The Musings of An Ecological Artist: Ashleigh Downey, Current Bringing it Home Immersion Student
The south shield represents high energy. The time of the teenager. A time for getting active. In todays society we are constantly running around, plugged in, bombarded by so many ‘things to do’. No wonder many of us feel in a state of anxiety. Never switching off, distracted by a false sense of busyness.
The first thing I did when I heard the south was a time for getting busy was go straight to my ‘To Do’ list. You know the one – that long list of mounting things that never seems to end.
The very thought of it got my mind racing. My heart started pounding like a big bass drum.
In this momentary state of panic I decided to reflect on the physiological response I was having. I soon realised this reaction was coming from the adult me. That grown up ‘responsible’ side of me, and not that of my inner teenager. Yet in order to connect with the south shield it was essential I tapped into the energy of my teen-self.
There is a real sense of aliveness when I connect with my inner teenager. Thinking back to that time in my life I was upbeat and enthusiastic. Always busy, constantly making plans, believing anything is possible. I was convinced I could conquer the world.
I realise now the busyness associated with the south is a good kind of busy! It is not so much about productivity, but activity. Being alert, focused, energetic.
“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.”
– Lao Tzu
We began our introduction to the south by reflecting on the previous shield. I really appreciated this as it reminded me of the playfulness that comes with the south-east direction, as our elder (Flor) reflected so beautifully the ‘concept of unbridled playfulness’. We were encouraged to tap into our dreams and feed them with activeness and joy. We explored the concept of being open – in flow, and how it might be to break free of our societal box of ‘shoulds’.
Taking a number of DEEP BREATHS…. in out BREATHE (in flow)… in out BREATHE (in flow)… I attempt to embody his wise words, Go with the flow… With each breath the anxiety I initially felt started to subside.
The south direction is about stepping into action, not about becoming frantic. If I’m honest that’s an energy I often go to when I forget to breathe. Out of flow. I now understand the south is about encouraging a mindset of discovery. Getting into the detail of things, in a joyful way. Not my original interpretation on ‘busyness’.
Thank you Flor (& Bringing it Home) for this reminder!
Tracking : The Art of an Ancient Skill
Our ancestors awareness of their surroundings was far more highly tuned than ours, their lives depended on it. Checking the weather they would know when to go out into the world, and when to run for shelter. Observing the seasons they would know when and where to look for certain foods. Watching life around them they knew their place in the world and the many opportunities and threats it presented.
In modern culture we typically don’t have these same threats or challenges, however we can still learn so much from tuning into the natural world. When we become more alert to our surroundings we can uncover a wonderful abundance of activity. There are subtle signs of life everywhere, we just have to look for them. Around us are living things of all shapes and sizes. When we tune in we begin to notice what animals are near by, how they manoeuvre from place to place, and how they spend their time.
I have just discovered a wonderful book by South African scientist Louis Liebenberg, called The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science. Liebenberg is an expert in the art of animal tracking. He has also designed a digital tracking system called the CyberTracker; a software that enables Kalahari Bushmen (and other indigenous communities) to record their observations of animals, including animal behaviours. Designed to protect species and ecosystems by monitoring and gathering data, it sounds an ideal tool for our contemporary times.
Jon Young, the founder of The Eight Shields Model, is also an expert in animal tracking and understanding bird language. He has written a number of books on the subject, including one co-authored with Tiffany Morgan called Animal Tracking Basics.
Nature Tracker Dan Puplett, who is one of our facilitators for the south shield has also written a Guide to British Bird Tracks and Signs.
“Hunters and trackers learn not only to understand intellectually a bunch of facts about the animal they follow, but to feel their way into the very being of the animal.”
– Iain McGilchrist
The earth is heaving with life, everywhere leaving signs for us to read, under our feet, above our heads – diverse and active. By practicing the art of tracking we can develop a greater awareness of this abundance. This is a core routine of the south direction that we explored in the Ecological Homecoming part of the course.
When we become active observers of our environment we begin to understand more fully our human-nature interconnectedness.
“We are by nature observers, and thereby learners. That is our permanent state.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am currently in Andalusia, Spain. There seem to be ants everywhere, moving in convoy this way and that. I find them fascinating. A busy fast moving species whose activities are quite challenging to keep up with. They don’t stay still for a moment!
Tracking Ants (sketching)
Apparently ants walk in a straight line because they are following the scent left behind by other ants. Once they find food, they lay down a trail of scented chemicals called pheromones, which allows other ants to pick up that scent and follow that same route.
Sometimes ants are considered pests but they play a very important role in the environment. They benefit ecosystems by dispersing seeds and enriching the quality of soil. They carry organic matter to their tunnels which aerates the soil, and helps water and oxygen to reach the roots of plants. According to biologist and ant expert E.O. Wilson (1929 – 2021) “Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans.”
While I am yet to recognise the tracks ants leave behind in soft ground like soil, I am finding them captivating creatures to observe. I have become fascinated by what we may be able to learn from them about our own society.
There is lots of research about the similarities between humans and these social insects. Here are two short videos I found on the subject:
Ants help us learn more about human society
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants.
The question is: What are we busy about?”
– Henry David Thoreau
I often find myself following bird tracks, particularly when at the seaside. For example, I can identify Seagull tracks by their large, webbed foot prints. Other times I find a scattering of tiny unfamiliar bird tracks that look to me like a lively flock of birds have gathered together for a dance or a jolly. Sometimes I spot one single line of marks, as if a bird decided to take a short stroll along the sea shore. Other tracks disappear into thin air – clearly where a bird has taken flight.
Where did the bird fly off to I wonder? Where might it have landed next?
Did it fly away, or did it land at another spot on the beach?
Having started to learn more about tracking I suspect the next time I am on the beach I will find myself investigatingon this question further…
Shuttle Writing : Keeping Track of Yourself
During the south shield we were introduced to Shuttle Writing, a concept devised by American writer Natalie Goldburg. It is a form of journaling, a free-flow writing technique that includes two important anchor points – the ‘shuttle’ and the ‘witness’.
The ‘Shuttle’, like that on a weaving loom is a tool, is intended to carry the threads of our subconscious mind as we weave them into our conscious awareness. They are the first few words of a sentence, the prompt to begin the journalling process:
The second element of Shuttle writing is that of the witness. This is where the power lies – having someone there to acknowledge and observe your self-realisations. A form of personal tracking where you are supported, and feel heard.
It is a technique we can use to track our thoughts and emotions, while also acknowledging both the light and shadow sides of ourselves. It is a form of writing that can help us connect deeply with ourselves, by bringing into focus those things that rest on the periphery of our mind.
Although I have only used this technique a few times so far, I have found it a powerful tool for self-knowledgement and understanding. A tool I will definitely continue to use to discover more about myself, and how I feel in my surroundings.
“Writing is the act of discovery.”
– Natalie Goldburg
Questions We Can Ask Ourselves : Relating to South Energy
- What is my impact on the world around me?
- How do I interact with those I meet?
- What tracks do I leave behind me?
- What tracks to do I leave outdoors?
- What are the concentric marks I make?
- How would someone else track your journey?
- How would I track the solstice time (the peak time of growth we are in)?
- What are the tracks of the solstice?
- What am I noticing around me?
- What signs of life can I see around me?
- What are the flavours?
- What are the stages of the plants?
- What are the animals doing now?
- Where are the young birds?
- How might I explain what I notice to someone else?
- How is this solstice time alive for me?
- What parts of nature are holding the south for me?
- What supports me to attend to the details of things?
- Where has my inner fire been burning brightly?
- Where does it need tending?
- How is my relationship with timekeeping?
- How can the SW and SE energies support me in my focused times?
- Do I have a resistance to being in the south, or an attraction to it?
- Is that different at different times of the day or week…
- Who and what am I accountable to?
- Who am I in good relationship with?
- Who can I tell my whole story to?
- What am I grateful for at this time?
“Bring the mind into sharp focus and make it alert
so that is can immediately intuit truth, which is everywhere. ”
– Bruce Lee
The Kingdom of Living Things : Identification
Whether it was an animal we tracked, a plant that grows in someones garden, a nature memory that popped into mind, or simply a creature that wandered into our day.. Below, is my key identification list for the South:
|Water (flowing)*||Seal (graceful)|
|River (cold, fresh)*||Deer (leaping)|
|Green (energising)||Bees (busy, thrumming)|
|Rose (heart shaped petals)||Cat (sprawling, stray, wild)|
|Sycamore Tree||Swifts (swift, Apus apus)|
|Oak Tree||Foxgloves (welcoming)|
|Ash Tree||Dog (snorring)|
|Broad Beans (plump)||Baby Vole (suckling)|
|Blackcurrants (abundant, shiny)||Children (happy)*|
|Egyptian Goose (duck-goose thing)|
|Caddisfly larvae case|
|Cheeping Chicks (nesting)|
|(a herd of) Fawns|
Collaboration : A Magical emergent POETRY journey
An invitation to reflect, I love this form of collaboration; together creating a magical poem that captures the very essence of our connections. They are such a lovely way to connect, while simultaneously gathering the energy of our own personal experiences. As we each type our reflections into the chat, I can feel the giddiness rise inside. What magic will emerge this time I wonder…?
For this collaborative poem we were invited to connect with what was happening in the wider world of natue, and to consider the following questions:
How is this solstice time alive for you?
What parts of nature is holding the south for you?
The Solstice South
All the beings in my garden are busy creating, doing, minding,
full power heart opening shining beaming rays ALIVEEE (though a little tired)
Swallows playing in the sky, their high cries lighting up the land,
alive alive oh oh
Summer rains bringing the weight of the solstice bounty closer to the Earth,
bursting into transformation
Full and focused energy, the busyness of bees and the fattening fledglings!
Energising, playful, barefeet and purple flowers
The infinite beauty of the busy hummingbird hawk moth and its vibrant energy and lightness.
belly to the sun, laughing hearthy stretches to feel the love.
The brightness of the sun, shining through the clouds, as it kisses – with delight – our foreheads.
Surrounding our whole being…
busyness and tense body, waiting for an opportunity for release and rest.
wandering pond snail – perfect spiral – forever opening
Emergence : What can I learn from this complex system?
As a way to digest the south shield, and integrate the personal meaning of this direction we were invited to create an image – with or without words. More specifically this activity was an invitation to capture the essence of what was resonating and emerging for each of us.
Energy of the south…
The musings of an ecological artist, Ashleigh Downey
Reflecting on 8 shields, 2022
Bringing it Home (year-long course)