If my life were a long walk down a river, I could look over my shoulder and see a string of stepping stones rising up out of the water, stretching back to the headwaters. Some are large boulders that I rested on for a time, others, small rocks that nonetheless gave me vital foothold on the journey downstream. All of them leading me to the point at which I now stand.
These stones are the markers of mentors; the people in my life that have helped me on my way.
Those who have read my book may remember Malcolm, my mentor during the year in the bush. He was a teacher at Tracker school in the US where I had been studying, and decades before had spent a similar year of solitude in the wilds. Meeting him, I felt like I was transparent – that he could see into my soul.
Every so often I would ride my bike a few kilometres down the dirt road to a friend’s house and pour out my heart to this man in California over crackly Skype. His mentoring that year led me deep into the wilderness of my internal landscapes, a vital guide to help navigate my way through the sometimes scary woods.
More than anything, Malcolm has taught me to give up trying to control life and instead into its flow; to get out of my own way, and let the river take me unimpeded. Jump to details of Malcolm’s Australia visit >
When I bring to mind some of my mentors, tears of gratitude often accompany the thought. One of these is Arian Bloodwood. I got to know Arian when I moved into a wing of his house in the rainforest outside Bellingen directly after my bush year. My (rather naïve) idea was to spend 12 months writing my memoir while still in semi-solitude in the forest. The rigours of book writing dawned on me within the first couple of months, and I have no doubt that the project would have ended before it really began if it were not for the guidance and wisdom of Arian. Over thirteen campfires, he heard my story and mirrored it back to me in a way that took it from personal narrative and into the realms of archetype. Beyond that, he was (and still is) a friend and witness of incredible insight and consistency. And the richness of this relationship, is that it often works both ways, at times mirrors for each other.
What is a mentor? It could be thought of as a partnership or agreement between two people who recognise there is some knowledge, skill or wisdom to be shared or explored together.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of growing up in a village where elders are our natural go-tos. Age and status are no longer the markers of our mentors. Sometimes it’s an immediate draw to a quality someone embodies, a desire to apprentice yourself to them for a time. Sometimes it’s only in hindsight that you realise the teaching that was transferred.
Friends of mine have approached people to ask them for a formal mentoring relationship, for others it happens by-the-by, through involvement in their workshops or activities, and is more of an informal arrangement. In the last six months I’ve begun mentoring others more formally. It’s an invitation and a responsibility that I feel deeply committed to, and am appreciating the opportunity to give and exchange in a specific way.
I believe developing mentoring relationships is vital for cultural repair.
I’m excited to be travelling to the US in August this year to attend a week long course dedicated to this – the Art of Mentoring. It’s the creation of one of my long-time mentors Jon Young – a master tracker, naturalist and bird language expert who I studied with last year on his first Australian tour.
"Deep in all of our roots, there are stories of our ancestors living in healthy, regenerative communities—villages where people of all ages were in deep relationship with the land, each other, and themselves" says Jon.
“We all yearn for this kind of supportive experience in our lives.”
The Art of Mentoring is a week-long, experiential, nature based program designed to help remember the ‘old ways’ and apply them to our modern communities. It offers the experience of what I am most passionate about – deep connection to earth, self and other, and teaches the mentoring techniques that facilitate that connection.
Perhaps you are calling to mind some of the people who have laid a stepping stone for you? Or perhaps those who you are guiding right now? Let’s give thanks for these relationships, and the opportunity they give us to learn and teach simultaneously, in a circle of exchange that has been the centre of cultural longevity.
Study with Malcolm Ringwalt
Malcolm Ringwalt, from the Earth-Heart Institute for Vision and Healing is visiting Australia in November this year. The two courses he will be offering are based on teachings passed down from Stalking Wolf, a Lipan Apache elder and Shaman, through Tom Brown Jr.
The early bird price is valid until the end of June, and places are limited. If spiritual transformation through nature-based practices makes your heart leap, then I encourage you to consider joining us in what will probably be a one-off opportunity.