If there were one aspect of my school days which triggers the most discomfort in my recollection, then that would almost certainly be maths. The monotonous, repetitive scribblings and calculations of almost identical sums for two hours straight on a Monday morning really epitomizes boredom (sorry Mrs. Wallace – I’m grateful for your intention!). Yet by Monday afternoon, a different type of math had me gripped, intensely focused and brought all my senses to life. The rhythmic chant of descending numbers echoing through the forest, drawing ever closer to the excitement of zero. Truly, nothing could be more exhilarating!
Frantic, silent footsteps would bring me to a well-used perch, underneath the dry, golden fronds of Wheki where I wait and listen with unfound patience and detail. If I’m honest, nothing at school would give me cause to listen as intently as this.
Footsteps, laughter, bird calls, breaking sticks and crunching leaves. Anything to give me a clue of the direction, speed and place of my seeker. I’m lucky. This time she’s gone North towards the big Pukatea tree, and I’m to the South-West. Feeling momentarily safe, I watch Spider above me tending to its web, noticing the intricate golden patterns adorning her back, glimmering in the sun light. And mischievous Fantail fluttering around me, giving away my position if only the seeker could read it’s sign. The more I ignore him, the closer he comes to me. But whilst watching his movements and trying to decipher his clicks, squeaks and chirps, I hear something close. A dark shadow grows closer, slowly moving one step at a time, scanning the forest from left to right. My heart skips a beat as my body tenses to freeze all movement in hope by some miracle I might be overlooked. “Found you!” booms an excited voice. My fear turns to disappointment as I climb out of my hole brushing away the leaf litter and debris, and into the clearing for all to see my defeat. But my badly disguised frown only lasts a moment as a smile quickly washes over me.
Now it’s my turn to count…!
The story began a long time ago
Many of us share childhood memories of games such as hide and seek. In my neighborhood in Bradford (UK), we played a Pakistani variation called ‘Pitu’ where the hider had to knock over a pile of stones from 5 yards, before being seen and caught. There was no forest, just un-fenced gardens and cobbled streets, but our neurological awareness has no prejudice. Good memories of fun times! But playful experiences like this are much more than just games. They are part of our training to become the Human we were designed to be.
This story begins long ago, long before academics dominated our education, and life demanded so much of us. It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution that the expectations that society put on us to fulfil certain roles swept us off our feet and away from our eternally intuitive self. Before that, life was simple. Food, shelter, warmth, love, safety. And what skills did we need to be successful in that? Deep embodied awareness. This includes sensory awareness, awareness of where we are, awareness of who we are – our movement, our intuition and our emotions. My hide and seek checklist ticks all of those boxes.
For the duration of the game, we are fully present in our environment, and all our cognitive abilities are challenged. Always trying to find ways to outsmart our opponent, to anticipate the next move, to plan escape routes and decoys. The seasoned pro would know which leaves make the loudest sound, and maybe even profile other participants, with the ability to anticipate which direction different people are likely to go, how far, and how they move. The simple game of hide and seek can offer a complex and complete package of skills which will serve us so well in life.
Just like puppies will play fight to develop the skills they need in later life, our ‘playful’ tendencies as children do more than just pass time between our ‘education’, chores and favorite past-times. They train and prepare us to fulfil our roles in later life.
Our game of hide and seek might not send us home with much seemingly meaningful information other than fun stories of chases and hiding places. Well, not consciously anyway. The neurological pathways which have been created and recreated will help to pave our pathway through life whether we’re aware of it or not. Developing the aforementioned cognitive abilities through engaging in multi-sensory play will be a friend who will help you in all aspects of life. Relationships, creative ventures, problem solving, loving and caring, and simply carrying yourself with confidence and wellness will all be aspects of your being which you can access without obstacle nor obstruction. And the best part of all, its not a piece of abstract information which you must imprint on your memory to be useful. It just becomes who you are.
Old ways in a modern world
Many people share a perspective that maybe I’d have a point if we all lived in the jungle as hunter gatherers, but what use are these skills in todays modern world? Well, how far would you get in any avenue of life or career path without advanced listening skills, the ability to process and respond to information, anticipate change, and some might say more importantly, to follow your intuition and to trust what feels right. In nature-based games, we practice deep listening. We respond to the subtlest bites of information and we are completely in tune with ourselves and our environment. In those moments where we patiently wait, when we sit quietly and open our senses to the world around us, we connect with our friends of the natural realm. In my story, this was Spider and Fantail. Tomorrow maybe someone else. Not to mention the friendly Wheki tree fern which gave me safety and comfort in the game. Each experience we share with these beings brings us to deeper relationship with them, and before we know it, they become our friends. Or at least our brain thinks so. I know with my own experience that walking amongst familiar flora and fauna makes me feel just as safe and comforted as waving to a friend across the street. And as we develop this connection, we generate a sense of belonging. A sense of being amongst friends wherever we are. And that brings joy, happiness and harmony into our lives. Which in a world where we face a huge epidemic of loneliness, anxiety, depression and a distinct lack of belonging, maybe a game hide and seek is more important than we think!
Waves of wisdom
Whether being the hider or the seeker, in play, our senses are tuned in, our awareness is sharpened, and our brain is rapidly firing signals and processing information to help us be more successful. The type of brainwave we produce while we are completely engrossed in a multi-sensory activity are called Gamma waves, and these are not only the fastest of all the brain waves, but bring with them an important mix of cognitive benefits. They are responsible for emotional well-being, self confidence, creativity, problem solving ability, increased perception and alertness, and help us to become more compassionate and empathetic.
As with all things, diversity and moderation are key so balanced brain activity is necessary to bring us holistic neurological wellness. We also need time to relax, sleep, socialize and create to live a healthy life, but that’s not to say that these experiences which bring us to our Gamma-wave frequency assist our learning and development far beyond the forest walls.
Advanced Hide and Seek
So next time your have the opportunity to join in a game of hide and seek, or whatever your tribe is playing, join in the fun. Whether you’re 8 or 80, the benefits are there for you. And if it seems too simple or easy to be considered fun, then here’s a few advanced techniques for you to practice and see how far you can stretch you senses and cognitive ability.
- Walk without making a sound – Whether your are the hunter or the hunter, the practice of silent footsteps (sometimes called Fox walking or Shadow walking) can really enhance your experience. Either the hunter won’t have any audible clues as to which direction you went, or the hunted has no idea you’re close and is more likely to move, peek, or make a sound. On the flipside, listening to the sound of footsteps while counting can do half of the seeking job for you. Although, some circles say this is against the rules!
- Be your environment – spread your awareness to your surroundings and take note of how your environment is moving, sounding, feeling. If the wind is blowing the leaves and small branches while the larger, heavier limbs remain stiff and stationery, see if you can mimic that. This will help you to bend in.
- Hide with your mind, not just your body – if your body is still and blends into the environment but your mind is loud, busy and everything the forest isn’t, that might just be enough of a disturbance to interrupt the sensory exploration of the seeker. And if the seeker doesn’t sense it, then the birds just might! Cue alarm calls!
- How close can you go? Once your finding it’s all a bit too easy, challenge yourself to see how close to the seeker you can get. If your hiding place isn’t that great, then you’ll really be relying on your other skills. And that’s a great way to practice and develop the subtler side of your abilities.
- Once you open your eyes and are ready to seek, take a moment to ask yourself, where would I hide. Scan the area for obvious and enticing hiding places. This will not only help your success in the game, but also help you to connect with your environment, and map the area around you.
- A step up from that, is to scan the area and with a deep connection and sensitivity to your body and your intuition, feel where people are hiding. You might get a strong feeling or sensation towards a certain direction. Or even an image or thought may come into your mind. Take these as clues. It can take time to decipher the relationship between body, ‘soul’ and surroundings, but this deeper level of awareness has more to offer you than you could ever imagine.
- Above all, make sure you’re having fun. Our entire being works so much better when we are happy.
So here’s to happiness, playfulness (whatever your age or disposition), and a life of wellness and deep connection.
See you out there in the Forest!
Co-founder of Nature Connection Aotearoa