Kamana Two, Take Two

Well the first time I posted this over at naturetalk.net it dissappeared or was deleted. I have reposted it again, but in case for some reason it happens again, here it is…

Quick disclaimer for those who don’t know:

Kamana is an independent study naturalist training program created by Jon Young. Of all the schools I have been to, of all the classes I have taken, Kamana is the only one that I feel really set me up for success. It’s sounds funny to write that, seeing as how halfway through the program I destroyed all of the work I had done, trashed the workbooks, and sold my supplemental field guide library (that I spent over a thousand dollars acquiring) for mere pennies. Sounds dramatic and it was. At the time it felt like taking a huge shit after being constipated for years. I’m in a different place now and am seeking to rekindle that structure in a new/old way. This week I will begin to redo what I ritualistically burned so many years ago, having spent the last few year learning to get over or side step the hurdles of conformity.

…and on to the article

About five years ago I left Kamana rather dramatically. This month I have slowly and cautiously stalked back onto that path. While I have never ceased my insatiable quest for indigenous wisdom, natural wisdom, primitive technologies, etc., there are parts of the native philosophy that became tainted when I was last doing Kamana. Part’s that I abandoned with the Kamana program. Parts that I miss, parts that I want to reclaim. In order to reclaim those parts I must backtrack to where I lost them and articulate why. This process has been both an individuals (my own) critique of the Kamana program, as well as ideas and ways that it can be rewritten to work for me, and possibly others like myself.

So here I am, five years later looking back so I can go forward. Most of what I have written is a critique of parts of the Kamana that didn’t work for me, and I know didn’t work for several people. It should be assumed and known that I value the hard work of those who pioneered the Kamana Program, it’s current staff and printings and the teachings found therein. My intention has not been to bash the great work of those who came before me, but to ask questions and find answers that may help to reshape the program so that it can increase in it’s ability to reach future generations of students.

Reflection on the Secret Spot

I had trouble doing this exercise for two main reasons. The first one, and biggest one, is that while sitting in the woods gave hunter-gatherers skills and awareness essential to their survival, it is not related to subsistance within a Civilizational context; your secret spot does not give you an edge if you’re working in a coffee shop. Generally speaking, having a secret spot will not make you more money, the way it would yield better food results to hunter-gatherers.

As our Civilization destroys more and more of the wild environment we have seen our internal environments, those of the mind and heart, suffer as well. Some people may not be able to function psychologically, and need a more natural setting to calm their minds. Unfortunately, seeking the wilderness seems to be a taboo and the vast majority of people, behaving the way we have been designed to behave, choose an easier way to alleviate their minds with the use of drugs.

Therefore the Secret Spot routine becomes a ritual for the pure, which is more difficult to choose than the available alternatives. It takes a kind of will power to go against the grain and choose the harder path to sanity, especially when sanity isn’t even a requirement to work at a coffee shop. In fact, I would say that insanity is required of us to continue to destroy the land in which we live off. If having a Secret Spot gives you more empathy towards the earth, it may in fact have the reverse effects of subsistence within Civilization, where you have to shut off connection to nature to continue to function in it. In short, it may make you hate your job, hate your current life, which in turn would most likely make you lose money.

Because visiting your Secret Spot is unnecessary for subsistence in a Civilizational context, maybe even worse for it, and it takes more effort to alleviate mental stress than to just simply take drugs (whether they be Prozac, cigarettes, television, video games, etc) it will always fall in the region of, “Self Help.” What this means is that during any kind of increase in level of stress, it will be the first thing to go.

The worst part of the “Self Help” category is not that we ditch the routine when we are faced with an increased level of stress, but the guilt one feels at “choosing the easy way out.” Although choosing the easy way out or picking the path of least resistance is a normal human response, we feel a kind of failure when we make this “choice.” Because we want awareness and the gifts that come with it, because of the mythology that surrounds this awareness; that it is our birth right, that it is how we are meant to live, etc., when we follow our instincts that say, “follow the path of least resistance,” we feel a kind of guilt I imagine Christians must feel when they commit a sin.

This guilt made me hate the Secret Spot and the Kamana Program. For several years the books, journals and field guides filling up a large bookshelf in the center of my room collected dust. I wanted the awareness and knowledge but I, like most people, had no cultural context for it. I blamed myself for following what my culture has programmed me to do. Every time I looked at the books I felt guilty. I had built a shrine of guilt in the center of my own room. “Why don’t I like doing this anymore?” I would ask myself.

One day during a moment of clarity and transition in my life, I trashed the Kamana books, my journals and sold my entire field guide library to a local bookstore. It felt like taking a huge dump after being constipated for years; I felt a release and a great weight was lifted. When I arrived home on that clear winter evening, the sun was just beginning to set and the sky was a beautiful reddish-purple hue. I felt so light and happy that I actually wanted to do a Thanksgiving Address. When I finished I looked again to the sky. At that moment a Red-Tailed Hawk gracefully and quietly snatched a pigeon out of the air, not 5 feet above my head. The Hawk landed in my neighbors yard and began to tear the pigeon to pieces. I watched in total awe. It was Natures gift to a guilt free heart.

My second problem that I had with the Secret Spot routine is the way it is structured in the Kamana Program. Hunter-Gatherer cultures often traveled hundreds of miles seasonally, following their food sources. There is no way they would have had a Secret Spot that they visited everyday or saw change from season to season.

I can speculate from what I have read that the Secret Spot was more of a psychological place that the Hunter-Gatherer was able to carry with them from camp to camp.

I did not find the resources available in the Awareness Trail to help people who prefer a more nomadic lifestyle. In fact, it seems the program has been specifically designed for sedentary students. This made it confusing and difficult to continue the exercise after several moves in a short period of time.

The line of thinking goes like this, “If I’m not doing this the way the program is designed, or the way I am ‘supposed’ to, then I’m not doing it the ‘right’ way or won’t learn what I am ‘supposed’ to learn and therefore I just won’t do it at all…”

My current situation is meant to curb the first problem of “not having the Secret Spot linked to my livelihood.” I have quit all of my jobs and moved out of my house. I am camping in friend’s backyards and planning on living as much as a hunter-gatherer as I can, within the urban setting of Portland OR. I have enough money saved to buy food for one year. Hopefully it will last longer than that as I begin to get better at hunting and gathering.

To solve second problem, of having a nomadic life, I’m going to pick one of the backyards that I’m camping in as the secret spot that will serve as the one I send information about to Kamana Student services. As I am planning on having several secret spots, but I will make it a point to go to that one three times a week. Hopefully that will work out, if not, I will adapt in another way.

“Martin and Sean” Reflection

I remember having a hard time with this exercise years ago. The problem is that I do not see a continuum here, between Martin and Sean. We are supposed to see Sean, the mean, ignorant-of-nature kid on one side of the spectrum, and Martin, the nerdy naturalist on the other. Perhaps we are only supposed to see two factors these characters represent: knowledge about nature and ignorance to it. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that easy.

The context of the characters creates a multi-dimensional spectrum. For example, Sean’s asshole quality is not related to his knowledge of the wild. I know many assholes who know a great deal more than I about the wild. Martin’s loner-nerdy personality is a trait that has no connection to what he knows about nature. I know many hip socialites who have a very deep awareness and knowledge of place.

Martin’s relationship with nature was contextual to his Grandmother, and through her their cultural heritage. People’s relationship to nature grows within a culture where it is appreciated. With culture being such a huge context in which natural learning can happen, it is sad that neither of these characters have a larger culture to help in their learning process, but sadder that culture is not represented in the spectrum involving ones connection to nature.

The story reveals as much about the characters not just by what they say, but what they don’t say. These characters never laugh or joke, they are not shown to have a sense of humor at all. Never in the story do they relate to each other in a joyful manner.

I have met many Native American children who know nothing about nature and many non-native children who know a great deal. The elements of race, gender, cultural heritage, personality traits, social skills, etc. create the context for what a person learns. Whether it’s about nature or video games. People are mosaics. How can you create a spectrum between mosaics?

I cannot separate the characters multi-dimensional aspects. Therefore the spectrum between the two characters is very limiting and misleading to me. For example, where would you place a homeless transsexual teenager who lives mostly camping in the woods on this spectrum? Where would they place themselves? Since I find neither Martin nor Sean to be desirable endpoints for a spectrum it makes it impossible for me to choose a point between them.

Further, by essentially having a nerdy loner represent one end of the spectrum (the one we are all obviously supposed to be working toward) you create a limiting story, which either works well for nerdy loners, or creates them. At the Art of Mentoring instructors warned of turning students into what they called sociopathic naturalists. It seems that if we use this story as our guide, we will turn in to such.

In conclusion and to answer the question, “Where do I fit in?” Well, I don’t fit into this story. I have a particular background, skill set, and knowledge of my environment. I will always have the desire to know more, to look deeper. If the point of this exercise is to ask ourselves “where we are at” in regards to what we know, I think the Tourist Test and its reflection does a better job.

Of course, I also understand the importance of having a story as a tool to guide people. Since this story does not speak to me, I have written my own story that is particular to my own context, and it is the story I will spend the rest of my life living out.

It’s called; The Adventures of Urban Scout

Part One:

A long time ago there was this boy named Peter. Like most humans of that time, he was brought up in a culture that hated the earth, hated its people, and secretly had an urge to kill itself and the world with it. This is the culture that we called, “Civilization.” By the time Peter was born most of the humans had forgotten that once upon a time they lived harmoniously with the earth, each other, and secretly had the urge to encourage all things to grow.

There were still a few people, who in secret, kept the knowledge and stories of that old age alive. In fact, the earth herself hid many of these stories deep within the ground like seeds, waiting for a day when they felt the world above safe enough to grow, sprout, and once again be heard by the humans.

Children, often without being told to by an adult and without reading the procedure in a how-to book, will sit down and listen to the world of nature and actually hear it. For this reason children who grew up in Civilization were locked up for most of their days. Some children found ways of escaping, and it was during one such escape in his twelfth year that Peter, atop a mountain, gazing down from a cliff, watching the cool mountain breeze kiss the waters of Boulder Lake just so, not only heard the whispers of the trees, but felt the voices of the stones in his body and the story of the Earth in his heart. Old enough he was to feel the truth, yet still to young to articulate it. Had he been born a few thousand years before, or a hundred years in the future, he would have been encouraged to share his story with others, learning from the elders how to articulate such a thing, but that was not his time. A story like his was the kind that demands itself to be shared, and when it wasn’t, it became afraid and did what all those stories do when they get scared; it buried itself like a seed, deep in his heart, waiting to sprout another day.

Part Two:

Years past and Peter grew older. Soon he would be forced to find a job somewhere along a long chain of death, where at one end the world was being devoured, and at the other, corporate CEO’s and Politicians drank Champaign around backyard swimming pools.

During this time a peculiar thing happened. Peter found several books that simultaneously spoke of different ways to live, beautiful ways. When read, the beautiful wisdom wrapped in these books acted like fresh water poured over warm spring soil, and the seed that had been long forgotten sprouted at last. These books were read and reread and when they were exhausted more books were found. He worked odd jobs here and there, spent time in the woods alone and with people. Classes were taken and dropped, friends gained, alliances broken, mistakes were made and failures were most probable. All the while the culmination of these stories and experiences were beginning to look like a set of cultural blue prints, which he was always attempting and failing beautifully to actualize.

On a particular day, in a particular place (which just so happened to be a daydream) Peter met an old man. This man looked different than most. He wore a loincloth and was covered from head to toe in natural camouflage. He was not of this era, yet there was something familiar about him Peter could not place. The man said his people called him Urban Scout and he claimed to be visiting from the future for the purpose of observing his ancestors who walked around in suits and went to work everyday, but according to him, had died long ago.

As time went on Peter began to frequently visit this man Urban Scout: his hero and elder. He began to pretend he was Urban Scout, getting dressed up and running around town talking people into believing, mostly talking himself into believing. One day, after freshly covering himself in mud, Peter happened to glance at himself in the mirror and what he saw was in fact, a younger version of the man Urban Scout. Peter was Urban Scout, only many years younger. It was then that Peter began to live as closely as he could to that lifestyle, even taking on the name and role of Urban Scout to many. But never taking himself too seriously as to miss the enjoyment that comes with life.

Part Three:

Decades went by. To say “decades went by” does little justice to the people who died during that time. It is for them that I will say, in short, that Civilizations destruction reached its crescendo and crumbled, rather swiftly. However, while horrible and sad, that event was of little consequence to this story because by that time, Urban Scout had long since been living in a wild culture that cared for and nurtured the earth back to life, the way she had done for him. Urban Scout was an old man now. He knew and experienced many things in his time, both alone and with friends. He shared what he knew with his people, and learned from their own particular stories like this one. He even made it a point to travel back in time and speak with his younger self about the hardships he would face, but the benefits of the life he had now, free of Civilization’s violence and surrounded with life.

Resource Trail Journals Reflection

Today I made a list of all the species and things I am required to journal for Kamana 2. What was interesting was that even though I had done all of these journals before, using my minds eye and everything, I didn’t remember journaling the majority of them. This is not surprising to me now, after studying so much about the brain and education on my own.

A mentor finds out what their student is interested in learning about, and helps that student learn about it. Now, a really good coyote mentor knows when and where to drop clues that will connect a students study with another aspect of nature, leading them to “discover” it on their own. This discovery is very important. For years people have thought that smoking cigarettes activates the “pleasure” center of the brain. More recently scientists are finding that it actually activates the “discovery” center, a small part of the pleasure center. Discovery feels good. But discovery is the second half of a whole system, the other half being curiosity. Curiosity leads to discovery and that discovery leads to more curiosity and that feels good. This reminds me of something Jon Young said at the very end of an Art of Mentoring, he said, “You know what mentoring really looks like? It looks and feels like fun.”

I had the most trouble of all my troubles with Kamana, in the Resource Trail. I have always hated school. I’ve dropped out of 5, this first being High School. Every time I go to a school, someone else’s curriculum gets in the way of my learning. In the school environment, one is not asked or even evaluated by a relative or friend, but given general assignments by a stranger who knows nothing of the students own particular interests. During the Resource Trail I had difficultly journaling the things I was not interested in. Again, a real mentor would wait, bait, and strike a particular student’s interests and curiosities at the moment they were curious of them: igniting the discovery center of the brain. That’s the heart of mentoring. Being given assignment’s and told what to do, regardless of personal interest is the opposite of mentoring.

It was during the Resource Trail when I realized that Kamana is a compulsory program. I guess you could say I felt a little ripped off since the rhetoric I have always heard; that the Kamana program is close to “the way Tom taught Jon.” Of course it isn’t. How could it be? The words, “the way,” speak not of what information Jon received from Tom, by how he received it. How could you create a program for everyone that would replicate a mentor, when a mentor is a real person who knows how to push and pull a particular students particular curiosities and discoveries? Compulsory systems are made to regulate large numbers of people, when you don’t have the time and energy to teach them a one on one basis. Compulsory systems are modeled from factory conditions; they are machines.

As John Taylor Gatto shows in “The Underground History of American Education” and “Dumbing Us Down,” the real lessons of compulsory schooling are not the subjects that are being taught, but the structure in which it they are taught. While the exercises and information to be learned Kamana are powerful and amazing, the structure in which they are presented is the same old compulsory schooling model. Another way of saying this is, “the medium is the message.” You cannot mentor someone using a compulsory model. It’s a paradox.

Because Kamana is a compulsory program, it may only work well for people who have already been trained to “follow instructions” and not their own heart. In fact, rather than structurally teaching people to follow their own hearts, but by giving them another compulsory program you may further their own indoctrination to take orders from others.

Then again, maybe it has the opposite effect. Maybe it is a secret “coyote” trick of the writers, who tell people to do these exercises where they will learn to listen to what their hearts say, and when they are capable of doing that they find the program to be too controlling and abandon it. Maybe that is a secret that most Kamana students aren’t supposed to know… maybe Kamana is intentionally designed to fail in the end. Maybe “the hump” is really just the point at which most people stop following orders, and start following their hearts.

Really what, “the hump” means is that the program is no longer fun, interesting, or passionate enough to keep people enticed. Obviously when people learn to follow their own passions they have a hard time taking orders. When curious about a subject, it doesn’t matter how difficult it is, because no matter what you’ve got that feeling of passion driving you through the hard times. There is a quote by Joseph Campbell I have always loved, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are–if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

I would say the difference between suffering and torture is that even when suffering you still have that refreshment Campbell speaks of to keep you going. In fact, sometimes that feeling of passion is strongest during the harder more difficult moments. But if there is no passion there, the suffering becomes torture. Torture is suffering for the sake of suffering, without any of the “refreshment” that Campbell speaks of at all. There is another quote in the same vain by Martin Prechtel, who says, “There are two kinds of suffering, one that creates beauty and one that creates more suffering.”

No one wants to “suffer through” something if they are not even getting the refreshment of their own curiosity and discovery. Being forced to study information that I was not curious about crushed the curiosity that drove me to begin Kamana in the first place. It made me not want to learn about the natural world. This added to the previous guilt, again I was asking myself the question, “Why don’t I like doing this anymore?” I felt guilty for not wanting to do the program, which I equated with having a mentor and learning to expand my awareness. This sounds a lot link one of the symptoms of grief shared by Hiawatha, which was, “Blood on your favorite chair.”

In the end, the exercises in Kamana helped me to follow my bliss, which have helped me in many other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, and I don’t think this was a secret coyote trick; it left a bad taste in my mouth for journaling and secret spot. Two essential elements of connecting to the natural world became equated with external torture instead of my original internal passions. It was very painful. Mix the guilt I spoke of earlier in with more guilt and torture and you have a dramatic climax of books being sold and journals being trashed.

If the goal of Kamana is to replicate how Tom taught Jon, or a true mentoring relationship, then perhaps there is a better way to organize the program that follows the more natural ebb and flow of an individuals particular curiosities and discoveries. I wouldn’t be writing all of this if I didn’t care. I wouldn’t be starting up the Kamana Program again if I didn’t see the value of the teachings in it. The problems I, and many other people have had lie in the structure and context in which those teachings are currently presented. I think that Kamana can be altered to fit more people like myself, and still make life easy for the Student Services Department. Perhaps this is something that the Wilderness Awareness School, or OWLink Media is interested in talking more about. Maybe each student can find ways to alter the structure of the program, not the lessons, in their own particular ways.

I am very interested to hear what other students have to say about what I have written, those who felt the way I do and those who haven’t.

Show your support and appreciation for Urban Scout

6 Comments on “Kamana Two, Take Two”

  1. I’ve been trying to get myself to do Kamana 2 for quite a while now. I do find myself feeling a bit resentful of the schooly nature of the program, and the way it is presented as if modeled closely rather than fancifully on a mentoring relationship. I would grudgingly map an area, rush through a journal entry, or make a quick stop at the secret spot (which changes location every time I move), and then feel that my effort was inadequate because of the course’s stress on the importance of doing these exercises in just the right way. As much as I want that knowledge, I haven’t been able to reconcile the point of the exercises with their purpose or meaning to my daily life.

  2. Sara wrote: “As much as I want that knowledge, I haven’t been able to reconcile the point of the exercises with their purpose or meaning to my daily life.”

    I’m working my way through Kamana 3.3. And what you stated above is one of the main reasons why I’ve had hang-ups throughout my journey through Kamana. But depite the hang-ups, I know a lot more about my nonhuman neighbors than I did before I started Kamana. It is a powerful program if you can reconcile it with our cultural conditioning.

    Take care,


  3. After re-reading my first comment, I wanted to add that despite my reservations regarding the structure of the course, I am very glad that it is available. It does provide some direction for attaining this knowledge.

  4. This time last year, I started on Kamana One. I was going through a lot of changes in my life and felt really depressed a lot of the time, and I wasn’t able to keep doing Kamana. I felt really guilty just like you described which kinda tainted the whole idea for me.

    But, I’m considering doing Kamana One again with the intent of following through to Kamana Two. Recently something has changed the way I feel; four months ago I made a deal with myself that I would go outside to sit spot every day regardless of how I felt about it. I just kept doing it and kept doing it even though many times I didn’t enjoy it, my sit spot kept calling me back.

    Four months later and I can’t get enough. I recently started a free online copycat version of the Kamana program called Wolf Camp Journey, which I had planned on doing for two months. But recently, I’m feeling like doing the journal entries and the maps seems more like work than play. Especially the researching hazards. I learn a lot and enjoy it, but I’m not sure if my enthusiasm is sustainable in the long (the Kamana program can take years).

    I have a few opinions about this feeling: I come from civilization. Sitting outside in the woods alone isn’t fun for a civilized human but once I did it for long enough, that changed and I think I did too. Maybe the field exercises and more school like components of the Kamana program eventually become more enjoyable. Also, while the Kamana program does offer some correspondence and mentoring, like you said this in no way can replace a real mentor. I’ve been to workshops facilitated by people who’ve done the Kamana program and their enthusiasm for nature was so contagious and inspiring. I’m hoping to find someone in my area who is willing to work with me on a face-to-face level to help guide me through the Kamana program into junction with the Wilderness Awareness School folks.

    I don’t want to make this seem like a willpower issue. I think willpower is largely an illusion and in my experience has done a lot to foster feelings of guilt and resentment. What kept calling me back to my sit spot was that I felt better every time I left. Part of me is afraid that Kamana program could ruin this for me. But I think I’m going to go for it.

    I really liked reading this post. I know it’s old, but I’d love to hear what you have to say about the Kamana today. I’m going to start a thread on this on rewild.info as well.


  5. My dislike for the Kamana program and of Wilderness Awareness School and the “Eight Shields Mentoring Model” continues to grow as I learn more about indigenous cultures, and more about learning systems and non=hierarchical systems of organization.

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