Primal perception: Reawakening Your Senses



An intensive workshop offered July 12-14, 2017 at Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort in NW Oregon

To register, contact Breitenbush at 503 854-3320 after February 1, 2017



I’d like to begin by explaining why this workshop is offered at Breitenbush. As you will see, to fully benefit from this workshop involves not only understanding some unfamiliar and difficult perspectives, but it requires you to question and change your perspectives and behaviors at a very fundamental level. There is a minimum amount of discussion and practice that has to happen for it to become a part of your life in even the most superficial way. I’ve offered this workshop many times in the city and in a shorter format, and people find it difficult to absorb and retain even the key elements in this situation. It becomes more of an introduction than a deeper learning experience. A much longer period of time and the unique setting at Breitenbush make the experience much deeper and more fruitful. Breitenbush combines the simplicity of no electronics or media and having others take care of daily details, access to wild natural areas, and the relaxation and stimulation of a novel place that is calm and safe. Letting your deeper self change requires curiosity, clarity, peace of mind, trust, and openness. You’ll experience all of these at this retreat center. The value of this workshop to you will be greatly enhanced by sharing it in this place.

I’m hoping to describe this workshop clearly enough that you can tell if you are interested, but I want to say that it is difficult to describe in words. There are three reasons for this that it would be helpful for you to understand. First, the workshop is experiential and interactive, not conceptual. Not only that, but it is about experiences that our culture doesn’t widely recognize or comprehend. There are not even good words in our language for me to use here.

Second, this is not about learning to identify a new group of organisms or natural features, nor is it about western sciences such as ecology or biology. Its about learning about yourself , about how you are perceiving in the moment, your limitations and options when it comes to perceiving, and ways you can change your perceiving. This is pretty fundamental stuff that does not lend itself to brief verbal description.

Finally, this work is very individual. Its about your personal habits and perspectives, your aptitudes and interests. In the workshop itself, we’ll explore everyone’s individual constraints, needs, and potential to some extent. I can’t do that in a generic summary.

(Just for clarity, when I use the word perception from here on out, I mean your conscious and intuitive awareness of what is being registered by all your many senses. This includes at least five kinds of vision, two kinds of hearing, five kinds of taste, smell, at least ten kinds of touch, and senses of time, direction, body awareness, balance, heat, motion, acceleration, pain, awareness of mental states, and many more.)

One catchy phrase I’ve found that sums up this workshop in a way, is: “This is not about seeing new things in the same old way, this is about seeing familiar old things in a new way.” In fact, its about questioning and examining how we create the “things” in our perceptual world to begin with.  Several times in my life I’ve experienced radical shifts in my perceptual world.  These included drastic changes in my perception of time, in the detail I was aware of, in the vividness of all my senses.  Some were related to a particular situation, some to practices I was working on.  Most of them were temporary, but they were clear enough to convince me that we have many perceptual abilities that we rarely tap into.   I later found, through reading and personal contacts, that these were not unique to me.  I have also been blessed to have known several people who, for various reasons, developed unusual perceptual skills.  Their abilities seemed almost supernatural, but after talking and working with them I found that they were just unusual but natural skills that most of us never experience.  These life experiences have motivated me to develop the practices and exercises that I offer in this workshop.

I find that one of the first things I have to do with each group is to find ways to get them to break out of the deep-seated belief that the particular set of perceptual habits they’ve ended up with are in some way final, universal, and unchangeable; that the way you perceive right now is pretty much “reality”. In fact, our whole perceptual world is a virtual, made-up construction that is generated by whatever reality is out there in interaction with our body, mind, and ideas. It is an amazing and very functional virtual reality, one that we are hardwired not to question or doubt, but it is virtual and constructed all the same. Seeing this clearly is the key to embracing fully your ability to change your perception and achieve your full potential.

And the key to seeing this virtual, constructed nature of perception, as well as all your particular habits in the moment as they are happening, lies in the powerful skills of mindfulness, awareness, and attention. If we had grown up in a nature-based culture in an intimate functional relationship with wild nature, our life would have taught us these skills. For nature-based humans and all beings living in wild nature with only their bodies and minds to rely on, if you didn’t use your full potential of perception, awareness, and attention, you wouldn’t live very long. But for us, the path to re-gaining these natural functions within our own culture and environment involves some specialized practices and adjustments. So the first portion of this workshop will make sure that everyone sees the importance of this and gets a working idea of how to go about cultivating these basic mindfulness skills with regular guidance from an experienced practitioner.

The larger part of the workshop will consist of familiarizing you with the basic approach to examining, exploring, and modifying your own perceptual habits and skills.  The fact is, you have always been free to play with alternative ways to perceive, within the physiological constraints of our human body and senses. Here, you’ll learn a wide range of exercises and practices that can open up new ways of perceiving for you. This includes understanding the nature of intuition, and ways to extend your conscious awareness deeper into your unconscious. These will be hands-on experiential introductions, so you will not only learn the physiology and psychology behind them, but will know how to do them and how practicing  them correctly feels. I have come up with these exercises over 40 years of training, reading, talking and playing with others, and extended time living them and teaching them in cities and wild nature to people of many ages and backgrounds.   These will be examples, and you can use them to explore your potential yourself with exercises you create.

Finally, we will discuss as a group how our life-style and living environment shape our bodies, mind, and perception. We’ll talk about common situations that can damage our senses and cause them to atrophy, as well as your own particular situation. Then we’ll talk about ways to change and play with our life-style, environment, and approach to life that can help to heal and reverse some of this damage. Whether your interests are nature observation, bird watching, photography, scientific research, art, writing, homesteading, a deeper functional and spiritual connection with wild nature, or just living a richer life, this workshop will greatly enhance your experiences.  When you return to your home and daily life, you will have the insights and tools you need to literally change your world and to regain your full sensory potential in all aspects of your life.


    Learn to safely and conscientiously harvest the bounty of wild food all around you.  When do you know a plant well enough to eat it?   How do you harvest this species so that the resource will be sustained?   What are the common, easily processed, delicious wild edible plants on or near your land?  Learn all of this as we take a pleasant walk through woods, swamps, and fields.  The landscape will never look the same to you. 

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Everything that touches the earth leaves its mark.  Learn how to identify signs left on the ground, vegetation, rock, and even water by animals, plants, water, and weather.  Knowing who did it is just the beginning.  When did it happen?  What were they doing?  What interactions were going on?  The interconnected stories of what has happened in a place can be read from tracks and signs.  In this course you can learn the basic skills that can make you a master detective and story reader if you practice them diligently.  You will be amazed at all the fascinating stories you have been walking past all your life.  These skills will make you a keen observer in nature wherever you go, as well as in all aspects of your life





  There are so many kids today, especially in large urban

areas, who spend almost no time just playing in the

woods.  This is true for a variety of reasons, but it is

possible to find ways for kids to do this locally.  This

course works best with one or two families.  We go out                                                   kidsinthewoods

to a relatively wild area close to your home that is

accessible and can stand up to off trail use, and just

spend a few hours playing and learning in the woods.

The time is spent learning a little natural history,

finding the gaps and barriers in the parents’ experience

that hinder them in effectively guiding their kids in

nature, and modeling inquisitive and conscientious

interaction with nature for the kids.  The goal is to help

the family make the most of their unstructured time in

wild nature so that kids have a safe and positive learning

experience that will keep them coming back for more.



    Many people are reluctant to leave marked trails even where off-trail use is allowed.  Having stayed on the trail all their lives, they never experienced the wonder of exploring and the joy of seeing all the faces of a landscape.  This is usually because they never learned the simple skills that would allow them to find their way through an unkown landscape while they foraged, explored, or watched wildlife.   This course will teach you the basics of lostproofing, oritenteering, and finding your way to where you want to be.  Starting with the state of mind and conditions you find yourself in, we’ll look at how awareness, mindfulness, and assessment can guide you in your decisions.  Then we’ll learn a variety of ways to find your way to a place you’ve never been before, or to retrace your steps back to your starting point.  Once you master these skills, you will feel confident and comfortable no matter where you wander or trek, so you can enjoy yourself without worrying. 



What do you see when you look up at the night sky?  A myriad of lights?  Constellations?  Whether you use a telescope or your un-aided eyes, this course will give you a whole new story about what you see in the sky.  Learn about distances, size, temperatures, speed, and energies that are almost beyond imagination.  We’ll talk about the sun and planets, stars, galaxies, comets, rainbows, clouds, and all the common phenomena visible in the sky.  You’ll hear about this in language and images that will allow you to imagine what its really like up there.  Great for kids or the kid in the adult

Together among stars



     We can feel the tremendous amount of free heat pouring down on the earth every time we walk out into the sunshine.  In this course you will learn all the many ways to use that free energy to heat, dry, cook, and grow using simple devices that can be built from salvaged and recycled materials.  Everything from your home to food dryers, clothes dryers, water heaters, greenhouses, and cooking ovens all use the same basic design principles to collect and use the heat from the sun.  Once you understand these principles, you can improvise your own devices and technology to fit your situation.  We also offer workshops where you can build your own device from a pre-fabbed kit we provide.   Have fun, save money, and use less electricity and fossil fuel.  Workshops can be designed for kids or adults.





Our mind, body, and senses developed during thousands of generations of lives immersed in wild nature. The radically transformed and controlled human engineered environments many of us spend our lives in do not cultivate our sensory abilities to their full natural potential, and often times even damage them. Through understanding how our mind, body, and senses naturally function, we can learn ways to restore much of our ability to perceive and function in a deeply connected way in wild nature again. Drawing from western sciences of psychology, neurophysiology, and biology, as well as from eastern introspective traditions and the daily life of people still living closely with wild nature, this workshop will help you find ways to correct the atrophy and damage resulting from a life of living indoors, looking at screens and books, exposure to toxins and loud noise, and the relative sterility of human designed environments. You can use a toolkit of simple practical exercises developed from the sources above and from personal experience to reshape the way you are in wild nature. You will gradually find yourself once again living from the rich, intimate interaction with other life and the natural environment that is your birthright.






We spend most of our lives moving through human engineered environments that have covered over the living earth with floors and pavement, removed distracting obstacles, and are mostly devoid of other life. Had you grown up in a wild natural environment, you would have an innate sense that you tread on a living world, and that you were constantly being observed by all the living beings you contacted and passed by. Native Americans universally called invading Europeans the walking dead because they marched over the earth looking straight ahead, heedless of the life around them and their effect on it. Today we walk with this same Frankenstein-like oblivion because we have transformed our world so we don’t have to pay attention to it or how we move through it. By examining the dysfunction of the way we move in wild nature, learning about how our body and mind actually work, and practicing new skills of balance, movement, and awareness, you can learn how to live and function in wild nature in a way that is not threatening or terrifying to the life there. You will not be hiding, but your presence will no longer be discordant and conspicuous. For the first time, you will be able to move quietly, naturally, gracefully through woods and fields and see animals doing what they normally do, instead of watching them flee in terror or not see them at all in their hiding places. It will bring you into your natural deep, intimate connection with the natural world we all still live in.