I’ve just returned from sailing the South Shore of Nova Scotia for ten days. Of all the teachers that live along the coast, the most profound for me may be the Great Blue Heron. The Heron understands the interplay of stillness and action, and I learn a little more about that every time I see one.
As Alan Watts wrote, “A heron stands stock-still at the edge of a pool, gazing into the water. It does not seem to be looking for fish, and yet the moment a fish moves it dives. [The way to see nature] is simply to observe silently, openly, and without seeking any particular result.”
It’s usually my habit to bring activity and intention with me wherever I go. Even when I’ve anchored for the night in a quiet cove and the stillness of the evening gathers around me, I’m likely to jump down into the cabin to fix this or that, or at least sit planning how I’ll fix those things or make some other improvement on the boat. It takes some discipline to experience the stillness all around, and actually see what’s there. When I manage to do this, I see all kinds of things I was missing, out in the world, and inside my head.
Much of my work is training of various kinds, and whenever possible I make use of boats, the water, and the natural world, which are the most powerful teachers I know. But I have to remember to give those things space to teach.
Kelly Cain has said, “Experiential education takes [our] preoccupation with everyday problems to such an extreme that it intentionally brings [our] mental baggage along, using natural areas not as a place to experience nature, but as a unique setting from which to work on self-esteem, team-building, even corporate profitability. The paradox is that we might learn more about ourselves by truly experiencing nature than by simply using nature as a backdrop for our therapeutic or corporate programming.”
The Heron starts from stillness, undistracted by action, so that he sees what action to take. When I am still, in the midst of the big world, I understand things better, and I see what to do. The Heron is my role model.
Alan Watts, Nature, Man and Woman, 1959
Kelly Cain, “The Burden and Privilege of Educating for Environmental Awareness”, Journal of Experiential Education, December 1999