I am standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by eight adults, blindfolded. Seven adults are standing still as trees, minds calm, their gaze down to the ground. The eighth adult, selected at random and unknown to me, embodies a predator on the hunt. Their sole purpose is to focus on me with predatory thoughts and it is my task to identify them. Contact is prohibited. Hands outstretched, my senses ignited, I slowly turn around trying to “feel” them. As the voice of critique and skepticism tries to invade my mind, I take a deep breathe deeply to clear it of distraction. As I quietly move, my fingers begin to twitch in one direction. I move on. I return to the same spot and they twitch again. It happens again the third time but this time my palms stretch downwards. With a quiet, hesitant voice I say that I believe this to be the location of the predator. I remove my blindfold and there she is crouched down on the ground, like a cougar waiting to pounce.
This experience was profound for me. On a personal journey of deep nature connection this activity confirmed what I had suspected for years, the existence of the Spidey sense. This sense has helped me numerous times to navigate through wilderness settings, leave sketchy social situations, and make decisions that served my mental health needs. Much of my outdoor learning practices incorporate the 8 Shields Mentoring Model (Young et al., 2010). This learning paradigm uses the terms body radar or sixth sense to define what Carey (2014) refers to as Perceptual Learning (p.184). In Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature (Young et al., 2010), a primary 8 Shields resource, the authors encourage the reader to “[c]onsider the possibility that our “sixth sense,” the one with no name, combines the full use and coordination of our five senses. What may seem mystical to some, might be plain biology when the brain is used optimally. If anything could be called strange, it would have to be that so many humans settle for using only a tiny portion of the brain’s capacity for perception”(p.47).
During the next round of the game, I was a tree and my partner, Darren, the predator. The blindfolded woman who was in the center was able to identify him within 20 seconds. All of us were dumbfounded by her rapid success. We speculated that her rapid detection was likely linked to her profession in energy healing, her sixth sense was therefore, already finely tuned. “Perhaps all knowledge comes through the senses in an even simpler way than John Locke was able to conceive – by way of variations, shadings, and subtleties of energy” (Carey, 2014, p.183).
Perceptual learning (Carey, 2014, p.184) or body radar, is an innate knowing, “[it] encourages us to let go of our plans and agendas and listen to the unconscious guidance of our body. […] That feeling comes differently for everyone – tingling, warmth, solidness in their gut, just some unexplainable knowing, or maybe nothing at all” (Young, et al., 2010, p. 316). Giving students the opportunity to experience this is key in building resilience, self-confidence, and deep awareness. I am a fan of blindfolded activities as they take away our dominant sense, encouraging the other senses to step forward, including body radar. Another opportunity for sixth sense activation is during the wandering stage of the 8 Shields Mentoring Model. There is no goal but to let your body guide you in whatever direction it tells you. This absence of purpose encourages presence and more often than not, leads one to finding treasures such as a set of deer antlers, a hummingbird’s nest, or an awesome climbing tree. Perceptual learning is an active process. “We do not just see, we look; we do not just hear, we listen. Perceptual learning is self-regulated, in the sense that modification occurs without the necessity of external reinforcement. It is stimulus oriented, with the goal of extracting and reducing the information stimulation” (Carey, 2014, p. 184).
The wandering stage also allows for incubation to occur, an opportunity to reorganize information without being directly aware of it (Carey, 2014, p.115). As one wanders aimlessly it is an opportunity for “people to get out of their own way, giving the subconscious a chance to toil on its own, without the conscious brain telling it where to go or what to do.” (Carey, 2014, p.115)
clockwise around the circle.
The 8 Shields Mentoring Model (Rivers to Ridges, 2020) is divided into eight parts, like a compass. Normally, one begins in the NE and moves
NE – Welcoming, Gratitude circle
E – An activity to bring students into their bodies. This could be a short meditation or an activity that encourages the use of the senses.
SE – This is often a high-energy activity that prepares the students for focused learning.
S - If the focus of the lesson is to teach plant families, then I would read a book on the subject and send the students out to their sit spot where they will make a note of all the different plants they see.
SW – Opportunity to wander.
W – Share the story of the day. This can be related to any aspect of their nature connection experience or be more specific to the focal activity.
NW – Bigger picture. Why is it important to learn about plant families? How can this be helpful to you, your family, and your community?
N – Review of the day. Closing circle.
For more information on the 8 Shields Mentoring Model:
Carey, B. (2014) How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. New York, NY: Random House.
Rivers to Ridges. (2020). Philosophy. Rivers to Ridges. Image retrieved from: https://www.riverstoridges.org/philosophy.html
Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote's guide to connecting with nature.