Seeing Through Native Eyes

Let’s go for a walk.
Leave your phone, we’re not taking any pictures today….
Instead, let’s pay attention to what we’re paying attention to.

Many of us in our modern lives, I could suggest, have become detached from ourselves and our ‘place’. Easy access, electronic, convenience, mechanised, better, smarter, faster ….attention economics are powerful, well considered and not necessarily aimed towards our benefit or ‘the good of the many’. Its been expertly designed to draw us in and hold us there for as long as possible. Have we been sold a technological dream, that isn’t that wholesome? Have we become tourists in a digital landscape that’s seeping into our real environment?

The Tourist; a voyeur, at the edge of experience, entertained, distracted but never fully immersed.

I’m as compelled as anyone else to take photographs to feed my personal social media ‘beast’….So I’d like to take a moment or two to step back….and remember how it used to be, just a short time ago really….where we came from…

Keeping a pen and paper journal is an amazing tool, it creates strong synaptic pathways and helps us recall events, places, observations….its been shown that reading from a physical book, rather than a screen is, for most people, much better for absorbing information. It excites other senses, so the experience is greater than the sum of its parts …this also applies to journaling….

Lets go for a walk,
….we’ll head along some old paths to those woods in the distance, I’ll tell you a few things I know along the way…..

First we’ll bring ourselves into the moment and try to relax, we have so much on our to-do list and so many concerns are brought to us daily that we can sometimes forget to just…..breathe….

I like to gently inhale through my nose until I’m almost full…then quickly breathe in a little more, before I breathe out slowly through my mouth…but you do what whatever works, this journey is for you….let’s carry on with an unusual meditation of our senses, you can stand, sit, close your eyes or keep them open, it doesn’t really matter….we’re just wanting to relax a little and check in with our bodies before we carry on. We’ll breathe regularly now, just paying attention to how that feels….

I’m sitting with my eyes open, gazing into the middle distance and naturally my awareness of periphery increases, less detail but we’ll notice more movement.

Lets be aware of those movements and how our breath is moving in and out.

There’s a smell in the air, I think its Gorse, a gentle coconut smell, the days warm enough for it…let’s soak that in for a moment, the smell of Gorse, the gentle movements in our peripheral vision, our breath moving in and out….

Can you hear the Skylark over the distant fields? High pitched and continuous babbling above the sounds of grass swaying in the breeze.

I’m shifting my focus to the sounds and smell, the feeling of breathing and the movements my unfocused eyes are registering.

I enjoy this….taking a moment to just be here.

We’ll keep walking along this path, as we walk we’re not likely to see as many animals as there are. Ahead of us they can hear us clearly and hide, or remain exquisitely still making the most of their clever camouflage. The squirrels of course will just climb to the top of unreachable branches to complain loudly, the Magpies might join in.

Behind us, once they’re certain the coast is clear…..they’ll carry on doing what they do.

If we were jogging and in that ‘Zone’ or on horseback, we might see more…….but that’s for another time.

I’m going to relax my focus as we walk along….try it. Softly gaze into the distance, you’ll still see the path but the edges of our vision will open again. We’ll tread a little slower now, the woods aren’t that far and we’ve got time.

I’ve noticed something on the path and bring my vision in to focus on it….an acorn. Another one hits the floor close by, the Squirrel that dropped it is alarmed, I think he’s surprised we got this close, but he doesn’t shout or grumble at us. We’ll keep calmly walking by and pay him little attention…..I open up my vision again as we continue. Its good practice to switch between both ways of looking.

The path feels somehow more solid beneath our feet…maybe we’re just starting to be a little more aware of where we are? It’s really nice, relaxing, we’re taking it in. The journey becoming the goal…..

….A quick movement! It’s funny how we both shifted our heads slightly to the left at the same time…you saw it too…a flashing dart of a Dragonfly chasing something. I focus intently to where I saw it last, then soften my gaze….I see no movement but the swaying grass and flowers. I cup my hands to my ears, palms facing forward and listen intently, there’s no buzzing sound. It’s headed off somewhere continuing its hunt, or has landed with a meal in it’s mouth.

The sun is warm, just above and behind us, I smile as I can see our shadows, slightly off to the right amongst bright flowers, following us along the path. Some people think they have a good sense of direction, its been proven that this is incorrect, but people can have good senses of observation…’ll need this in the woodland if you’re going to step off the beaten track…remember things you see…a mossy rock next to a pine tree, a cluster of yellow flowers looking up at the sky…make a story up as you go…a storyline. The imagination can be a powerful ally here…

Changing your perspective from standing to crouching, may reveal something you hadn’t previously noticed.

The smell of Gorse is still in the air as we get closer to the woods, now mingled with other deep notes….

Ahead I can see something towards the end of the path, there’s no movement, but it is an animal, grey/brown. We both focus in. Can you see it? Small, its back to us… We’re walking slowly, eyes focused, but your foot brushes a stone, throwing it along the trail. The noise makes it look up to us….A rabbit! It bounds away into the woods and disappears. A fox might have gotten closer…so lets change how we’re walking…..

We’ve both been walking slowly, taking in our surroundings, feeling the ground beneath our feet….so lets feel the ground a little more and walk as quietly as a Fox.

Pause a moment, allow your weight to rest on one foot, lift the other foot and bring it forward to step. Gently place your foot down on the side where your little toe is and feel the ground along your foots edge. Now slowly roll your foot onto the sole, feeling the ground as you do, if there’s a twig to snap or a stone underneath to unbalance you, maybe change its position, until you’re finally ready to place your weight on that foot and take your next step with the other. And so on. This is Fox walking. Let’s practice this a little, it’ll become second nature soon enough and you’ll walk much more quietly. Look ahead and soften your gaze into the distance….feel the ground as if your feet were hands (take your shoes off if you want)…as we’re walking like this, gently shift your vision from a wide angle to a focus on our path and back again…take your time……bring in other senses to your awareness too, I can smell the woodland much more now as the stony path gives was to leaves, I can hear the songs of woodland birds inside….
This is where I turn back, I’ve come as far as I need to today…..the rest of the journey is yours.

When you head into the woodland now, go wholeheartedly and fully aware….there are so many lessons in there. And a common language, that doesn’t have words…..the Fox, for instance has a vested interest in knowing why a Blackbird has called an alarm, as a Hawk will listen for the self centred chattering of young, inexperienced birds…. or as the bright Yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine will open when they sense the light of a distant star and follow it’s track through the canopy….

You’re not a tourist here….you’ll see it all through Native eyes.

Resources and inspiration

The Wilderness Awareness School – The work of Jon Young (the title of this piece has been borrowed from one of Jon’s lecture series) – Daniel – & The books of Tom Brown Jr

This TAKEOVER is occupied by Keith Matthews – a woodsman, forager & greenwood craftsman.

Keith has led sessions in bushcraft (including aspects of silent movement and nature awareness), foraging & greenwood crafts such as spoon and bowl carving, stool and chair making. Recently moved to Ireland with his partner, Keith continues to follow his passion for outdoor living.

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