rewilding author, teacher, & catalyst

More Kamana/Tracker Culture Stuff

Curt has asked me to repost this here. I wrote this over on the NatureTalk forum, and the thread has been deleted several times now for no known reason.

First, some more personal history:

I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn at 16 and dropped out of high school. My thinking was, “What good is a high school diploma going to be in 10 years? I need to learn how to survive in the wilderness!” I began reading Tom Brown and found a couple folks here in Portland who knew survival skills. My parents tried to force me back to school, so I ran away from home. I worked a wage slave job at a natural food store for 9 months saving enough money to go to the very first Tracker class for those under 18, the Coyote Tracks. Me and three other friends road a Greyhound across the country to get to the camp. It was 7 days round trip; we spent more time on the bus then at the 5 days camp.

After reading Tom Browns books and listening to the Seeing Through Native Eyes Tapes, I began to assemble an ideal in my head for “How humans are supposed to live.” Of course, if we don’t have the level of awareness that our native ancestors had, we are not living how we are supposed to live, or how we should live. I think this is the most important point here. That the Tracker culture may not have intentionally created this meme, but it is there.

Originally, I wanted to live in the woods so that I could survive the collapse of Civilization. Naturally I wanted this awareness too, as it would make me a real person.

At the Coyote Camp Jon Young said, “If anyone comes up to me and tells me they want to be a Tracker, I’ll make them a Tracker.” That night as he was getting his truck to head back to the Tracker Farm, I approached him uncomfortably and said, “Hi. Um… I want to be a Tracker.” Jon laughed and looked at me. He said, “Have you heard about the Kamana Program?”

I didn’t care about that. I wanted a mentor. I decided I would move to Duvall and go to the Wilderness Awareness Community School. My mom and dad were still not in support of what I was doing. I needed money and my grandparents had given my sisters and cousins $500 when they graduated. I got my GED so I could get the $500. Then I worked for a month at a phone survey company, working 10-hour shifts in a tiny cubicle with one phone, saying the same thing over and over again. I earned a bunch of money. At that point my Dad wanted to help me out, so at least he and my mom wouldn’t have to worry. He drove me to Duvall so I could look for a job. I moved into a yurt at Mosswood Hollow and began to work 5 days a week at Coast to Coast hardware, so that I could attend WACS two days a week.

Needless to say the torture of working in a hardware store in the middle of nowhere five days a week, then going to the woods on the weekend wore on me very fast. I realized that I could work less and spend more time learning stuff in the woods if I just moved home and did the Kamana Program. So that’s what I did.

I got through Kamana 1 and 2 easily while living at my parents house and working a few days a week at a coffee shop. As I got deeper and deeper into the sit spot, it became harder and harder to go to work. I wanted a job that I would enjoy, at the very least.

I started working (with Chris Shaffer) at Tryon Creek Nature Day Camp. It was great pay (compared to the coffee shop), I spent all day out in the woods and had a fun and exhausting time pushing the envelope of my mentoring skills. The flip side was that now that I had a fun job, I had no time to go to my secret spot. Here I was, making a difference in these kids lives, trying out and journaling about all the mentoring techniques and psychological experiments, getting in so much mentoring dirt time that I was literally falling asleep during the afternoon stations… but I was not going to my secret spot. I was not practicing the core routines that would make me have the awareness of a normal person. How could I even be teaching this stuff if I myself wasn’t doing it? This is when the guilt set in.

After the summer camp ended I resumed the Kamana Program. But at this point, I was out of the house and had to work a lot just to get by, again working a job that I hated. Kamana was becoming a drag not only because going to my secret spot reminded me of how much I missed of my life by working a wage-slave job, but especially because I was not interested in learning Plant Families. I get their importance. I understand what knowing that information will do… it’s just not exciting at all to me. I am also aware that the journaling exercises are more about minds eye development. I was already spending 40 hours a week at a job doing unexciting things. So the pay off was not worth it.

My interests shifted and I began to find inspiration in studying mythology and incorporating everything I had learned of the core routines, not just through Kamana, but the Art of Mentoring week I had attended the year before. I kept learning about indigenous cultures, how they functioned, why civilization will never function, how stories and language can change people, etc. Basically, I read and wrote and read and wrote and read and wrote… but never went out to my secret spot.

I was also trying to figure out how to get out of the job that I hated. I founded (at 19 years old) my own non-profit, Mythmedia, with dreams of getting grants and making stories. It was during this time that I began to stare at my bookshelf, with the Kamana Workbooks and field guides growing dust, and feel the guilt get worse and worse. Despite the fact that I was spending every moment of my life going over the 36 cultural elements and applying them to everything I was doing.

I’m well aware of the “wall of grief.” I understand that grief is an important part of life and that it is one of the things we begin to feel during awareness exercises, because we realize how fat and lazy our civilization has made us, and how it will all be over within 100 years. The grief is something I had an easy time dealing with because I used my non-profit as an outlet. I felt less grief the more I made a difference in other peoples lives. Martin Prechtels audio CD “Grief and Praise,” was what really helped me to realize that (and continues to do so). I’ve often thought that his CD would be complimentary to the Kamana Program, and would make a great addition to the required resources. The more people I was able to wake up or change, the better I felt about living in this garbage dump called Portland. The grief is not what caused the guilt. Grief is only a catalyst for stopping the core routines if it is preventing you from doing your job, which in my case it was. While the grief made me unable to function at work, quitting the core routines and Kamana is what caused the guilt that came after.

Now, digging deeper:

People are told by Tom Brown that Grandfathers level of awareness is their birthright and anyone can attain it if they want to, that it is the natural state humans are meant to live in. This gets most people thinking that all humans should live this way. To say that anyone can attain this awareness ignores the context in which someone would gain awareness like Stalking Wolf had; through the needs of a hunter-gatherer culture. Without those needs, you don’t have a Stalking Wolf. The culture of Civilization, which we are all captives of, makes it extremely difficult to live in a way where one could even have a shred of awareness close to Stalking Wolfs.

Stalking Wolf is the hero character for the Tracker mythology; he represents the human potential. I get that. It’s even fine that no one will ever be able to match Stalking Wolf’s abilities; I’m all about setting the bar high. If our ideal is to put a “Stalking Wolf on every street corner,” (literally or metaphorically) and we think we are supposed to (or should) be those next Stalking Wolf’s, yet as captives of Civilization our lives are organized in a way that makes that impossible, we blame ourselves and feel guilty for not living up to the Stalking Wolf standard of awareness. Even Tom Brown himself laments of this guilt, “I’m a poor example folks.” If Tom is a poor example, then we really suck! If Kamana is “Kindergarten,” as Jon has quoted Tom saying, and I can’t even pass Kindergarten, then I must really suck! Without a need for this awareness, it exists only as something we can try to live up to. A wise man once said, “Living up to an ideal doesn’t leave much room for just living.”

That my life was not organized in a way that allowed me to go to my secret spot without hating my job, or that my passions did not follow the same structure as the Kamana program does not mean I was not “ready,” or that I was not doing “what it takes,” or that I hadn’t “committed” to the program, or to “making a difference.” The things that kept me from doing Kamana and going to my secret spot were not personal “hang-ups.” We all have to work to eat. They were ordinary problems that we all face. As always it’s the culture you’re in. Kamana was easy when I didn’t have to work for a living. I imagine it’s very easy for college kids who live off student loans, or kids with rich families. However, I know people who have finished the Kamana Program who have felt this guilt too, for stopping the core routines after they finish for the same reasons I did; feeling as though they should be living up to the Stalking Wolf standard, but having other passions and having to make money makes that very difficult.

When you blame the cultural context on an individual by saying “They’re not ready,” or, “They don’t have what it takes,” or, “They just haven’t made the commitment yet,” or, “they’re not worthy” it only furthers an individuals guilt. It’s not a personal problem; it’s a cultural one. The cultural context is what makes a Stalking Wolf or helps people get to their secret spots or finish the Kamana Program. When I hear people say, “They don’t have what it takes,” it feels like they’re making a judgment on an individual and not looking at the cultural context that created that person. I feel this because I myself have said this about people in the past and I know I was judging them, not looking at the culture they were coming from.

The choices I continue to make in my life (call that a “pattern” if you want) are made to create and maintain relationships that feed me emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally. If the relationship stops feeding me, I either find a way to fix it or I move on to get fed elsewhere. I have not crossed some point where I now have some special ability to do the Kamana Program or go to my secret spot that I didn’t have before. I have spent years of dirt time learning to reorganize the cultural context around me and developing my available cultural resources. After all of this, I’m in a place where I feel that Kamana can feed me again and so I am rekindling my relationship with it and the other core routines. If you want to call that relationship a commitment go ahead. But if at some point it stops feeding me, or I don’t need it, I won’t feel guilty if I feel the need to walk away.

I also have no interest in living up to the Stalking Wolf ideal anymore, I’m more interested in conversing with what my heart is telling me, than an external mythological structure. While I’d like to live as a harmonious hunter-gatherer, I know that even most hunter-gatherers could not match “The Wolf’s” level of awareness. Attempting to live as a hunter-gatherer is setting the bar high enough for me! (at least for now)

Almost everyone I have spoken with (maybe a dozen folks) who never made it over “the hump” had similar experiences. I believe there are ways to help get people over the “hump,” that involve teaching them how to reorganize their lives and their needs for the core routines. Of course, perhaps that is just something Student Services could suggest to each student. Maybe it doesn’t need a chapter. Maybe that information is already out there in a book somewhere and Student Services could just recommend it. Maybe they already do.

I also think that folks should be made aware of this guilt so that if they decide to abandon the Kamana Program or any of the core routines, rather than thinking, “I didn’t have what it takes. Why can’t I make the commitment? I’m such a loser!” they’ll think, “My life is not organized for these routines. Does my heart think I should reorganize my life, or is the work I am doing what my heart wants me to do?” I have a hard time believing that everyones heart is going to tell them to change their whole lives around so they can be more like Stalking Wolf. It takes all kinds. We need it all. There is nothing wrong or bad about someone whose heart tells them they need to live in a way that would make it impossible to have Stalking Wolfs awareness. But if they believe this ideal over what their own heart is telling them (as I and many others have believed), they will feel guilty. Why? Oh yeah, cause if they’re not trying to reach Stalking Wolf awareness then they’re just part of the “mindless grey masses,” as Tom Brown calls them.

I have found this guilt in every Tracker community I have been introduced to. While Kamana is not a project of the Tracker School it is an element of the Tracker community. So in a sense what caused my guilt and frustrations had nothing to do with the Kamana program, and in another sense it had everything to do with it; it being a the ‘path’ to the core routines for many people. I understand that guilt, fear, and grief are all mentoring tools. But they are dangerous tools, for used in the wrong context they cause paralyzation instead of motivation.

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5 Comments on “More Kamana/Tracker Culture Stuff

  1. A great summation of almost ten years of conversations, rants, discussions, questions, about our beloved and yet somewhat unsatisfying relationship with that thing we call “the Tracker community”.

    And it continues…I’ve believed for a long time that though a Tracker or Kamana advocate says you need “commitment” to get through the wall of grief, we actually need love. Family. Support. Duh, right? And “the wall” of grief begins when and where we start truly empathizing and continues as long as we do so, to death and beyond if we choose. In fact, getting “through” the wall of grief has a lot more to do with learning to live with constant grief, to live “within” this wall, and celebrating it, cause christ at least we can feel something worthwhile and real, with our family, friends, and village supporting us. Calling it a wall at this point starts to seem as absurd as calling an entire bioregion ‘a wall’.

    Some have noticed that walls appear whenever we wish to bang our head against something that we don’t want.

    If a wall exists in this case, it exists between us and the willingness to grieve properly.

  2. Thank you very much for writing this, Scout. I have to admit, I have been very curious about your guilt (as I saw it evidenced in your Just Do It! blog and your story about destroying your Kamana materials and selling your field guides in your Kamana Two, Take Two blog.

    My interest stems from the fact that your guilt reactions are very similar to my own–especially when I was in the throws of Christianity, trying to live a perfect life. I had never seen that level of guilt outside of the context of religion. This blog, however, really summed it up in getting to the root of the problem: it’s a matter of unrealistic comparison. Whether it’s Christ or Stalking Wolf or Tom Brown or anyone whose life and accomplishments are set as the ultimate example, when you try to “keep your eyes on the prize” and push through and stay committed, you stop being realistic about your own life.

    I apologize if it seems like I’m trying to threadjack this post and make it a rant about religion. I’m not. I’m simply trying to analyze the impact of guilt and how it stems from the “deification”, if you will, of a recognized or imposed deity and the “path” to living like that deity.

    Scout and Willem, you both make excellent points about the most realistic ways to get beyond the guilt wall. That everything must be taken in context of ones own place in life, that not all things are pertinent to the moment, and even if they are, that the community should be helping you beyond or through or into the wall rather than berating you for the fact that your wall exists. My best experiences in Christianity were when I encountered individuals (as mentors or as cohorts) who were willing to debunk the myth of “if you can’t do this regimented thing, then you’re a failure” and help me look at my situation from a truer perspective.

    Unfortunately, those individuals are rare. I assume they are as rare in the tracker community as they are in religious communities. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to take a more balanced perspective and say “Maybe this path isn’t your path. Find your path and follow that.” To most followers in any context, there can only be one path of “be like Christ, be like Stalking Wolf.”

    Even if there are “mindless grey masses”, I think anyone who is being mindful is already in a mass of a different color or not in any mass at all. You’re right: it takes all kinds. [Insert cheesy, yet appropriate, “rainbow” metaphor here.]

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Scout.

    Your wrote: “I also think that folks should be made aware of this guilt so that if they decide to abandon the Kamana Program or any of the core routines, rather than thinking, “I didn’t have what it takes. Why can’t I make the commitment? I’m such a loser!” they’ll think, “My life is not organized for these routines. Does my heart think I should reorganize my life, or is the work I am doing what my heart wants me to do?” I have a hard time believing that everyones heart is going to tell them to change their whole lives around so they can be more like Stalking Wolf. It takes all kinds. We need it all. There is nothing wrong or bad about someone whose heart tells them they need to live in a way that would make it impossible to have Stalking Wolfs awareness. But if they believe this ideal over what their own heart is telling them (as I and many others have believed), they will feel guilty. Why? Oh yeah, cause if they’re not trying to reach Stalking Wolf awareness then they’re just part of the “mindless grey masses,” as Tom Brown calls them.”

    I think this is a very important statement. Laying all the guilt from failure on your own shoulders can be very paralyzing. I remember when I first read ISHMAEL, by Daniel Quinn. One of the points that Ishmael made clear was that the problem wasn’t so much with me but with the culture I’m a part of. This realization was so refreshing to me that I cried.

  4. Very interesting. I agree with Huby7 about the importance of that statement. I take comfort in the hope that my future grandchildren will live in a leaver culture.

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