Wilderness Therapy: the healing power of nature

 

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A year ago today I was camping in some pretty dire conditions. I was one of three staff members in charge of keeping a group of 8 emotionally unstable teenage boys alive during one of the biggest storms Oregon has seen in years. One experience comes to mind:

I’m awoken at 3:00 A.M. by one of the boys. “Staff! Staff! I can’t breath.”

I roll over and groan. (Totally the way to handle a potentially life-threatening emergency.) This particular individual had just had a panic attack around 11:30 that night and so my response was, “OK, just take some deep breaths, bud. Everything’s fine.”

Ten seconds pass. “Hey, I’m still having a tough time breathing.”

Another voice: “Me too! I’m having a hard time breathing, too!”

And another: “I can’t breathe either. What’s going on??”

Oh! I’ll bet that the four feet of fresh snow on everyone’s tent might have something to do with it. Holy crap! These kids really can’t breathe. Time to shovel them out.

This was one experience out of dozens. Anyone who has been exposed to Wilderness Therapy (either client of guide) knows that it’s the real deal. These kids are out in the elements anywhere from 1-3 months at a time – rain, wind, snow, or shine. The idea is simple: unplug from the “default world” and get back to basics. Surviving in the wilderness builds confidence; nature helps people develop a sense of place and belonging in a world gone mad.

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I’ve been a wilderness guide for a long time now. I consider myself extremely blessed to be able to guide people for days on end through remote wilderness. When you take people out of their comfort zones you get to see what people are really like when they don’t get their fix, be it the internet, alcohol, or the sound of traffic (seriously some people can not go to sleep if they only hear crickets).

 

The transition away from the default world can be a rocky one, but after those first two nights of sleeping on the ground, something happens. It’s like we’ve realigned with an ancient memory encoded in our blood and we realize this is the real world. Afterwards, it’s the coming back to civilization that takes some adjustment.

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This post is just a teaser. I want to dive much deeper into the philosophy of using nature to heal the human psyche in the weeks to come. I believe the earth has much to teach us. All we have to do is listen.

 

 

 

Man’s conscious communication with the natural world – and the incredible response.

Our relationship with the earth is much more dynamic than we currently understand. 

Humans have known for thousands of years that the natural world is conscious and alive.

Our relationship with the natural kingdom has transformed in the modern age – we have become separated from our origins. Living in buildings, disconnected from the elements, even something as simple as wearing shoes outside limits our ability to tap into the conscious power of the world around us.

For a lot of people, going back to the “old ways” is a little too much. Trust me, I get it, and in many regards, I’m one of them. I’m not a big fan of getting trapped in a rainstorm without a jacket, suffering through barrages of mosquitos and insects without bug spray, or sleeping on the dirt without a sleeping bag in the cold. Fortunately, we don’t necessarily have to go to these extremes. If we want to access the wisdom that this planet is willing to share the first step it learning to understand two simple concepts:

Everything is connected, and everything is alive.

This isn’t a new concept by any means. Animists have spoken for centuries about the consciousness of mountains and boulders.  Indigenous natives still speak about their relationship with the world around them – as if the very elements were their friends. (I am reminded of the many stories of Native Americans calling in the water after a rain dance.) Here’s an excerpt from a well-titled study: Being Nature’s Mind: Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Planetary Consciousness. Here one man is discussing his relationship with air:

“Each of those kinds of air becomes familiar, experienced and known. They bring messages. They “speak.” When you know things because you have felt them, you know them as alive, as having their own life, their own spirit. It is not that cute (or dangerous) little spirits live in them like cartoon characters; it is that they have spirit and, fundamentally, are spirits.”

Respect can be a powerful thing. The moment we see the plants, and the animals, and the elements as our equal, the moment we step into a shared vibration – we allow ourselves to understand more.

It’s not just animals that are conscious. For years, scientists have known about the intelligence of plants. A favorite read of mine is The Secret Life of Plants. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. During his study, Cleve Backster stumbled upon a remarkable discovery after he placed electrodes attached to a polygraph onto the leaves of a plant. At the moment he thought of setting one of the leaves on fire, the polygraph went wild. The scientific community was of course skeptical. But Backster quipped,

“Such high resistance to new ideas does not concern me,” he once said. “I have a truly wonderful ally: Mother Nature.”

For an enlightening video regarding our communication with plants, check this out:

Indeed there is much to learn on planet earth, and the more we learn to listen, the more our true potential and the understanding of our role on this planet will we begin to take form. If any of this resonates with you, I invite you to check out my novel, The Dreamer’s Lotus. It is a book about guidance, an inner-guidance that corresponds to the consciousness of earth. What would it be like to communicate with animals, or to gain wisdom from the plants and the elements? It is not only possible, but rather a reality waiting to be rediscovered.

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Please feel free to share your thoughts on the above post. I would love to hear how you communicate with nature and how nature has returned that communication.

A community of change

How we do this is how we do everything.

Our life is made up of individual acts and decisions that have created our current present reality. In order to create positive change on this planet we must first evaluate our own motivations and why we do the things we do.

Many people right now are undergoing a major awakening. Suddenly, everything is moving so fast. What has been hidden for so long is finally becoming revealed. We are realizing (not only that, we are understanding) that certain financial establishments, powerful corporations, and both political and religious institutions have been both destroying the planet and profiting from our own ignorance.

The old paradigm reaction is one of anger and blame. “How dare they do this to us!” Yet the new paradigm is asking for a higher level of awareness. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into victimhood. It is a program that only feeds our current problems. We are living during a magnificent time, an epoch where we have the capacity to become fully empowered and take responsibility for our own actions. Self-responsibility has tremendous payoff when we are willing to accept our own role as co-creator.


Truly, we are on the verge of ecocide. Our planet is being over-fished, over-logged, our top soil is being depleted, this list goes on and on. Yes, some people are more responsible for this devastation than others. But ultimately, when the final tree is cut down, who cares who’s fault it was?  We need to start asking ourselves, “What kind of world do I want to live in?” and “What am I doing to create this?” Our individual creations have a tremendous impact. Our thoughts and our ideas ripple out into a broader community where they transform and evolve. No question about it, we are in this together.

Currently in Southern Oregon, where I’m living, communities are popping up all over the place. People from all over the country are pouring out of larger cities in the pursuit of a more simple and sustainable lifestyle.

Community has become a buzz word. People tend to think that if they live “off-grid” with twenty other people away from the matrix, life will be easier. Far from it. Living on the land is hard enough. But living with each other, now that’s a challenge. I’ve been living in community for over a year now and the social dynamics of living together in close proximity has been my greatest lesson.

If my external world is a representation of my inner terrain then I have no one else to blame but myself when something bothers me. We are all existing as divine mirrors for one another. We tend to externalize our own behaviors and project our issues onto other people.

Life in community is a microcosm of this global community we are living in. If day after day the plants aren’t getting watered because someone hasn’t been doing their job,  it is the responsibility of the individual and the community to address the problem from a place of compassion. Creating an argument or blaming only reflects our own issues of not fulfilling our duties to our community. Before we can change these immense problems that we face in this world, we have to learn to truly work together, and the quickest way to work well with other people, is if we know how to work well with ourselves, and taking responsibility for our own behaviors.

As a community of co-creators, we are each taking on the role of being leaders and teachers for our fellow community members. Our daily decisions have the power to influence hundreds of people, all the more reason to be conscious of each moment in our day. I understand that this is easier said than done. Today’s world is engulfed in tantalizing distractions. It is easy to get swept up into someone else’s drama or find ourselves lost in the electronic void of the 21st century. But ultimately, it comes down to this: how are you directing your consciousness? Our bodies are consciousness generators. Our thoughts create universes unto themselves.

So what are you thinking about?

It’s time we start focusing on the solution. And we can exemplify this process through our day-to-day actions. We must return to our hearts. We must align ourselves with motivations of the highest caliber, because without question, that’s exactly what this planet needs right now. The beautiful thing about aligning with our highest purpose is that endless possibilities begin to unfold. By following our passions through the most mundane of tasks we create new ways of being and new avenues of perception take place. Envision yourself living in a global community full of innovative, caring, and responsible people. Trust that you too have something to offer.

The mindset of sustainability – an emerging education for the collective

My outlook will be different now, there’s no turning back.

I’ve been doing work trade on a permaculture farm for almost a week … and I’m hooked. Perhaps it’s the delicious food I pull right out of the earth, or the abundance of wildlife outside my doorstep, or the fact that the matrix is currently nowhere near my reality. Where I’m at, has something very important to teach me.

Aprovecho, a sustainable learning center, sits on a modest 40 acres in the hills of west central Oregon, outside Cottage Grove. Here, people from all backgrounds come to learn a variety of sustainable practices such as aquaculture, proper water harvesting, practical building design, and even pedal powered technology – ever grind your own wheat with a bicycle?

Before I came, I had only once before experienced permaculture while traveling in Ethiopia. I was staying at a small hostel which had transformed dead earth into a thriving oasis by mimicking nature through sustainable land use design. I watched as the owners took awe-struck villagers through the property, showing them innovative yet simple practices that obviously worked.  It was an incredible experience to witness the children process this new information like thirsty sponges. The term sustainable education sprang to mind.

On the other side of the planet, outside Cottage Grove, OR, Aprovecho has been working as a permaculture education center for over ten years. Ironically, many people who read this article have probably never even heard of permaculture before. But soon, they will. The concept and philosophies of permaculture are catching on fast, and the movement, is becoming a revolution.

The foundation of permaculture relies on the observation of patterns and systems and an understanding that nothing is independent.


This is useful wisdom for an expanding planet. More and more people are beginning to understand that their everyday actions are having great impact on other people halfway across the planet. For those seeking true sustainability, daily micro-management becomes essential. The processes that make up our day must be done consciously if we are to create a healthy future for the individual and the collective, which these days are one and the same.

Sustainable is a tricky word to define, especially in today’s green-market driven economy. Linguistically appealing terms such as all natural or self-sufficient have all but stigmatized historically traditional methods of conservation and practical science. The push for low-impact practices like car-pooling and water conservation have been obvious for years, but today have become synonymous with emotionally charged advertisements for hybrid cars and the monopolization of utility companies. A new earth conscious mind-set from society has been needed for decades, but only recently has our government seen the economic opportunity  to implement/sell these eco-friendly technologies to the public.

Hippies on the other hand have been screaming sustainable practices and “community mentality” since the 1960’s yet have been demonized as out-of-touch, impractical, and idealistic misfits in a consumer driven society. This same consumer driven society has brought us to where we are today, completely out of touch with our natural environment. The majority of us no longer grown our own food or even understand how it gets to our dinner table. The complexity of natural systems and cycles evades the general public. This results in a poor understanding of the earth we were once a part of.

In Oregon, over 90% of old growth forest has been clear cut. This has resulted in a huge explosion of blackberry bushes which grow best in areas with disturbed soil – another reason they are seen so frequently in ditches and vacant lots in towns and cities in the Pacific Northwest. One of my main duties as a work trader at Aprovecho is blackberry maintenance. Long tedious days of clipping, pruning, and de-rooting yield piles upon piles of blackberry vines.

Today, blackberries are considered an invasive species, much like scotch broom, a large yellow-flowered bush that grows throughout the country next to roads and highways. Both plants are soil rejuvenators, providing much needed nitrogen into the damaged soil for re-growth. Yet because of their invasive nature, toxic chemicals are being used to eradicate them, furthering damage to the soil.

Blackberries are but one example of the many problems we face and the impractical solutions we have created for solving them.

Sustainability is a mind-set, an evolving practice that encompasses all aspects of one’s lifestyle. External observation is paramount to understanding what actions we must take and why we must take them.  It’s not simply buying locally, it’s understanding a neighbor’s needs and lending support when possible. Going green isn’t just recycling, it’s rethinking.

Solutions are rarely arrived at before the problem becomes too big. Suddenly, the problem is much too big.

A ballooning global population is no longer upon us, it is us. We now find ourselves looking squarely in the face of some pretty disturbing realities: diminishing food chains, the end of oil as we know it, global drought, and an ever-broadening of the social classes.  As  time and globalization march ever forward, no longer  can we elude responsibility. There are no islands to escape to, save mars.

Aprovecho is the first stop of many. For the next 6 months, my partner and I will be visiting multiple alternative education centers and sustainability  programs in the United States – the end product, a documentary about sustainable education.

As a former educator, I believe that holistic education, above all else, is the foundation for a sustainable society and planet. As we collectively move into a new understanding of humanity’s role on Gaia, we must be certain that our youth are not only understanding this change, but are also spearheading it. New insights in education are being made every day. Teachers are coming forward with innovative new ideas and for a healthy planet to grow, these ideas must be shared. Students must be encouraged to think outside the conventional, because our future will be anything but.