008 Aboriginal Skills and the Path to Undistractable Attention - Jim Robertson

I always go back to square one: Where am I coming from? What is my intention here? My intention is to come from the best place possible, which is coming from my heart, from that pure place; that place that as I choose to see it, we all have.... And the choice, the big choice in life, is: Do we want to listen to this, do we want to pay attention to this, do we want to feed this, do we want to nurture this? Or do we want to ignore it?
— Jim Robertson

In our world of endless consumerist and technological distraction, “undistractable attention” is about more than just shutting off the social media; it’s about tuning into the guiding voice that’s inside each and every one of us. One pathway to that voice may be meditation or yoga, but our most fundamental route—as I learned in this life-changing conversation with Jim Robertson, an aboriginal skills instructor and naturalist based in Santa Monica, California, who coined that term—is via our eons-old home in the natural world. As Jim explains here, the absence of that connection in our modern-day lives has led to an epidemic of physical and mental illness, and left us struggling to fill that void with one mind-numbing addiction after another.

Jim has worked as a naturalist for the Santa Monica Mountains and taught aboriginal skills and wilderness survival training to nature-bereft urbanites for over a decade. But remarkably, Jim didn’t come to the world of aboriginal skills until he was well into his fifties. It isn’t often in our modern world and culture that we have the opportunity to sit and absorb the wisdom of our elders, and Jim, 78 years young, held me rapt as he unfolded his captivating life history over the course of this conversation, including a moving look at his struggles with physical and emotional pain that brought him to his current path. Whether you want to learn more about plants and the fun of primitive campouts, seek inspiration on how to live more deeply and fully every day, or simply want to be enthralled by the wisdom of one of the most delightful human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing, check out this episode! 

Here’s the path of our conversation:

  • Innate “primitive skills” and Jim’s childhood spent outdoors in 1940s California
  • How Jim discovered aboriginal skills in his fifties
  • The health challenge (and the psychic!) that led Jim to become a naturalist for the Santa Monica Mountains
  • Immersion in the outdoors as the ultimate medicine
  • Jim’s earlier decade-long struggle with profound emotional and physical pain, and how he ultimately came to the other side
  • The practice of what Jim calls “undistractable attention” (or "indistractable [sic] attention," as we refer to it a few times in the episode!)
  • Gail Sheehy’s book Passages
  • “I don’t think there’s anything better than being as sensitive as we can possibly be; because we want to feel deeply, we want to see deeply, we want to hear deeply, we want to live deeply and more fully”
  • The Shawshank Redemption and the place within that cannot be harmed
  • Playing pre-professional baseball, surfing and spearfishing at the beach as a teenager in 1950s Santa Monica
  • Discovering yoga while working in insurance in the late 1960s: “Here I was a business guy, with my styled hair [and] a tie”
  • Personal transformation in a time of monumental social upheaval (both then and now)
  • Trump
  • The necessary role of aboriginal and indigenous skills in the age of materialism
  • What it means to co-create with Mother Nature: Plant identifying, basket making, bow and arrow making, fire making
  • Jim’s aboriginal skills classes
  • “Full primitive” camping
  • Shooting a bison with a handmade bow and arrow (and “making everything imaginable” from that bison -- “from the hair to the bones to the intestines”) at Utah’s Boulder Outdoor Survival School
  • Jim’s thoughts on hunting and his day-to-day diet
  • The acronym Jim lives by (in the wilderness and everywhere)
  • A recent campout gone awry in the eastern Sierras
  • The deficit of nature in modern life and its connection to our epidemic of addiction
  • How to tap in to undistractable attention in your everyday life  

You can learn more about Jim and his classes via his website, Meetup group, and on Facebook. Have a question for Jim? Reach out to him directly: jimrobertson[at]aboriginalskills[dot]com.

If you enjoyed this show, subscribe on iTunes so you don’t miss the next one (and don’t forget to leave a rating and review). The theme music is by Paul Damian Hogan. Want to chime in on this episode or have an idea for a future show? Connect with me via my Instagram page, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Learn more:

Naturalist Training in the Santa Monica Mountains
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Boulder Outdoor Survival School