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A Pandemic, A Pond, and Perseverance

In a recent post by Dai Shihan Mark Roemke, he told the story of going to the island of St. Croix for five days of testing survival skills. He ended that post with this nugget of wisdom...

"It’s good to sometimes be uncomfortable in situations that you might not think you could ever endure."

This statement made me think of the local twenty-six acre pond in my neighborhood.

But before I proceed further, first...The Dunker’s Disclaimer

Most written material you encounter about swimming in cold water comes with big disclaimers, in big red bold font, advising of the hazards if you are not careful. I have been teaching wild edible plant classes for years. Likewise, most edible plant books come with similar disclaimers saying to read the material, but don’t go out there and eat wild plants willy nilly. These cautions considered, there is something worth claiming in these experiences. Within the content is an invitation for a life-enhancing experience, but only if you proceed safely, do your research diligently, share your experience with a buddy, and possibly with consultation of a physician. My friend Duncan in the story below happens to work in the healthcare profession, so I had a slight advantage. I consider myself a strong swimmer, so add one more advantage.

So, enjoy the story for what it is, a story and not a how-to guide. But if you want a swim buddy...I’m easy to find.

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Since I was five years old, I've been a creature of the water. Competitive swimming was my life from this young age through college. After college, I "retired" to surfing when I moved to Hawaii and then California. I have stayed wet whenever possible over much of my life. I’m lucky to have lived in South Kona, Hawaii where I could snorkel daily with green sea turtles and swim at night with manta rays and bioluminescence. I've swum through rapids of the Grand Canyon and dunked at the base of pure spring desert waterfalls where you could drink the water while submerged. In Alaska I swam in cold rivers sourced from glacial melt (I didn't last long in those cold waters).

None of these experiences however, could compare to the connection I've had with our local pond over the past twelve months. The onset of Covid over a year ago resulted in the local indoor swimming pool shutting down. Little did I realize that this would change my life and more specifically my relation to water.

70's Fahrenheit— In early June last year, my friend Duncan called me on the phone. "Ken, I'd like to work on my crawl stroke. Since you used to coach swimming, could you give me some pointers?" Duncan showed up the next morning, and we started swimming across the pond. I gave him some pointers. The water was a comfortable temperature, in the mid-seventies. We started swimming three times a week at 7 am. Dawn patrol fishermen dotted the shore, and occasional morning swimmers roamed the periphery. After two and a half years living by the pond, I hadn't "trained" by doing long distance swimming in these waters. I usually ventured down daily to romp in the pond with family and friends. For some reason I had been in a rut. I believed the indoor pool was for "training" and outdoors was for fun and play. That was about to change.

The water was relatively clear and warm. Being a faster swimmer, I swam ahead of Duncan and then floated on my back to watch ospreys, hawks, kingfishers or eagles while he caught up. I was starting to like this routine.

80's— As late summer approached, the water warmed. Occasionally you could see a thin film along the surface. Pollen or algae? Hard to tell. The temperature was warm enough to heat my core and face to an almost uncomfortable level during peak exertion. Duncan was getting faster. He had outfitted himself with fins, and we now kept a similar pace. He started arriving with printed Google maps showing the distance we had covered previously, and a route we could take from beach to beach to fence and back that equaled a mile. The sunfish roamed the shore’s edge and would nibble our toes if we lingered near too long in the calf-deep water of the pond’s edge. My favorite mornings were swimming through a low layer of warm mist in the rain.

70's— As summer drew to a close, the swimming crowds thinned in the morning as virtual or hybrid schooling kicked in due to the pandemic. Duncan continued to arrive at my house on his bike by 7 am three times a week. It was nice feeling the shift back to a more comfortable water temperature. We could swim a little harder without overheating. The die hard morning swimmers still arrived, and you could see their brightly colored floats trailing behind them as they traversed the pond. The early fall bird migrations were beginning. When I did backstroke, I watched geese fly over in "V" formation, while I oriented myself to the cardinal directions. "Let's see, which way is north?" I would think. Some flocks were already beginning their southward journeys.

60's— I remember thinking at the pond one morning..."Where did all the swimmers go?"  Getting in the water in the morning was starting to feel a bit jolting to my body. When I surfed in California, the ocean water was usually between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit year round. During the early New England fall, the kids and I had continued surfing in New Hampshire, Boston, and Rhode Island. We had been tracking the local ocean temperature at those locations. The pond temperature felt like it was in the same range. Being curious as to the daily pond temperature, I went to the local hardware store and bought a cheap thermometer. It confirmed that the temperature was in the 60’s. The morning swims felt so refreshing. The hot cup of coffee upon returning home after swims tasted better as I hugged it to my chest for warmth.

50's— "That's it. I'm done. Too cold!" said Duncan one morning after making it to the first dock buoy then quickly retreating to the shore. Now what? I went online that day and found a used cold water triathlon wetsuit. The online ads all had the same description— "Used twice to train, then once for the race." It showed up in the mail two days later. I was back in the water feeling super floaty and warm in my new suit. This is awesome, I thought— now I can swim through winter! Maybe. There was the complication of ice. Try as I might, I couldn't convince Duncan to get a wetsuit to join me. So, I borrowed my wife's pink flotation buoy for my safety comfort companion and I kept going. I was expecting the water clarity to improve, but the opposite happened. The water became cloudy. There were days when the multi-colored fall leaves sank below the surface creating a mosaic of oak, pine and maple leaves in suspension as they slowly descended to the bottom. It was beautiful to swim through.

40's— I kept swimming several times a week in my wetsuit. And then I saw the documentary My Octopus Teacher. In the movie, Craig Foster mentioned that he swam everyday for a year in the South African coastal waters. He said the water was around 5 degrees Celsius year round. I was a big fan of his work and had seen all of his previous documentaries. I pulled up the conversion table. 5 Celsius = 41 Fahrenheit. Craig swam in the movie with only a mask, snorkel, fins, a neoprene hoodie, and shorts. The previous winter I had taken a Wim Hof cold training course and had spent 15 minutes up to my neck in the water on the edge of the pond on a sunny January morning. My January dunk the previous winter was a glimpse into this cold water experience.

I froze the frame on the documentary so I could see the brand of neoprene hoodie that Craig wore. I placed my order. A few days later, I put my wetsuit back in the storage box and stood on the edge of the pond in my swim shorts, a new 5 mm thick hoodie, and a pink buoy belt around my waist. I looked kinda goofy, but I didn’t care. There was no one around anyway. The temperature had just dropped recently to 49 Fahrenheit. I dove in.The shock was immediate, but with a warm brain and no "ice cream headaches," I swam. I could feel a shift in my core. My muscles in my arms tightened and felt a bit numb. My pace slowed. I only swam for about five minutes. When I emerged on the shore my legs, arms, and torso were pink, but I felt so good. I'm pretty sure this feeling could be attributed to the endorphin rush that accompanies cold water immersion. The few remaining fall fishermen I encountered in the weeks that followed would occasionally make funny comments when I swam by their boats. But I kept swimming. I was hooked.

30's — Occasionally I coerced my daughter Phoebe to be my "copilot" and accompany me on my swims. She homeschools, and at the time was taking a class across the pond at a local teacher's house. I'd swim with her to class while she paddled the kayak. After dropping her off, I tied a strap around my waist and pulled the kayak back. Later in the afternoon I would reverse the process.

The first day it snowed while I was swimming in the pond, Phoebe joined me, paddling the kayak. She wore her favorite rainbow colored snow jacket. The water was warmer than the air, so it actually felt more comfortable to be in the water than standing on shore in the snow. Some winter days though, when the wind blew, and the snow was on the ground, it was really hard to get out of the water (or into the water). One windy winter day my fingers were so cold that I couldn't get my socks on when I emerged. Attempting to insert a wet foot into a fuzzy snow boot resulted in a wardrobe malfunction, and I had to hobble home trying to push my skateboard while wearing floppy boots. It didn't work well.

Freeze-Up— When the ice first appeared, for a limited time I could break through the thin layer and make a short channel for swimming if I wore my neoprene gloves to keep the ice from cutting my hands. I started researching the effects of cold on the body, so I could understand more about what was happening to my brain and body. I learned about the safety precautions and the benefits to my immune system, brown fat, and mental well being. I joined several cold water swim forums and learned tips to be safe. I never ventured far from shore. I only swam for the recommended time based on the water temperature. As the pond approached the freezing point, the feeling of swimming in water in the 30's was intense and edgy. I would only swim for a couple minutes before retreating to my towel.

Eventually the thick ice came, and the swimming halted. I read Norwegian ice swimming forums where they debated the best chainsaw or axe for cutting holes through thick ice. I missed the routine and the feeling of my weekly swims. I looked for a few windows, when I wouldn't disturb the ice fishing or skaters. I cut a small hole a few times in the thick ice with my maul, just big enough for a shallow stationary dunk.

Break-Up— As spring approached, the ice began to thaw around the edges and I resumed short dunks and then longer forays. One day as the ice retreated, I donned my wetsuit, hoodie, and gloves and called on my kayak copilot. Being someone who studies "survival" skills, I wanted to have a gauge for how thin ice needed to be to fall through, and what it would feel like to break through thin ice. With Phoebe as my backup, I swam to the edge of the remaining ice sheet and scrambled onto the ice. I jumped up and down until it cracked and I fell through. I did this repeatedly and practiced scrambling out onto thin ice after falling through. I appreciated my wetsuit and my copilot. I learned a lot that day about ice dynamics and how to practice pulling myself out should I ever need the skill. I had so much fun that a few days later I tried it again, but the warming conditions had changed so rapidly that I could no longer scramble onto the ice. Instead, it broke under my arms as I swam. I’d have to wait until next winter to try again.

40's— I remember one day years ago, after surfing the winter Santa Cruz waves, when I had an extremely difficult time getting my car key into the lock because my hands were shaking so violently. This past  winter, after I walked home from swimming in the cold water of the pond, when I reached my driveway, the cold core shivers would begin. I did some research.

"After drop", also known as peripheral vasoconstriction, is what happens after you leave cold water. When your body is exposed to cold, it cleverly closes down the circulation in your limbs in order to keep the core and its vital organs warm. When you get out of the water and put warm clothes on, the body reverses the process. The warm circulation returns to the limbs, but this time the cold blood of the limbs returns to the core body and your core temperature will actually drop. So you start shivering. I'd make my coffee with shivering hands and then sit on a couch wrapped in a wool blanket until the shivering subsided while I read a book.

Soon, flocks of migratory merganser ducks arrived. They would spend parts of their days resting on the shrinking patch of floating pond ice. Within a week of their arrival, their icy resting spot disappeared. I slowly started venturing further from shore as the days grew longer and my arms could tolerate warmer water.

50's — The swallows arrived as the water temperature warmed. The dawn chorus of the local birds was finished by the time I arrived for morning spring swims. I started calling Duncan again. I coerced him to try my wetsuit. He reluctantly showed up one morning, borrowed my suit and joined me once again. He soon bought a matching neoprene hoodie. It was good to have a swim buddy again. The water was the clearest it had been all year. It was amazing to swim over the deepest holes of the kettle pond and see the bottom. The bald eagle and the osprey returned, as did the fishermen. The bass started reappearing in small groups from the depths. The clear water wouldn’t last long. With the spring bloom, the pollen soon clouded the water followed by cottonwood fluff on the surface. By 7:15 when we'd hit the water, the sun was well above the trees. I sneezed often from the pollen on the walk home.

60’s— As I write, the after drops are diminishing and all but gone. Parts of the surface water on the south facing shore are hitting the 60’s. Duncan purchased his own second-hand wetsuit, "Used twice to train, then once for the race,” so I’ll hopefully have a swimming buddy as fall returns next time with its chill. The water has warmed past the “brain freeze point.” Tomorrow morning I'll ditch the hoodie. As Duncan and I continue swimming the pond perimeter, we have come full circle in the seasons of the pond. As summer approaches, I am melancholy for the slowly fading cold water.

The temperature cycle is a personality of the pond that will depart but return, as it has for millennia. I’ll continue returning too, but these cycles of the pond will far outlast my human form. Still, for my short time here, I am changed by its waters. I am so grateful for this pond and what it has taught me this past year. While the pandemic raged and worry abounded, I have been able to find windows of hope in the chilly waters. I called my dunks my "sanity swims" even though some people shook their heads and called me crazy. I get stuck in my mind more than I would like. I fret about the past and worry about the future. At times the pandemic amplified this. While some days I was hesitant to venture into the cold water, I welcomed each opportunity to swim, because the pond gifted me moments to truly be present.

It's really hard to describe the sensation of the deep cold swims. The moment I plunged into the cold water, my lungs reflexively gasped, but then, after the first initial strokes, I was just there. Sometimes it was a detached feeling, as if I were an observer watching my arms move through the air and water. Other times I was lost in the experience, as I gazed at the patterns of rocks, stumps, leaves, and fish below me. My favorite moments happened at the end of the swims, when I rolled over, grabbed my buoy and just floated— I lost the boundary between my form and the water, watched the clouds drift, felt my heartbeat in my chest, and was glad to be alive for another day.

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Nin means "to persevere." We'll let you in on a big secret for how to persevere in nature. It's called a sit spot. This is a place that you visit to observe the natural landscape as many times weekly as possible. I once trained at a Wilderness First Responder course. In this intensive training, the instructor made a side comment that stuck with me. She said that people who spend regular time outdoors visiting nature statistically have a better chance for surviving a wilderness survival situation.

Why? It's all about attitude.

People who adopt a sit spot and visit the location repeatedly, year-round, rain or shine, wind or snow, become comfortable being uncomfortable in nature. They also learn to be present in nature, which helps shift your attitude when faced with challenges. Finding a sit spot that you can visit year round is a doorway to developing a present mindset. I've spent a couple decades, from Alaska, to Hawaii, to California, and now to New England visiting and keeping journals of my local sit spots. My year round pond experience was an extension of my backdoor sit spot.

Remember, the most important thing about a sit spot is that it needs to be convenient, otherwise you will never make it there.

What do you do when you get there? Turn off your phone. Observe. "Lose your mind and find your senses," as some say. Ask questions. Breathe. Connect. Tune in to the birds. Just be. If you really want to take a deep sit spot dive, check out our interview with Josh Lane. He's a sit spot Jedi.

Check out the video below where we introduce some perspectives on finding a sit spot.

 

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How Nature Can Develop Intuition

 
 
Most practitioners of ninjutsu who are part of the Bujinkan are familiar with the 5th Dan test. Students from around the globe travel to the Bujinkan honbu dojo (home dojo) in Nodashi, Japan to take this test. For this level of progression, a would-be 5th Dan sits with their back to a Dai Shihan or Soke (grandmaster) who is holding a training sword above their head. This test consists of one challenge. To pass, the student must sense the exact moment when the sword is coming down at their head and must instantly roll out of the way.
While Hollywood goes to great lengths to dazzle us with feats of "spidey senses" or instinctive reactions (think horror films when the victim has a bad "feeling in their gut"), little attention in our modern world is paid toward actually training the human instinct or intuition.
Nature is full of instinctual moments. If you take the time to watch the little birds in your backyard, you'll soon observe such moments. Every day is a life or death situation for the birds. Something is always lurking, waiting to make a meal of these feathered creatures, be it a furry, stalking ground predator, a silent explosive hawk with dagger-like talons, or an owl that might silently snatch them from their perch while sleeping. As a result, the birds, and all other prey animals for that matter, have their sensory knobs turned up to eleven everyday. If they didn't live in a constant level of heightened vigilance, they would be toast.
While it's relatively easy to observe these daily occurrences in the natural world, how do you actually learn to develop skills of intuition and instinct? Where do you find someone who specializes in this type of training?
Fortunately, we found one such teacher. His name is Josh Lane. He is the author of the award winning new book Conscious Nature. Josh is a wildlife tracker, deep nature connection coach, qi gong practitioner, and musician. When he lived in Santa Cruz, California, he was also a student of Dai Shihan Mark Roemke. Thus, he has an inside ninja perspective on the connection between the art of ninjutsu and training sensory awareness to hone intuition. Josh talks about the baseline feel of nature and how tuning in to this can help hone your intuition. In a recent post interview with Dan Gardoqui, he also discusses this baseline and how he uses this to decode nature's secrets. Be sure to check that one out as well.
In the interview below, Josh talks about a technique of slowing down and tuning in to your senses in nature in order to sharpen your intuitive skills. We have a fun training video on this at the bottom called "body radar."
We had a gut feeling that we should check in with Josh, so we decided to pick his intuitive brain recently.
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Pathways: How can you use nature to increase your intuition?

Josh: When you immerse yourselves in the patterns of the natural world, your brain state effortlessly begins to shift into what's known as the alpha brain rhythm. This is a slightly slower rhythm of activity in the brain than what we use when we're doing day to day thinking or working on problem solving. For example, when your brain focuses on doing math, it is in a beta level brain pattern. In alpha, you turn on your holistic pattern detection, where your senses become more attuned. You relax and get into the present moment. This is a state commonly associated with meditation. It's interesting that immersion in nature brings us into this state of consciousness. Researchers call alpha waves the "windshield wipers of the mind" because they help reset the neural network and refresh our attention.

How do you attain this? The first step is simply to take some time to be in the moment. Let go of your agenda. Let go of the things you were dealing with earlier in your day. Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to just be present and settle into where you are. Focus on how you are feeling and how the landscape around you feels.

A key point is that there's a feeling of the landscape. Different places have different feelings. This is really evident if you go to a beach where you feel the wind on your face, you hear the sound of the surf, and you feel the texture of the warm sand under your feet. It's a very relaxing feeling. Compare this with climbing a steep rock scramble of a cliff face. This is a very energizing feeling that brings you into the moment in a very different way. Contrast this with the feeling of busy activity around you when you're walking through a crowded urban environment. This landscape has a very different feeling from a quiet place in nature.

There's a different feeling around you in the forest when the animals are going about their usual business feeding, foraging, resting, singing, or working on their nests. That's what we  call a harmonious feeling or baseline versus when a predator is on the move. When a predator is nearby, the birds become alarmed. This creates an agitated sensation amongst the animals. By becoming present, you open up the possibility to tune into the feeling of a place and to the feeling of what's going on around you. This helps you awaken intuition because we have to be present in the first place to tap into it.

However, intuition can often be overlooked through overthinking. You start to learn all the textures, the nuances of feeling that come through our intuition, and through our instinct when you are fully present. When you're out in nature, you may get that feeling of disturbance, such as when you hear birds being upset. You may see them then move from the ground to the tree canopy. If you're wondering what's causing that alarm, you might get a flash in your mind of a hawk. That could be your intuition communicating something to you about what's going on. But if you weren't present, you would have missed the alarms and the feeling that they produced. You probably would have even missed the flash in the mind's eye of that hawk.

When you have intuitive moments like that, it gives you an opportunity to go investigate them in nature. If you do this follow-up, you start to learn that those instincts, those feelings, those intuitions, can be telling you things.  Everyone is different in the way their intuition communicates to them. Maybe you get a feeling or an image. Perhaps you even get a sound or a song. Sometimes when tracking deer, I'll get a particular song coming through in my mind that for me is connected to the deer. When that happens, I pay attention to it. I might look down at that moment when I hear the song and see a fresh deer trail in front of me.

You have to learn how intuition speaks to you personally because it can communicate in different ways for different people. The key here is that nature starts to open us to the moment. Through all those textures and patterns, it enriches our capacity to sense on any level. The key point is to sense. Be with nature. Notice what comes up. As these patterns emerge, follow up on them, and see what they have to tell you. This is how you build your intuitive vocabulary.

Pathway: What's the difference between intuition and instinct?

Josh: Oftentimes these get blurred together. I even see this in modern consciousness research where researchers are confounding these two things. I think of instinct as the body's memory. You could say this is inherited through adaptation. Countless generations have survived by training the body to respond to external cues in order to survive. That information can be encoded on an epigenetic level. This is what Rupert Sheldrake calls the morphogenetic field. You also see this idea in traditional Chinese medicine. It is an energetic aspect that informs the body through acupuncture meridians. The idea is this— the body is informed by the information contained in an energetic field. With each generation, there's an encoding that builds up a database of action and reaction for how to survive. Some of these patterns go dormant when they're not needed. Sometimes they activate again. When you have an instinctual experience, you can think of it as the voice of the ancestors communicating through genetic or energetic encoding. This helps us to survive and thrive. Instinct can speak through a "gut feeling" that we're all familiar with. However, it might speak in other ways.

Sometimes instinct can be confused with intuition. With instinct, I think of it this way— what is it that my senses or past experience have access to right now? You might experience a mind's eye flash that alerts you to danger from the part of our brain and sensory system that's always detecting danger. It says, "Hey, the birds have actually stopped singing right now!" You get a flash in your mind's eye of a Cooper's Hawk. This is where the line can get blurry between intuition and instinct. Instinct can communicate danger, but so can intuition. I think of instinct as being based on our past ancestral experience combined with our own life experiences.  This combination makes a deduction based on the information that's coming through on an unconscious level.

If I get a mind's eye flash that is a sense of knowing or feeling with no context for how I know this information, then that is intuition. I might get a flash of information about something far away from me physically. Perhaps it is something I perceive will occur in the future. That's intuition. That's when you're entering what quantum physicists call the "non-local realm." This occurs when you're accessing information that is not local to where your physical body is now. You're bordering on what we might call the spiritual realm. To me this is where intuition really shines through. This is the voice of that part of ourselves that connects to that non-local realm— the larger field of information that we are all part of. It's where you see that oneness of nature coming through in everything. We are all interconnected in some mysterious way to this. When we get into that quiet mind in nature, it starts to connect you to this larger field of life.

Pathways: If someone is new to spending time in nature, what is a good way to start training your intuition?

Josh: I often suggest that people should begin by walking very slowly. Try slowing down to a third or quarter of your usual speed. Feel each footstep. Be fully in your senses. Notice how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Tend to your physical needs first. This will allow you to be more fully present. Are you feeling open and receptive to nature? How do you feel internally? Once you are present, expand your senses outward. Notice what's going on with the birds and the wind. Notice the scent of the air. Open each of your senses fully. I go deep into this in my book, Conscious Nature. I teach the four stages of meditating outdoors. Each stage is designed to help tap into your intuition. As you get into your senses, start to notice if things arise on the screen of your mind's eye. As your senses notice things, do you get a flash of anything in your mind's eye or a sense of knowing? It could even be a gut feeling that there might be something interesting to check out in a particular direction. Some people call this "body radar." Follow up on your intuition. Explore nature and see what you discover. This is how you build trust and capacity with intuition because intuition is a sense. The more you work with it, the more it comes to life. This is what I teach in my course Exploring Intuition in Nature. It only takes ten to fifteen minutes a day to make a difference and to start developing your intuition.

Pathways: Why would someone studying the art of ninjutsu want to learn these skills?

Josh: Ninjutsu and nature really flow together as an expression of being in the moment. Being present is a prerequisite for the practice of developing intuition. Whether you're on the mat, in a real life conflict situation, or in the woods, cultivating presence through the senses is going to give you an advantage. This skill informs you of  what is actually happening in a situation. This opens the door towards greater sensitivity through attunement. Attunement means that you are able to adjust and detect changes in the moment and shift accordingly. Sometimes receiving intuition is about what's going to happen next.

The dojo and nature go hand in hand. Going into nature is an extension of the training that you do in the dojo. Nature becomes the dojo. Nature teaches you to be present in the moment and to attune. The more that you practice this in nature, the more it improves your awareness when inside in the dojo.  This training is a good expression of "nin" or perseverance. To persevere is to invite yourself into the present moment again and again, instead of getting lost in thoughts and concerns or worrying about the past or future. Ask yourself- what is the opportunity and gift of the moment?

Pathways: Anything else you'd like to share with us?

Josh: If you found this useful, I definitely would invite you to check out my book Conscious Nature and also check out my course Exploring Intuition and Nature. These resources are designed to build a framework for cultivating intuition.  I teach you how to access some very deep, intuitive meditation states. These states of being connect your conscious mind to your unconscious mind using the wisdom of the body  and the field of information to be found in nature. These teachings are built step-by-step so that you can build these skills into your daily practice. These practices are skills you can do both indoors and outdoors, wherever you are, to cultivate your intuition. Calm waters reflect the image of the landscape. As you step deeper into the quiet mind, you find that still place inside of yourself where you begin to reflect that which is around you. If you find that place of quiet inside yourself, you will find a doorway to your intuition.

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As Josh describes above, intentionally slowing down in nature while tuning in to all of your senses is a great way to become present in the moment and thus start training your intuition. Check out the video below from our Ninjas in Nature Program that describes a technique called "body radar". One thing we hear in the dojo often from Dai Shihan Mark Roemke is that "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." This is a great way to learn how to embody this concept.

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Place of Power Hand Mudra

In today's post, Dai Shihan Mark Roemke shares a technique for locking in the energy of a place of power.

Sensei says...

There is a special hand mudra that I was taught in ninjutsu that you put by your heart. When you do this mudra, you can focus your mind and intent. You can use it to "take a picture" mentally, physically, and with your emotional or spirit body. You can do this on landscapes around the planet that you connect to deeply and then use the mudra to return to this place later as a way to refocus your mind, body, and spirit.

Similar to holding your hands to pray, or using rosary or mala beads, this hand mudra creates a focal point using tactile touch. This helps to direct your mind. Where the mind goes, the chi flows. Where the chi flows the healing goes. You can use this mudra for healing or to invoke your personal power if you are scared or unsettled.

One way to use this mudra is to place it by your heart when you are at a place that you connect to deeply in nature. For example, this could be in a place looking over the ocean on a calm, serene day with a nice sunset or sunrise. Or it could be a really stormy day when there is a lot of amazing power and energy being shifted through wind and swells. Or it could be a the top of a mountain where there is an amazing view and you feel fully alive in your body, mind, and spirit from the physical exertion of climbing. When you are at the top of the mountain and you look out over the beautiful scene, this would be a good place to do this mudra.

I like to call this taking a picture with my heart.

But remember too that nature is everywhere, and that some of the deepest connections to the natural world can happen in your own back yard or a nearby park. These would be good places to do this mudra as well.

Later on, if you are sitting at your office, or at home, you can take a moment and do this mudra. It helps you to instantly go back to those places of power where you took that heart picture. You can go back mentally, emotionally, and physically to tap into this feeling.

You can also do this with your spirit arms. You don't have to physically use your arms.

For example, if a suspicious person is approaching you, and you think that you might need to be in a confrontation, you can imagine your arms doing this mudra by your heart and you will experience the same feeling. It can help empower your mind, body, and spirit so that you will not be overtaken by fear.

I have done this mudra all over the world- in Japan, in high mountains, under waterfalls, and many other beautiful places that I connected to deeply and considered sacred. I wanted to be able to "lock-in" so that I could return to those places whenever I felt the need.

I hope this helps you out. Check out the video below from our NTTV Live online classes where I show you how to do this hand mudra. In this class you can train live with me weekly and request skills and get instant feedback from my Ninjatrainingtv.com curriculum.

Just remember that FEAR is just an acronym for Forgetting Everything is All Right.

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A footnote (from Ken) to this teaching...

My daughter learned this technique in the NTTV Live class with Sensei Roemke the other day. The next day we were out with our Ninjas in Nature Youth Program making rope ladders and then practicing the art of disappearing into the the trees. My daughter was the first to climb into the tree. She disappeared high into the tree. Several other young ninjas followed up the ladder and scrambled around the lower branches of the tree. I noticed my daughter was being very still.

Later when we were packing the car she said to me,

"Daddy, do you know what I was doing in the top of the tree?"

"What?" I replied.

"I was doing the finger weaving Mark taught us the other night to lock-in sugar maple power."

 

Place of Power Hand Mudra

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Decoding Nature’s Secrets

In our last post, we interviewed renowned tracker and naturalist Jon Young who introduced the world of bird language to Sensei Roemke. Bird language reveals how listening to birds can teach us the art of invisibility on a landscape. In this post we interview Dan Gardoqui who specializes in teaching people how to get close to animals.
Sensei Roemke also shares one of our favorite meditation exercises for quieting the mind, which is key to getting close to wild animals.
Over thirty years ago, one of Jon's first students was a young guy named Dan Gardoqui.  Today Dan is one of the preeminent trackers, naturalists, and mentors of nature connection in North America. He co-founded and was Executive Director for the White Pines Program in Maine. He lives in Maine today where he runs Lead With Nature which offers consulting, coaching, online training, and more for those wishing to tap into a deeper awareness of nature. Dan teaches how to use tracking, bird language, and an ecological awareness approach in order to help people get closer to wildlife by "decoding nature's language."
We recently sat down with Dan to get a glimpse under his cranial hood, learn his approach to getting closer to wildlife (including humans), and how this can help us as ninjas.
Pathways: You use a term called "Ecological Awareness." How do you define this and how do you use it to get closer to animals?
Dan: To me it is knowledge of place. It's understanding landscapes, habitats, the animals that inhabit them. For instance, if my goal is to get closer to a moose in the fall, I am going to go to a place on the landscape where I am most likely to find them. So I have to understand what moose are eating, what they are thinking, what they are doing biologically that time of year which is their rut. Or after their rut when they are done breeding, I need to know if they are likely to be alone, or in pairs, or in bachelor groups. If they are in their thicker winter fur and it's a warmer day, they are going to be seeking out cooler and moister areas, so I'm going to have to think about microhabitats. I'm going to have to think about the cool pockets on the landscape. Ecological awareness flows with the rhythms of nature and is about understanding the natural history of animals and how habitats are preferential or not to different animals.
Pathways: In your work you refer to helper species and allies. What are they and how do they help you get closer to animals?
Dan: This one is fun. "Helper" is a bit biased. It implies that the animals have the intention of being helpful to humans, and they may actually. I'm not sure we can say they definitely do or definitely don't. Some of the most well known examples are of ravens. There are many stories about these birds and how they sometimes act as guides to help people or other animals find certain things on a landscape, such as carcasses or prey species. If you pay attention to some basics of how ravens communicate, and if you are open to the fact that you are in communication with them, because frankly we all are in communication with the animals in one way or another whether we are conscious of it or not, then they can truly help you with some of your goals. The flip side of this relationship is that the ravens also get a benefit. For instance, if you are a hunter, and the ravens are helping you find your prey, after you successfully get that animal, you may leave parts of that animal behind after you process it. Then, the ravens will benefit from this food. There are other examples of this such as the honey guides in Africa.
 
Pathways: If I live in a city or don't have a lot of experience in nature practicing these techniques, what is a good skill to begin with?
Dan: Listening, sitting still and giving your attention to the more-than-human world. It's important to pay attention to humans as well. Knowing our human behaviors and patterns is really helpful and wise when we want to stay safe and alert. But, also start to pay attention to everything else. It can be pigeons, crows, rats, squirrels, little sparrows. Start to give your attention to things that are not human and be open to a fact that they are speaking a language that we can understand. Just start being curious, ask questions, and develop relationships with them. The more you spend time in the same place, quietly listening and observing and being open, chances are those individuals are going to get used to you being there. When you give them your attention and respect, they are probably going to do the same for you. Start by just listening, watching, and giving them space. Say you are walking down a sidewalk, and there's a pigeon in front of you feeding on the sidewalk, just slow down and go around it. If you start to give birds a little more space and respect, it changes the dynamics, and it changes the way you see the world.
How does quieting the mind relate to getting close to animals? What is a technique that you use for this?
Dan: This is what I was just talking about. Doing the quiet sits and giving birds your attention and respect for example. Doing this just helps us get out of our own little bubble of thoughts, emotions, and things that might cause disturbance around us. If you think of yourself as moving through a pond, when the mind is quiet, the ripples you cause and the way you move is much smoother, so there are many less ripples or disturbances. When the mind is busy, we tend to cause quite a wake, ahead and behind us. This tends to push things away from us. Many species are very sensitive to our thoughts and emotions, and where we are in our heads, including our own species. It's easy to tell if your family or friends are in a tough space or not. So it's silly to think that wildlife can't detect this as well. Whatever helps you to get to this calm mental space, be it yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation, it's going to help you be more "invisible" in the forest. But it's not really being invisible to me because that means we are trying to hide from something. To me it's more about having integrity with the vibe of a forest or nature. It's not thinking that our human existence is the most important thing. It's just being open to all the other things that exist around us.
You use movement, camouflage and stealth as a method for getting closer to animals. What are some of your preferred techniques in this area?
Dan: This is a big one. You need to spend a lot of time outside in nature to get to understand the baseline of those places before you decide the techniques you are going to use to blend in with that place. For instance, the pace that you would move in a busy city street in rush hour in order to blend in better be pretty quick. Whereas the pace you are going to use in a quieter rural wild area will probably be a bit slower. So getting to know the baseline of a place and how to blend in with that baseline and how to be invisible, that's part of the stealth and camouflage. So you really need to know a place. Camouflage is not just about colors and patterns. It's about our energy and speed, our body movements, and where we put our eyes. There's all sorts of little tricks in there.
You teach people to "decode nature's language" in order to get closer to wild animals. Do you have a favorite or recent short story about doing this?
Dan: I have lots of great failures. It's really hard to do sometimes. I think that's really important to know. You shouldn't just walk out the door and think, "I'm going to take you to the bobcat licking her paws with her babies next to her." That almost never happens to me. That's because there is an early warning system in the wild that is used by every animal that is paying attention. Every animal that is awake and alert is warning each other when there is trouble coming. So that's part of the decoding- being aware that early warnings exist. The second part is tuning into it and getting to understand it by practicing and testing it out. The third part is being able to manipulate this system. It's like hacking the system and using it to your advantage.
An example of this happened last fall when I was turkey hunting in the woods behind my place. I am an avid birder and conservationist, but I also hunt birds. On this day, I approached an area pretty quickly where I thought there might be a flock of turkeys. One technique for hunting turkeys is to bust up a flock and then camouflage yourself and hide, then try to call them back. Often it's successful. On this day, I tried this and it didn't work. This group was a bunch of male Tom turkeys. They didn't separate, but instead stayed together. So I tried tracking them and that wasn't working. So I decided to do some predictive tracking. I imagined where they would move. I visualized in my mind's eye the landscape- all the slopes, wet spots, dark spots, spots for feeding, and hiding. I thought of the direction they took off in. So I sneaked quietly away from my spot and I listened to the birds. I listened to what was the baseline with the birds. I listened for alarms. I was able to move quietly without scaring any birds. I moved around birds that were feeding so as not to spook them because the turkeys would key in on this. Eventually I moved across the landscape at a very, very slow stalking pace while listening, breathing, and waiting. Then I repeated the process- stalking, listening, breathing, waiting. I noticed some chickadees doing their typical calls and songs. But then I noticed that they suddenly stopped. Without even thinking, this made me realize that the turkeys were nearby. I quickly raised my weapon and waited. About ten seconds later I saw a large gobbler walk by about ten yards from me. He seemed a bit nervous which made me wonder if he also heard the chickadees stop singing. When the chickadees stopped their singing, this was a slight change in the baseline. This was a moment of decoding nature's language for me. It doesn't always go this way. But this time I was able to intercept this animal.
I just had some pulled turkey leg sliders with some friends the other day.
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Dan mentions that meditation can help build integrity with the vibe of nature. In the video below, Sensei Roemke shares a meditation technique that will help quiet your mind in nature and help to close the gap between you and the animals around you.
If you want to learn more, check out Dan's programs at Lead With Nature.
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Open post

Ninja Gratitude

 

Every year, during this week, here in North America, our nation turns our attention toward one word- thanksgiving. While there is a lot to unpack around the origins of this holiday, I'd like instead to turn the awareness toward the concept of gratitude.

Sensei Roemke has a reputation as being "unreasonably happy." I'm going to let you in on a secret behind this happiness...gratitude.

In my martial arts training journey, I've been in a lot of classes in various disciplines, in a lot of dojos. I can still remember the day at Pathways Dojo when we lined up to bow in that set this dojo apart from all of my previous experiences. Before doing our usual bow-in opening, Sensei Roemke turned to us and said,

"What are you grateful for?!"

You could see the collective flinch in the group as everyone snapped to attention, caught off guard somewhat by this question. Then, one by one going down the line up, each of us took a moment to voice something important in our lives. I loved it! I had never been in a dojo that started classes this way.

Since then, I've seen Sensei Roemke do this many, many times, in classes with kids and adults, virtually with our online PNT classes, and even with parents in the bleachers watching classes. It's no longer a surprise. I've watched him do this at checkout lines in grocery stores, to random people on the street, and to gatherings of large groups for classes he is about to teach.

At Pathways Dojo, we start all of our staff meetings this way. And, if we don't, something feels off. It's almost a game now to see who can ambush the others first by asking..."What are you grateful for?"

But what does this have to do with martial arts training?

A lot.

But I'll let Sensei Roemke tell you himself. Check his video below where he dives into the mindset of gratitude.

 

I'll let you in on a little gratitude awareness secret... gratitude is about more than just being thankful. It's about an itch for storytelling.

What?!

We all have an itch for sitting and listening to a story being told. This goes far back to our ancestors who told stories by the fire, under the stars. But, each of us also has a strong itch to share the stories that we experience. If you listen carefully to people sharing gratitude, you will often hear headlines for stories that are itching to be told and heard.

If you go back to Mark's video above, did you catch his gratitude story headline? He said...

"I'm grateful that I'm alive because I almost died."

Wait, hold on, what!!! Back up there...some of you who know Sensei have heard him tell his story of almost dying.

Gratitude can be an invitation to share deeper stories, and in the process connect more deeply to each other. It's also an opportunity to connect more deeply to our inner selves. When we tell our own stories, it opens up deeper levels of learning about ourselves, and the natural world around us.

So, as many of us head into this holiday in North America, I invite you to become the gratitude ambush ninja that Sensei Roemke embodies. Ambush a random person with this questions, or your friends and family and watch what unfolds.

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