I passed several hours today with the Vashon Wilderness Program.
With the particular clan with which I wandered, the theme of the day was Sensory Awareness. We engaged in a series of games and activies designed to bring us to our senses. You might try them yourself and/or with your family and friends! These activities have everything to do with opening our senses to the nature and wisdom of plants!
Here are a couple that we did.
This morning, our clan paired up, one child (or adult) blindfolded, with another child (or adult) leading him or her. Then swapping. I love this activity! For me (when blindfolded), I experience a disorienting series of moments where I get used to my partner’s style, and decide I can trust him or her. Then my feet start really experiencing the ground, and my hearing goes wide, and I’m feeling the salal or other shrubs brush against me, and adjusting accordingly. The child usually urges me to speed up, and the fun begins! That’s another layer of trust–to take longer, quicker strides on what must be open paths (though I don’t know it!). My mind will attempt to “locate” where I am, but ultimately, I surrender to the experience, to my guide’s hand in mind, to her occasional words: “Slow down … step up, here … Stop, now duck your head. Lower. Go forward …”
And, in time, I remove my blindfold, and find myself laughing–senses blown wide open, and child’s delight bursting in my veins!
It’s great to have a partner in this activity, and you can certainly do this with a group of kids, or in a co-op, or wherever. Most of the time the kids are quite watchful and gentle in guiding each other. Sometimes, kids who love to rough-house together, or with a particular adult, might be less gentle and more trickster-ish. So it’s good to have a responsible adult monitoring what’s going on, or make sure that kids who might be tempted to be crazy with each other aren’t paired together. Just depends on your good sense!
Blindfold Smelling, Touching, & Tasting
You don’t need to have blindfolds, but blindfolds help signal to the kids that they’re doing something different. With everyone blindfolded (and if some kids don’t want to be blindfolded, that’s ok), hold a bag of an herb, or seaweed, or
food, or whatever and let each person sniff it. Try to hold off guesses until everyone has had a good smell of whatever-it-is. If it’s edible, you can allow tasting.
Today Cyndi O’Brien, the Clan instructor (and program director), passed a bag of dried calendula petals, and a bag of seawrack pieces (a kind of seaweed), one of dried lavender, and one of bits of beeswax (heavenly smell, but tasted of just wax!).
So, to lead this activity, you could chose four plants or related natural things (like beeswax, for instance!) for folks to smell, touch, and possibly taste, and then have everyone guess what they’ve just experienced. With newcomers to the activity, make the smells and tastes welcoming! The plants, etc. don’t all have to be sweet, just familiar.
With more adventurous or experienced-with-herbs folks, you could bring in more challenging smells and tastes. Do I need to mention to also exercise appropriate cautions? Considerations include plants that might instigate allergic reactions, potentially toxic plants, and just-say-no-to-wild-mushrooms. I’m sure you can come up with your own list of cautions. Feel free to note them below!
As a “next level” experience, you could try to have folks try to describe the taste they are experiencing. Is it sweet, salty, sour? Is it spicy? Bitter? Aromatic? Do you have another description for the taste?
And, for that matter, what is happening in your mouth as you taste the plant? What is the effect that the plant has having on you as you taste it? Is your mouth drying up, filling up with water? Do you feel a sharp sensation? A zingy sensation? Heat or a sense of coolness?
Yet another level of experience might be to explore in your body you might “feel” the plant. This can seem very much of an intuitive exercise. Where do you feel your attention being drawn to in your body? To your face, your head? Your heart or chest? Your abdomen? Any specific place within?
And, if you were to make a wild guess about how the plant might help you, what do you imagine? What area of the body or organs or aspect of the body do you think the plant helps?
I will expand on these variations in later posts. Just know that a simple experience of a plant with one’s eyes closed and senses wide-open leads to an amazing learning journey with that plant!