Deer and Wolf. The Art of Listening

One of my favorite group activities that we did on the Foodtree retreat was a game called Deer and Wolf. Our group did an early morning walk from Foxglove Farm to a nearby lake in the forest and this is where we played. We did this exercise in groups of four, with one person playing the deer and the three others as wolves. The deer was blindfolded and positioned in an open area, and it was the job of the wolves to try and sneak up as silently as possible and steal the deer’s tail (a bandana). If the deer hears a wolf and points in your direction, then you’re out.

Anthony as a deer

I was part of the first group to play the game, with Sam and Jonny as my fellow wolves, and Na’ama as the deer. As we started I felt myself slowing down and concentrating on every sound around me. I immediately fell into the mindset of an animal, though I felt more like a cat than a wolf. Pretending to be an animal was one of my favorite things when I was a kid, so I thought this was a great game.

The purpose of the game is to remind you to listen. The deer has to listen for sounds of the wolves sneaking up and prevent them from getting too close, while the wolves have to be as silent as possible.

As I stalked Na’ama I found myself in a state of clarity and focus that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I was actively listening in a way I don’t normally, and what I mostly heard was silence. For the most part the sounds of my own breathing and heartbeat were the loudest things I could hear. I moved as slowly as possible being very careful about where I placed my feet amongst the dry grass and sticks, and used ambient noises to mask my movements when I could. My biggest struggle was trying not to laugh as I did this because the trickster part of me loves sneaking up on people (ask Boris).

This week I’ve been reminded of this exercise as I look after a friend’s dog who is blind. His name is Charlie and he’s been this way since birth, so for him listening is an important part of how he makes his way through the world. As I spend time with him I’ve found myself once again paying more attention to sounds in an effort to imagine how he “sees”.

.@BlindCharlie is annoyed that he doesn't get to come to @LikemindVan this am.

Active listening is clearly an art I need to cultivate because too often I find myself distracted and unfocused. How often do I really listen without the constant dialogue in my own head getting in the way? Both situations are a good reminder to slow down, listen, and strive for clarity of focus. Too-busy-life be damned. ๐Ÿ™‚

Inspiration: Working With Foodtree

Last week I was away on a three day retreat on Saltspring Island with the team I work with at Foodtree. It was an amazing, inspiring, and transformative experience and I really wanted to acknowledge this by writing about it here.

As you may know I was working full time as an artist for more than a year and in March I decided it was time to look for a part time job to support myself. I wrote a blog post about what I was looking for, put it out into the world through social media channels, and back came an opportunity to work with Foodtree.

Foodtree is an internet startup based out of Gastown in Vancouver. The basic concept of what we do is connect people with where their food comes from through web and mobile applications. Our goal is complete transparency in the food system, and our company motto is, “Know More. Eat Better.” The company was founded by Anthony Nicalo and Derek Shanahan, two awesome people who want to make a difference in the world and it all starts with food.

I’ve been working with Foodtree on a part-time basis since mid-April with the title of “Community Techknowledgartist” and responsibilities of supporting Derek as Community Manager. After the initial thrill and excitement about the job wore off I began struggling with what I was doing there and felt unsure about what I had to offer the company.


You see, Anthony is the kind of team leader/employer who gives you a role but leaves it up to you to define it, and that’s not an easy thing to do. There is no time for hand holding in a startup because it’s a fast paced environment, and it’s the responsibility of every person there to move the mission forward. You’re no longer an “employee” but a member of a team. I’ve never ever worked in an environment where I felt so empowered to perform the function I was hired to do. Or at least now I do after our retreat on Saltspring Island.

The retreat came just at the right time after a crazy couple of months of rebranding the company, refining the company’s mission, launching an iphone app, and new people joining Foodtree. I think we all left for Saltspring feeling uncertain about what we were in for, and came back from a very memorable experience that helped bring us closer together.

We spent the three days at Foxglove Farm with a group of facilitators who helped guide us through the process of clarifying the mission and developing our team. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to really get to know everyone and I couldn’t be more impressed by the intelligent, articulate, and amazing group of people I get to work with at Foodtree. The experience taught me that I belong there and that I do have many strengths/skills/ideas to offer our organization. This makes me happy.

Hazelnut grove

The retreat was a huge investment of time, energy, and money by Anthony and Derek in the group of people they’ve brought together.

I’ve never experienced that level of investment from an employer. It demonstrates how much our team leaders value and regard the individual members of our group, and the importance of the role each plays in moving forward with our mission at Foodtree.

I’m very grateful to both Anthony and Derek for including me in the further development of Foodtree. It definitely feels like being a part of something special.