FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
Mentoring: The Art of Becoming Connected
The crest of blonde hair thrashed as the boy knelt, stood and lunged while his fingers played with the fountain’s streaming water; hands busy as a raccoon cleaning a meal. I was there to get a drink on a hot midday. A thin geyser shot straight up. “Wow! That went far!,” Finch exclaimed. I ask him, “What else can the water do?” “I don’t know yet,” he replied, not looking up or missing a beat, stating questions to himself that started with, “What would happen if...?” It seemed like Finch might be there happily by himself all day. Finch is six years old. I was as fascinated with his superior problem solving as he was with the water.
I was at an international week-long workshop at a camp facility in the Northern California redwoods with over two hundred others from one to seventy years old. This Art of Mentoring week is the creation of Jon Young, Founder of 8 Shields Institute based in Santa Cruz, California.
Jon has researched and discerned the roots of nature connected community by studying indigenous people worldwide and the sustainable elements of their culture. The taproot of connection, Jon claims, is mentoring. Simply, a social environment where natural curiosity is blessed by an elder in its capacity to gently draw the mentee into insight, deeper questioning and individual discovery as the mentee develops relationship with the subject of inquiry through curiosity and interaction, its particulars and what it is connected to.
This is a parenting-style relationship where the mentor’s response to a mentee’s stories about a subject is just more questions about it, successive questions building upon previously answered ones, skillfully linking what the mentee has just come to understand with the direction their curiosity is leaning in, slowly and invisibly crystallizing in the mentee awareness of relationships.
The mentee finally realizes that all the questions which appeared unrelated for so long are related. That, for instance, “ah-ha! now I see - when the wren is still and quiet on that bush and not on this tree at sunset in the spring, it means that the weather will change tomorrow.”
Think of a time when some question you had held in the back of your mind for a while - maybe even years - finally presented its solution. Do you remember the feeling of when apparently disparate aspects came together? Do you remember where you were and/or who you were with? Some problem-solving part of your brain continued to wonder over and over this thing, not ever letting it go until the relationships became clear. How was your sense of connection to the subject affected? Did you feel more connected to others, perhaps more generous, kinder, more accommodating of others? You had a mentoring relationship with this subject and the solution to a question brought you into a stronger sense of connection in your life in some way. The mentoring culture is designed to connect people and cultivate happiness, confidence, competence and cooperation.
I grew up being mentored in animal tracking by the animals. No people guided me by asking ‘who’s track is that?’, or ‘what caused the bark to be removed from this tree?’ No one knew I was learning animal tracking not from people. I saw the tracks and scat on the ground, in the snow, mud, dirt, bent grass; ripped thin shoots of alder cut short and hair snagged on branches. I was curious because I was motivated to know. As a grade-school child walking through the Alaskan wilderness over a mile each way to school often alone, I needed to know which direction the cow moose and her calf were traveling and when the black bear had passed by. Sometimes I was wrong, the consequence being fleeing for my life.
The place mentored me. It taught me to question deeper, to never rest on the laurels of my assumptions; stay awake; use my imagination; tell the story of my experience (I secretly wrote stories and poetry of these experiences because I was a shy kid); answer my own questions, and that nature never lies, that what went wrong might be me making something into what it was not.
In the process of living a mentoring relationship with this place, I adapted to it, became part of it as it awakened inside of me, becoming deeply connected to it. Places had names I gave them based on what had happened there or what I learned there. For instance, the place on the trail where the charging cow moose with her calf surprised me became “The Ditch”, because I ‘ditched’ the weight of my school bag to run faster. The tiny creek where I learned wild animals are best not held in captivity by returning a caught frog to it I called, “Goodbye Creek”. I remember the image and feeling of these places vividly.
Where are there landmarks in your life which you have your private names for derived from a personal “ah-ha!” experience you had there? How would you compare that quality of connection to those places with the quality of connection you have with places whose names were derived from somebody else's imagination?
When you become curious about something and answer your own questions by yourself, do you feel impatient to share the story of your discovery? When you do tell it, what does it feel like when your listeners engage with your story by listening and gently tapping it with questions of interest? And how do their questions affect your connection to what you are speaking about? Is your curiosity enhanced, does the story deepen for you? How is your motivation affected by a listener imposing their own opinion, eclipsing your story with one of theirs or casting a judgment on the subject or your process of discovery? How do you respond to others telling a story about a discovery experience they had? How well do you gently tap their story with your curiosity that draws them deeper into their story, and so, their story deeper into the world with the offering of its wisdom?
This is a time-tested learning model refined over thousands of generations of humanity. The research shows conclusively the benefits to the individual and to social groups when connections are developed in a mentoring relationship based on encouraged curiosity, interactive problem-solving and storytelling. Connection to what one is doing, who one is with and the place one is at are strengthened. Intellectual, emotional, social and creativity quotients go up dramatically.
The disposition of this style of learning is in your bones. Through your ancestors being mentored by nature and they mentoring each generation by a model based on nature’s mentoring, nature nurtured your curiosity, imagination, urge to share your story, your motivation to dig deeper, giving you the tools to adapt to your life in an authentic way and contribute your gifts to others.
I looked over my shoulder back at Finch. He was still talking to himself, stating questions as he explored. It was as if he had developed such a connection with the water fountain that its burbling and spitting was the fountain asking him questions about itself which he translated out loud, repeating the voice of this mentor of his for the day. Finch became my mentor that day - I will never see a water fountain as just a drinking place ever again, but as a classroom inviting the best of me out into the world.
Jin Shin Jyutsu:
Restorative Nature Practice:
- Gently wrap your left fingers and thumb around your right upper arm while contacting your inner left thigh just above the knee with your right hand. Sustain for 5 minutes or more.
- All the meridians that are responsible for all organs being in relationship pass through these places, enhancing adaptation to whatever you are doing wherever you are.
- Explore the questions mentioned in the article above.
- Tell another person a story about a learning moment for you.
- Listen to another's story about the same.
- Take stock of the questions you have been holding for a while. Where in your life might they want to play - curiously interact - now?
At the end of Summer fruits and squashes are ripening. Trace the path of any late Summer fruit or vegetable you eat back to its source. What other elements in the environment is it related to? Type of weather it needed, soil, water. did it grow close to the ground or in a tree, on a vine?
NEXT MONTH: Harvest: Gathering, Preparing and Storing
PICK OF THE MONTH: Bioneers Conference, October 21 - 23, San Rafael, CA