language of creation on each other. Two sprouts given a way to learn the world, responding to each other and each making up an I that can never be duplicated.   

In a walk through a sword fern laden path, a client and I asked one of the deepest and most challenging questions we can ask as humans: how do we raise our children to be prepared for the unexpected changes that they will face in their lifetimes? What happens when they are looking for an answer and a permanent rule for life and we cannot honestly provide this? What if we have no blueprint to give them? The redcedar bows above bent to the breezes and a garrulous flock of kinglets passed through, turning insects to bird to soil. We both watched and listened.

The kinglets, whose miniature bodies work daily to survive hawk and frost and feline chortled with such vibrancy that it seemed impossible to imagine them as anything but joyful of their lives. In some strange language, older than our species, they seemed to teach. What if our job is not to provide permanent answers? What if our job, like the seed, is to teach the way? What if, though it breaks our hearts for the uncertainty and the risk involved, our job is to raise our children to be vulnerable enough to listen to the world and courageous enough to respond in ways that we, and they, could never have imagined? What if we, like our ancestors, have a duty to raise children with the same degree of resiliency that got us through the ice age? What if that way of raising, though challenging and vulnerable, actually has the benefit of providing them, and us with the opportunity for a more joyful and meaningful life?

As we listened to the kinglets and the subtle song of the cedars in the breeze, the wonder seemed to push its way out of the deep soil of my being. With that childhood wonder we watched the world becoming itself. We watched the way. We watched how each being was uniquely navigating the same essential conditions as we were in such a way that they could flourish and problem solve and pass on their experience. In that wonder, the wild world entire became a resource for wisdom and invention. It contained that ferocious vibrancy, that spirit of yes, necessary to meet challenges. It contained the awareness and the subtlety to listen and be responsive to other beings and to the environment. What if one essential piece of teaching the way of humanity is to help our children to cultivate a relationship with the other beings with whom we grew up on this planet? What if we are most whole, most confident, creative, vibrant, and compassionate when we know how to listen to and be a part of our world community? What if that kind of thinking and being is a major part of what will help our children respond to the potentially life-challenging conditions ahead of them? What if it contains a sense of belonging, of joy, of trust, of deep knowledge of one’s own resiliency, of the power of Life, and of the infinite potential of Living? The taproot of the word human is the Sanskrit for earth.  The plants teach us very simply that in order to grow up, we must also grow down.

As the kinglets passed and the breeze died, our conversation stirred again, and it turned to listening and paying attention. It turned not to the children but to the adults. We recognized that children do need to feel safe and to trust in the competence of their parents. So, in lieu of a static answer, one thing a parent can do is model behavior. The happy and healthy responsibility is for the parents to keep that sense of wonder and to cultivate that connection. Rather than providing an unchanging map, we navigate the dynamic wilderness of being alongside our progeny. We teach them, by example, how to pay attention, to learn, and to find resources. We teach them a way. We know that, like those little plants deep in our memory, we have no way of predicting their future shape. They will each uniquely use the way that they have been taught. They will build their own relationships and learn from them. They will flower, fruit, and seed in their own way. Though we have no control of the outcomes, we have the power to live the way in each moment. We have the wonder to appreciate the unexpected becoming that we will witness for the rest of our days. We have the love to keep going and to pass it on.  

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Extrinsic Rewards on the Path: A Letter to GMA Families

Dear Grassroots Martial Art Community,

As some of you know, this year I have made the decision to buy T Shirts for the second year students. This may seem like a pretty simple decision to most of you, but it did come after much deliberation on my part. I don't want to get too wordy here or overly philosophical. I simply want to share some points of consideration.

The main schools that I trained in did not have belts or any outward sign of accomplishment. Accomplishment was something you showed through your actions and came through from the respect you earned over time from your training partners. This is a powerful path and I believe it yields some deep teachings. I've seen too many martial art schools become very business oriented and manage to extract money from families through “belt testing.” I've also seen many students become fixated on the belt as the accomplishment rather than the skills. Honestly, I've come across a lot of fairly unskilled black belts in such schools.

In general, our culture often uses extrinsic reward and material objects to incentivize growth and development. As all parents know, this can be a great practical tool from time to time. As all of us know, sometimes it is a big boost to have some outward recognition of all the personal work that you have done. The challenge before us is one of balance. My job as guide is to make sure that the extrinsic rewards are skillfully placed to inspire the students to further their personal growth journey and have more consequent experiences of intrinsic reward.

Costumes are a very ancient thing in human culture. They show what role we are playing. We all have a primal understanding that specific clothing can have strong meaning. That said, having specific T Shirts to mark how many years a person has been training can serve many purposes for the kwoon. The students can take pride in their costume and they may work harder because of it. First year students, who do not yet have a T Shirt, will look to the Second Years for guidance. This will also, hopefully, inspire more growth for the Second Years, and will give the First Years something to look forward to.

As a counselor and mentor, I am focused on helping these young people on their path to authenticity, agency, responsibility, honor, sensitivity, and empowerment. I know that young people in our culture are developing very important ego structures that will help them navigate the world and find their power. This is a vital foundation block upon which they can build the skills and development necessary to eventually graduate to full adulthood. It really does take a village to raise a child. As one member of the village focused on raising our young people, my job is to be deliberate with my actions while guiding or counseling. I must ask what actions will best serve them toward these growth goals.

All that said, we have T shirts and they look good! They are from a local printer and the adult small sizes are organic cotton to help lower our impact. Child sizes did not have an organic option. I am asking for parents to contribute for each T shirt nearly at cost. They were $11.53 a piece, so I am asking $13 to cover gas and time spent making them.

Thank you all so much for your care, your time, and your support. This is a great class, and I'm honored to be guiding.

Be well and enjoy each day,

Matt

Fire by Friction Class at WWU

Come Join Eli Loomis and Matt Fogarty for a Fire by Friction Class at WWU's Outback Farm

March 7, 2015

10am to 3pm

Ages 15 to Adult

$25 by card/$20 cash

Scholarships available

Something inexplicable shifts in your psyche when you learn how to make fire directly from the land. It's a powerful practice, it's a lot of fun, it can be challenging, and it's a birthright.

Come join a great crew of people and make fire! We'll focus on the bow drill. Matt and Eli will bring the essential materials and will provide instruction.

What you should bring: 1) Some food and drink for yourself; 2)a knife (preferably a straight edged, fixed blade); 3) appropriate clothing for being outside for 5 hours 

Contact squareonecounsel@gmail.com if you would like to join.

A Farewell Letter and the Beginning of Square One Counsel

Hello Explorers Families,

Four years ago, in August 2010, I was in my second year of my masters program at Naropa University. I was tasked by the university to do community work by putting into action what our program was studying. I called a dear friend, Jennifer Hahn, and asked her if she had any ideas for where I could perform this service learning project. She put me in contact with Aimee Frazier. Within a couple weeks, I was volunteering for the Boys Explorers Club. A couple weeks after that, I sat in a circle with Aimee, Drew Butler, Randy Leventhal, and Jenny Lee Rae, and was welcomed as the new member of an emerging organization that we were calling “Wild Whatcom.”

At the time, Boys Explorers Club was very young. We had two regular groups and were just welcoming a third into the fold. Drew had begun the program with another man, Thomas, who shortly afterward moved to Seattle. So much was up in the air. We were blessed with tremendous support from the other members of Wild Whatcom. Aimee offered us endless advice, templates, and coaching on how to run our program. All that said, when it came to the work in the field and the actual planning process, we were on our own.

That year was a lot like the process of falling in love for me. I was so passionate about the work and filled with ideas. I was excited to work with Drew and figure out how to create a healthy culture of co-leadership. When it came to actually putting those ideas and inspirations into action, there was so much to learn. Entire outings came and went where Drew and I wondered if we were walking our talk, if we were actually helping to build healthy nature and community connection. We learned quite rapidly that there were many elements of the Girls Explorers Club curriculum that did not work for groups of boys. Drawing board after drawing board, outing after outing, game by game, skill by skill, we grew and learned alongside the boys. We gleaned from the inspiration and knowledge of our Wild Whatcom colleagues. We listened to the boys and to the Land, and, slowly, all of us together crafted a program that was unique and had integrity.

Looking back on this now, there is a lump in my throat as I search through seemingly endless images in my mind of roaring waterfalls, hidden orchids, curious mink tracks, and red-legged frogs, of jagged mountain tops and open tide flats, of chilling downpours, relentless sun, and brilliant snows. I remember vividly each boy that I had the honor to sit by as he navigated the challenge and terror of wasp stings, cuts, fears of heights, interpersonal challenges, of being wet and cold and tired and missing home. I remember vividly times when a group of young people made my heart pause in awe before the gloriousness of the human spirit. I remember yelling like a frustrated coach- with such passion and love- at a squirrelly bunch of emerging adults as they learned their place and their way in the wilderness, knowing in my heart that we were providing a space for them to become full, caring, and empowered adults in the world.

I have had the honor of working alongside other men, as mentors and as volunteers, who carry passion and vision, an ethic of service, and a deep and abiding love for the world. Together, we have created an internal community of adults who are focused on walking our talk, on serving the mission, and on dedicating our work toward the wellness of future generations. Some of these men are currently serving as mentors in Boys Explorers Club. They will work with the 144 boys that are now in the program.

There are not many things I know. True knowledge is hard won. It is a rarity— a singular jutting rock in the roaring river of uncertainty that we must all swim through in life. I do know this: each boy is medicine. Within each and every one of our young people is a great bundle of medicine that offers healing to the land, to other people, and to the adults who work with him. Each boy is the keeper of immeasurable wisdom. I know that when an adult sees this and works with it, something magical happens. That medicine becomes unlocked and it spreads through every relationship. The land does become healthier. The adults become healthier. That boy gains self-knowledge, community connection, the power of morality, and the unerring ally of depth wisdom. I know that we truly are all connected, and to serve the land, and to serve another is to serve oneself.

I know that we still have much work to do as a community. Wild Whatcom is cultivating health for our communities in a deep and enduring way. The medicine that Wild Whatcom offers is not just for youth. As adults, we cannot fixate all of our work on the youth. We must work on our own healthy connections, meaningful relationships, ethic of service, and sense of exploration. The next generation responds ten times more to what we do over what we say. A good farmer nourishes the soil. Healthy plants are only produced by good soil. Each plant takes nutrients out of the soil to grow, and if the farmer removes that plant from the soil cycle, then she must amend that soil. As adults, we are the soil in which our young people can grow. Burnout and stress of any kind indicate a lack of nutrients. We must be creative in amending the soil. We must create conditions that allow for us, as adults, to grow in health, to establish a sense of belonging to our place, to resource our body-based wisdom, and to cultivate healthy relationships with one another. There are tools we can use, and these tools must be shared.

Personally, I am carrying a vision with me into this next work. I will continue to work with youth. I will also work with others to problem solve how to build resources for adults in our community. I’ll begin by using more of my psychology training. I will focus on counseling, coaching, and mentoring one-on-one or in small groups. More will grow from here over time, but it is best to start with a single project and allow it to grow organically. This work will be allied with Wild Whatcom and will continue to serve the greater community.

Parents, I want to thank you for all of your unwavering support throughout the years. It has been such an honor to co-create this community with you, and I have no doubt that we are all better off because of it.

Finally, I’d like to address my fellow Explorers directly:

Right now, somewhere in every yard, there is a feather lying close to the ground. If you got up right this moment and searched your own yard very hard, you could find it. It is aging. The barbs are starting to fail and invisible mites are probably hard at work taking the whole thing apart. If you come at the right time, you may even see an ant taking a piece of this feather back to his nest. The feather belonged to a bird- maybe an oregon junco or an english sparrow, a house finch, an american crow, or even a northern flicker. If you stare at this feather for long enough, you would begin to think about the bird that shed it. You would wonder where the bird is now. Maybe it is flying at this moment, maybe perched on a twig, maybe sleeping in some dense foliage, maybe he was eaten by a cat or a sharp-shinned hawk. You could look at the feather to find some clues. If you look in the right way, you will notice whether or not the feather was shed or if it was plucked out by a predator. You might look around to see where the bird might have been living or the path the local cat likes to take. This is happening right now in your back yard. That feather, that is out there, is the beginning of a whole path of adventure. If you kept asking questions about it, you would eventually know your whole place- every mammal and bird and plant. You would have powers of awareness that could take an instant picture with your mind and remember everything. You would know how to move like a cat or bound like a deer. It is all there… connected to that one feather… all you have to do is look and keep looking. The more you look, the more you see.

I have had the honor of Exploring with you for many years now. We have been like a flock of birds flying together. We have explored many places. We have played many games. We have learned and grown so much together.  I have changed so much because of you, and I am so thankful for it.

I will stay in Bellingham and be a part of your flock for as long as I am alive. However, I am leaving Explorers Club so that I can stretch my edge and grow. Explorers Club is yours to take care of and to help grow. You will meet new mentors and you will learn so many things from them. You will also teach them about Explorers Club and about the land. Never forget that this is your club. Never forget that every mentor and every Explorer that comes and goes leaves a story behind, like a feather. Never forget that a single feather tells a very big story. Every feather was once a bird and every feather will become the soil. Never forget that the soil becomes a plant, and that plant becomes a part of you… through breath and sometimes through your stomach. All things are connected. Please remember that as long as we live, we will be connected, and I am so thankful for that.  If you see me in town, I expect you to shout “Hide!” or at least come up and say hello. Whenever you see a feather on the ground, I’d like you to remember me and every other person that has been a part of your life, and remember that we are all working together as a part of the same earth. You always have support.

Thank you so much for Exploring with me.

Enjoy every day,

Matt