No doubt you have heard or read stories about people born with the gift of clear and strong spiritual awareness. That was not me. When I was thirteen, I had my first powerful spiritual experience in nature. I was alone in a canoe, fishing on a lake I knew well in the northwest corner of Ontario in Canada. There were no human roads, habitations, or structures for several miles around, except for a few cabins on the north shore of the lake about a mile away.
I had been at that lake for two months every summer since the age of six. My relationship with the natural world began there. On the water by myself in a rowboat or canoe, I was at home.
From time to time I would experience a connection with nature that transcended the physical senses. In those moments I felt at one with nature’s way of being and with the cycles of days, seasons, creation, growth, and death. Eventually, that feeling came to me whenever I sought solitude on the water. I associated being alone in nature with safety, acceptance, serenity, adventure, and beauty.
This day was warm and calm. I was at peace, focused on the meditatively repetitive motions and anticipation of fishing. Suddenly I felt a powerful presence that seemed to be in the rocks of the shore. I had no teachings or beliefs that would help me to understand this vivid perception. In my mind I tried to find some physical sign—a noise or a motion—that would indicate a bear or another large animal just out of sight in the bush.
Nothing appeared. The feeling got stronger, and I became frightened. I forgot about fishing and paddled away. I avoided that spot for years.
After the experience near the rock bank, my spiritual life was nearly empty for thirty years. I forgot the experience and devoted my time to education, marriage, career, and family. To feed my imagination, I read books about science fiction, the paranormal, and speculations about our origins.
In early adulthood I lived in the physical realm. Much of my energy outside of work was devoted to dealing with a severely handicapped son, in a time and place where services were minimal. Within that context, I was on the path of material success. I no longer had a strong connection with nature. I had no spiritual path at all. At that time I could not recognize that something was missing in my life, much less articulate it.
However, I continued to have contact with nature, which saved me from losing touch with something I still knew was important. I would take long walks or runs, leaving the trails to explore and find more of the solitude that had been my refuge as a boy. I made occasional canoe trips, alone and with others. I studied books to learn about edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms. My only connection with the spiritual was the time that I spent alone.
Then, after a winter camping trek, my brother showed me a book by Tom Brown Jr. I was riveted from the first page. I had never found any other writing that weaved together the spiritual and physical aspects of life so seamlessly. I knew that I had to learn from this man.
At Tom Brown’s Tracker School,[i] I began studying ancient survival techniques. I discovered how to build a shelter that would keep me comfortable in any weather with no fire, how to find and purify water, how to create fire without matches, how to identify and read animal tracks, and how to identify and use many more edible and medicinal wild plants than I already knew.
These teachings come from many peoples who live close to the Earth, primarily those of the Native peoples of North America, known to many of them as Turtle Island. Tom Brown was taught by an Apache elder named Stalking Wolf, who had left his people to wander and learn. Stalking Wolf [ii] desired to find the essential truth in any teachings he could find. Nearly sixty years later, he met Tom Brown. They spent ten years together. This is the lineage of my first teachings of these ancient skills and philosophy.
At the end of the week-long course at the Tracker School I experienced my first sweatlodge. After the ceremony I received a vision that has guided my life since then. The story of that experience is in appendix 1.
In the years that followed I attended advanced classes at the Tracker School, acquiring higher levels of skill in both the physical and spiritual realms. I learned to enter a state of deep meditation in which I was aware of energies and beings outside the realm of ordinary physical existence. I learned to journey spiritually in nonphysical realms through purposeful dynamic meditation, to communicate with spiritual entities, and to use nonphysical energy for healing. I came to have a deep appreciation of the power of ceremony.
There are two important differences between dynamic meditation and the passive meditative practices that are more contemplative in their approach.
The first is that dynamic meditation has a purpose or an intention, which is held in awareness before the journey begins. It is often verbalized and is then released.
The second difference is that dynamic meditation involves a deliberate journey and a destination. I would begin the journey by visualizing moving on a pathway or stairs, flying, or progressing in some other fashion. When I had arrived at the destination, I would re-engage with the purpose of the journey.
I learned to communicate with the spirits of nonhuman beings and developed a deep spiritual connection with my nonhuman relatives in the natural world. I have had an affinity and spiritual relationship with plants, trees, and objects such as stones for many years. They have taught me about patience, acceptance, purpose, generosity, forgiveness, perspective, and most of all the unified consciousness that we all share.
I learned to travel in spirit to places that are inaccessible to me in my physical form.
The abilities to travel and to communicate spiritually with beings whose consciousness is very unlike that of humans were essential in the research described in this book.
It was in a meditation that I met the brightest, most beautiful, and most powerful spirit I have ever encountered. It identified itself to me as Jesus Christ. That memory still moves me deeply. In that experience I came to know in a powerful way that I matter, that I have a place and a role in this universe. I know that I am cared about and cared for by loving powers beyond my ability to comprehend.
After some years on this path, I believed that I was the only one in my part of the world who had the physical and spiritual skills I was developing. Thus, I decided to begin teaching so I could be with people who shared my passion, people with whom I could talk and practice with. I also knew that this was the best way to avoid losing my own skills. I could only build so many shelters and fires without someone there to share the work and the accomplishment!
I began with small workshops on various topics that included making fire, identifying and using edible and medicinal plants, building shelters, and tracking animals. Soon I expanded those training sessions into weekend workshops.
When I was ready, I began teaching a spiritual path based on what I had learned from Tom Brown and amplified by other teachings and my own experience.
A year after my first class at Tracker School, I met a teacher, an Anicinabe man acknowledged by his people to be a medicine man. I attended sweatlodge ceremonies with him, and he guided my first Vision Quest.
The Vision Quest is a ceremony that has been known for thousands of years by cultures around the world. Participants prepare ceremonially, sometimes for several months or years (one man said to me, “I spent four days on the hill. It took me twenty years to get there”). They are guided by elders who have walked that same road for themselves. A common format is to spend four days of solitude in nature asking, praying, and listening for guidance or a vision. During that time they are without food, without human company, without distractions, and with only minimal shelter.
Like many transformational experiences, the Vision Quest must be lived to be understood. In appendix 2, I offer a description of my most powerful Vision Quest. I received two gifts there. One was a new sweatlodge ceremony. The other was the ability to draw the essence of water into my body when I could not drink.
In the seven years that I walked with him, my Anicinabe teacher also prepared me to conduct sweatlodge ceremonies and to guide Vision Quests.
During those years I learned the ways of respect and the talking circle, the ceremonies of daily life, and the ceremonies and responsibilities of the sweatlodge. I made a commitment to honor these ways by keeping them for the generations yet to be born.
Along the way I also gained attunement at the second level of Reiki.
I once asked my Anicinabe teacher, “How do you respond when people ask you if you’re a medicine man?”
He said, “I tell them, ‘There are those who say that I am.’” In his tradition, and in the tradition carried by Tom Brown Jr., it is not considered appropriate for someone to proclaim themselves as a shaman or a medicine person. In those traditions, recognition of that status can only come from the community.
Not all traditions share this practice. There are cultures, in Latin America and South America as well as in other parts of the world, where people who have been initiated have no hesitation about claiming their status and responsibilities as shamans.
Today, more than anything else, I love the role of teacher. A teacher of spirituality and awakening, a teacher of life advancement through coaching, a teacher of elderhood in a challenging society, and a teacher of wellness through my work as a healer.
[i] “Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School,” TrackerSchool.com, https://www.trackerschool.com/.
[ii] One of my most important early reads was Tom Brown’s book entitled Grandfather about the life of his teacher, Stalking Wolf.
Posted May 28, 2021