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Interview with Victor Wooten, Dr. Nicole Apelian, and Jon Young

by Aidan Young

I’m so excited to share this conversation with you today!  I recently had the chance to connect with Jon Young, Dr. Nicole Apelian, and Victor Wooten, and reflect on their experience with the San Bushmen from the Kalahari and what they have learned from the trip. We talked for more than an hour and there are some great stories and pieces of wisdom in there.

Listen here, or download the audio (show notes continue below):

Since our conversation, a question has been with me:

​​What is connection, really? And, especially with regard to nature connection, what is the value of connection in our modern lives?

I have heard the 8 Shields Model described as a collection of principles designed to facilitate deep connection to nature, to other people, and to ourselves. The stories of the San suggest to me that connecting with the world around them is at the center of their values. As our common ancestors, they give us a look into our own nature. What can we learn from them?

For half a million years or so, our very survival depended on highly developed senses and an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world around us; connection was necessary for success. Recently, an evolutionary millisecond or so, we have specialized and modernized, and no longer have the same needs from a survival standpoint. But, the evidence points toward an intrinsic yearning for connection, whether or not we still need to find our supper in the forest or stay out of the leopard’s path.

What, then, IS connection? Why do we need it?

What if connection is, essentially, love?

What a brilliant survival strategy it would be to align the feeling of love with developing an understanding of the world around us. And, before you dismiss my idea as some new-age utopian fantasy, think about this for a second: when it comes to the subjects that you know best, where your knowledge is almost a little freaky, don’t you LOVE those subjects? I’ll tell you this: no one has ever made me practice music. They don’t have to. It’s a 100% bona fide love affair.

In any case, you don’t have to worry about whether this idea is true, but let’s try it on for a little while and look at connection through this lens:

Nature Connection

Most of us can identify with the feeling of really loving a pet, and we experience that feeling as reciprocal. Is it really that much of a stretch to think we could develop that same relationship to the robin in our back yard? As our awareness, our connection, with the world around us grows, so too our caring and love for the world grows, which draws us to connect further. It’s a positive feedback loop. Imagine how much fun it would be to live in a world where you connected with the other animals and plants like you do with your pet!

Note, the connection we are talking about here is NOT the same as knowledge. That would be like looking at a photo of a dog and then claiming you’re connected to that dog. Sure, you know it exists. That’s about it. Connection can’t be “understood,” it must be “experienced.”

People Connection

​Listening to the stories of the San, I was struck by how committed they are to taking time to properly welcome and greet every person they meet. There’s such power in being seen and included in the group. We are much more likely to have a positive experience when we feel safe and welcome. Imagine your favorite times with other people and a few things are likely to be true: everyone is included, you’re having fun and laughing, or you’re sharing deep conversation, maybe even tears.

Taking the time to greet and welcome someone makes them feel safe and connected. When we feel connection with those around us, we are much more likely to act from a place of love and understanding.

Often, our bodies are in one place but our mind is somewhere else. Routines like circling up and sharing something we’re thankful for helps us to become present. What would it be like if we took the time to do these things with the people in our lives?

Connection to Self

In the recording, Victor describes how he felt “free to be me” when he was with the Bushmen. If we spend enough time in connection, feeling safe, welcome, and accepted, what emerges? Our natural interests and personality. Each of us is drawn in a unique direction. What does it look like when we are allowed to be drawn naturally?

Surrounded by others that welcome and accept us, it is also safe for us to grow and learn, and for us to seek help and guidance when we need it. Imagine living in a community where everyone was “someone I can talk to.” Imagine living in a world where your true gifts were being shared with your community, and so were the gifts of everyone around you.

The San value people and connection first. Of course, they live very simple lives. They don’t have ​mortgages, or cell phone bills. It is, admittedly, a challenge for us to juggle the necessary complexity of things in our lives. But, let me leave you with this: what if you put people and connection first? What if you put love, and being loving, first? How would things change?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Previously published on 8shields.org; reposted with permission.