This story starts back when I was much younger. I was six years old, pretty much an average kid to the common eye, but I was different. I was sensitive to my environment. I wanted to help others because I could see the pain in their eyes and the stress on their faces. I felt the need to heal others and take their pain. At the same time my mom, whom owned her own photography business at our beautiful home in Stilwell, Kansas, was given a book. Always working to raise us in the best way possible, she read the book “Grandfather” by Tom Brown Jr. She was fascinated by the new ideas that the book presented.
Concepts of life that she had never heard before, but ones that she could believe in; thoughts she knew in her heart were pure and true. On the inside of the back cover of this magical book, she found there were camps based on the teachings shared in the book “Grandfather.” At that moment she knew she had to take my brother and I to Ashland, Oregon, to the camp called Coyote Trails School of Nature. After that week we realized we had found something special. We went every year for the next several years. Ten years later in Oregon, my experience begins. “This is not just a story to me. It is a journey that helped me understand what is important in my life, what kind of people I want to surround myself with, and the knowledge that nothing is more necessary to life than happiness. ”
As I walked up the mountain for the first time in a year, I was mentally preparing myself for an unknown adventure. This summer was going to be different than any summer that I had experienced in the past. This time at Coyote Trails I was not going to be a student. I was going to be on the staff as an intern. I would be teaching students what I had learned at a very young age. My only fear was not being able to communicate the sacred teachings as well as others had once taught me. I was only in Oregon again because the people that were there had been huge influences in my life. In the past they always had made me feel accepted and loved. The lessons they taught me influenced my thoughts and decisions to this day. I prayed that I could do the same for the students I would be teaching.
I was going to stay in a tent on this mountain for eight weeks. I was not afraid. In fact, I felt free and happy. Free from the stress that I had in Kansas and happy because of it. It was almost as if I was coming home after so many years. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t expect to be stress free while sleeping in a tent on a mountain. I actually wanted no expectations in my mind. I was worried that if I got my hopes up I would get let down. I heard somewhere that expectations are pre-meditated disappointments.
“I knew what I wanted at the same time. I wanted to heal, take care of myself and be happy.”
When I say heal, I am talking about healing my condition called Pain Amplification Syndrome. I was so sensitive to my surroundings as I child that I began to take on the pain and stresses in my environment. After I turned ten years old I had several traumatic experiences. My parents divorced. I received several fractures in my ankles and concussions during soccer. I developed a rare ailment called Freiberg’s Disease that caused the blood to stop flowing to my second toe due to micro-fractures in my growth plate. In society I was taught to ignore my emotions and pain. Suppressing emotions and ignoring injuries are the main causes of Pain Amplification Syndrome. I had felt constant, chronic pain for six years. My nerves were hyperactive and constantly sent pain signals to my brain. It affected me in my back, neck and legs everyday. This somatic response was related to my stress; the more stress I endured the more pain I felt. I tried nearly every medication and healing practice that existed in this world. “My pain caused me to lose hope in others and myself. I remember believing there was no escape.”
For the first time in years I was beginning to feel some hope when I arrived in tent city, an area on the mountain where students and instructors were setting up tents for the summer. Tent city would be my new home. I had always felt an extraordinary peace in this place. I had been going here since I was six years old and the calm feelings of childhood were returning; carefree feelings that children have before the stress of the world starts weighing on their shoulders. It always felt different here.
I found a great spot for my tent just below the small clearing where most tents were located. The air was crisp, the sky was painted blue and the sun was warming my skin. I realized that I had never learned how to pitch a tent. Thoughts went racing through my mind, “I had been going to a nature camp for ten years and I didn’t know how to pitch a tent.” Wow, I thought. “I knew nothing.” In that moment, I decided that this summer I was going to learn as much as possible. This summer I was going to learn how to take care of myself.
From a desire to learn, I became aware that my teachers were everywhere. My mind shifted and began to look at the world differently. I realized that I needed to slow down more and take time to listen. Through listening, I would learn more. I was having insights and realizations about everything around me. I said to myself, “it’s amazing how much I can discover about my surroundings when I am aware of them.” Once I brought my awareness to the world around me, I learned more about the situations that surrounded me. I could apply this philosophy to every setting in my life. Everything was constantly teaching me something. Everything was my teacher. My thoughts flew through my mind as leaves do on a breezy day. If everything was my teacher, then all the stresses in my life were just difficult lessons that the earth was helping me learn.
I made up examples in my head so that I could explain my newfound knowledge to others. One example that ran through my mind was “an individual who constantly annoys me is teaching me patience.” It just makes sense. Newton’s laws of nature states, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This was one of the most positive ways of interpreting the world because for every negative experience I endured there would be positive teachings that came with it. “It gave me power, where before I had none. Now I had a choice. I could let stress devour me or I could decide to be aware of my teachers.” I now could learn about why they do what they do and how it affected me. I felt as if I was on top of the world. Nothing could touch me. I realized this was what happiness felt like. It was a sensation that lightened my body and revitalized my thoughts about the future.
After my new philosophies had sunk in, I started to practice these beliefs with several skills that Coyote Trails taught. Some of these techniques were called sit spot and fox walking. Fox Trail was a week long camp that was a mixture of all the camps and skills taught at Coyote Trails School of Nature. During Fox Trail, my group used fox walking to have an incredible experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. We heard owls calling to the east of our location above tent city. I led our group into the east on a narrow trail, surrounded by trees. We stalked so slowly and quietly that I forgot I was leading the kids behind me! After soundlessly travelling less than 30 yards, out of the corner of my right eye I caught some movement. Perched on a tall stump in a small clearing was a baby owl! The puffed up cotton ball with eyes was watching us curiously. We sat down one by one as we watched this amazing creature. After we sat in awe for several minutes we slowly fox walked away with gratitude in our hearts.
The owl taught me that when I walk quietly through the woods while I am aware of my surroundings, I would see amazing sights that I would never have seen otherwise. The wildlife had always been there but now I was aware of it. Fox Walking helped me slow down so that I could see and understand the world around me. This helped me to figure out what in my environment was giving me stress. As my awareness increased everything got easier. In order to fix a problem, or my pain, I needed to fully understand my surroundings. As soon as I comprehend what in my environment gives me pain I could choose to fix those things so that they would not bother me in the future. I could only fix a problem if I slowed down and faced it rather than not being conscious of it.
Another technique we used during Fox Trail was called sit spot. A sit spot was exactly what it sounds like. We would ask students to individually find a special place to sit in or around the meadow.
We would walk to sit spot meadow as a group early in the morning and before dinner in the evening. Sit spot meadow was a beautiful place. It was a sea of gold with hundreds of dragonflies, birds and other insects. The tall trees that enclosed the meadow were full of wildlife as well. We allowed people to slow down and take time to be in one place by themselves. After a short period of time our bodies would sink into the earth and we would make no disturbances to our surroundings. This would allow the animals to come to us. It made me feel connected to the world around me. Sit spot would calm my mind and let me check in on how my body was feeling. I tuned into my senses. I would ask myself “what am I hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting. I began to realize that senses are another pathway to understanding the world around me. My perspective of the world depended on my senses or how I felt in each moment.
I now knew that in order to heal my pain, I would have to bring my attention to it. I would have to treat it not as an enemy, but accept that it was there in order to let it go. At Coyote Trails I was able to help others to heal themselves. Through healing others and making them happy, I realized I was healing myself. It was a medicine I had never tried, one of selflessness and contentment that would heal me. I loved these children. I wanted them to feel joyful and free. There was so much influence in having the ability to make someone else smile. Through positive human connections, love would heal us. I was ecstatic and on my way to becoming healed and whole.
Isn’t that what everyone strives for; a life full of purpose and happiness?
Coyote Trails School of Nature was so successful and loved because, on this mountain, we felt free and accepted. All our lives we have strived to be loved and love ourselves. It’s human nature. Individuals felt that this place was so amazing because they started to feel true happiness. Not the happiness that money seems to provide, but instead, real happiness that they could provide themselves. Values of our staff included: accepting all people, allowing students to learn for themselves and being an example for the students of all ages to follow. After being on the mountain for a couple days, the adults would have positive life changing shifts and the children would turn into little Yodas. Watching these shifts in others, I also began to change.
This experience helped me understand what is truly important in life. I learned what it was like to be with people that supported me in positive ways. A community that loved me as well as encouraging mentors that taught me how to heal surrounded me. I came away with skills and concepts that taught me how to truly be happy. I understand now that happiness was a choice. Coyote Trails showed me that I could be happy in any situation. This means that in difficult circumstances if I use my awareness and make the decision to be happy, I won’t have stress. If I coped with my stress, I wouldn’t have pain. I remember that everything was my teacher and if I choose to learn everyday, my life will be so much better. Eventually, as I trained my mind to look with a perspective that was positive, even the most difficult situations were not going to damage me.
I now have purpose in my life. My journey is to help others start their healing path, as Coyote Trails School of Nature began mine. To this date I still practice sit spot and fox walking daily. My pain continues to heal more and more each day as I continue to do what I love. I am happy that each summer I get to go back to that beautiful mountain in Oregon. I will never forget what this internship did for me.
(Re-Printed with Author’s Permission) – you may reach Sam here in the comments section or find him on the Mtn.