Become a Caretaker of Your Environment: Lessons from a Lipan Apache Shaman

Reader Contribution by Randy Walker
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“Grandfather walked in prayer, where every step he took blessed the earth.” —Tom Brown, Jr.

As every MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader knows, our Earth Mother is in peril. We can feel as if time is accelerating and the loss of vital resources, such as clean air and water, ecosystems and species, and our oceans, increases at an ever quickening pace. The task of turning around the cycles of violence pitted against the Earth at times feels overwhelming. Apathy and denial are a common response some people adopt.

The intent of this blog post is to present ways in which we can learn how to make a difference to stop this momentum toward the further destruction of our Earth, and to develop a relationship with the Earth that becomes an ongoing communication and a form of mutual healing. The lessons and skills of nature awareness, wilderness survival and a philosophy of living with the Earth that Tom Brown, Jr., received from his teacher and mentor, Stalking Wolf, focus on how we can establish a deeper relationship and connection with the Earth and all her creations.

Cultivate a Caretaker Approach to the Environment

Stalking Wolf’s approach centered around building an awareness of the environment, noticing what is in or out of context or harmony. When uncertain what course to take in a caretaking event, he would ask the Earth what actions would help nurture and re-balance the area.

Caretaking is actually a very old approach used by indigenous peoples worldwide. In order to “ask the Earth” how we can help her, we must accept the premise that everything, from a blade of grass to a rock has a spirit and is alive. Grandfather—as Tom referred to Stalking Wolf—taught how when we have a need to harvest a plant or dig up a rock for use in a sweat lodge ceremony, we first communicate our gratitude and thanksgiving, we honor the life we are taking, we learn to formulate our own prayer for the moment.

The attitude that humankind is better or more important than any part of the ecosystems we live in is faulty. We don’t really own the land, we are here to use our abilities to enhance the environment from a Caretaker’s attitude.

What will be left for our grandchildren’s grandchildren if we fail to make this philosophical shift? That is a primary question we need to constantly be asking ourselves.

Start with Inner Transformation

There is a school of thought from India called Gayartri Pariwar that proposes that in order for humankind to evolve toward living in peace with each other and the Earth, one must first initiate this change through ones’ own inner transformation. For over the past 75 years, this way of living has been embraced by more than 90 million people throughout the world.

This philosophy and way of daily living is similar in many ways to the philosophy that Grandfather lived and taught others through how he lived his life. He constantly focused on expanding his inner transformation, which connected to how he interacted with the earth, the natural world and the worlds of spirit. Stalking Wolf referred to the connecting aspect of nature as “the Spirit that moves in and through all things”. He also used the term “The Force,” taken from the Ch’i or Qi energy defined in many Eastern practices and philosophical schools for millenium.

Through accepting and internalizing a greater appreciation of how everything is related and connected, humankind can begin to break down their sense of separation between the individual and the environment.

Since Tom Brown, Jr., founded the Tracker Wilderness and Survival School in 1978, he has taught many of the skills and philosophical approaches he learned from Grandfather to thousands of students from all over the world. As a student of his since 1992, I have embraced the philosophies and skills Grandfather taught Tom mainly because I found that, for me, these skill and philosophy have worked for me in my own day to day life.

I presently have the honor of working with Tom on several projects. Tom, like Grandfather, is a Coyote teacher. What this means, is that when teaching a physical or philosophical skill, not all the ingredients for success are given to the student, it is not presented in a “cookie cutter” manner where A always leads to B. It is up to the student, through their passion to learn and the effort they put into learning the skill, to find the hidden pieces to the puzzle.

Tom often says about a skill, “Prove me right or prove me wrong.” This is also how Grandfather challenged Tom in his youth and Tom reports he has never been able to prove Grandfather’s lessons wrong.

Exercises in Awareness: ‘The Fox Walk’ and ‘Wide-Angle Vision’

One path to that place of “Asking the Earth” what is needed is to slow down your walking pace and move more in a state of Earth Time. Stalking Wolf used a step he called the “Fox Walk.” It involves placing your toes down first, rolling along the outside of your foot and placing your heal on the ground before transferring your weight for your next step. You can try this certainly, but the object overall is to comfortably move slower and in your own rhythm.

First, move at 1/4 your normal walking pace. Feel your foot softly connect with the ground during each step. Then go even slower. By walking this way you make less of a disturbance in the rhythms of your surroundings.

Another skill Grandfather taught is termed “wide-angle vision.” The opposite of wide-angle vision is tunnel vision, that of focusing on one particular detail. In practicing wide angle vision, you gaze out just above the horizon, expanding your vision out to your sides and holding your arms away from your body, each hand is still seen peripherally. Holding out your arms is actually a good way to get a sense of it. Further relax your gaze and you’ll pick up the tiniest movements in the landscape. Watch how the wind or a breeze makes the trees move and flow with it.

In wide-angle vision, you will also experience the leaves catching the wind and lifting upward. It is a method used to view the wave of wind enter and leave the landscape. If you wear glasses, take them off at first, because the frames will break up part of your view.

Combining a slow walking pace and wide angle vision, after a few minutes you will find yourself moving into a deeper state of consciousness and awareness. You may feel drawn to certain plants or trees, rocks or places. Ideally, doing this in a natural setting works best, but you can practice slow walking and wide-angle vision anywhere.

As you practice, notice where dead branches have fallen on trees and plants. This is where the caretaker attitude comes in, as you begin to free the trees and plants of the dead branches pressing down on them, you build connections with the plants you are helping and at the same time, the entire landscape.

Future blogs will continue to explore this topic of living in harmony with the Earth. We will also explore ways to utilize a smaller footprint on the environment and to present ways to gain the skill and knowledge on how to make the “right” changes through Caretaking that enhance the landscape instead of destroying it. Also included will be stories and observations of Stalking Wolf and how his life was a continual act of Caretaking.

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