Autumn Reflection

Today we had a reflective outdoor practice at Highbanks Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Nobody participating in this month’s practice had met before, and each was entering the experience with a personal intention around releasing and letting go, in honor of the season. Together, we began by engaging in two guided grounding exercises to softly and fully mindfully “arrive” to greet the land, one another, and our own internal presence.

highbanks feet.jpgWe then began walking along a trail on metaphorical and meditative journey involving three chapters…

Chapter One: As we began to move along the trail, we quietly explored the earth’s supportive process of letting go in autumn and our own personal process of releasing and letting go.

Chapter Two: We slowed down our movement and noticed what happened in our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as we shifted off the trail, each of us finding an area that individually resonated and engaging in journaling, meditation, or simply resting.

Chapter Three: We returned to the trailhead and, as we did, noticed what we were leaving behind, as well as the support we have and need in order to transition and grow.

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Some of us expressed finding greatest peace when we were moving, with the rhythm and sounds of our feet as we took each step through the fallen leaves. Others expressed finding peace in the quiet, reflective resting phase of our journey.

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I loved most of all the scent of leaves, the sounds of the wind rustling the branches above us, and simply being in the company of such kind and compassionate people as we celebrated the earth’s fall season – and our own processes of letting go.

Enchanted by the Cranberry Wilderness

It was the kind of wilderness within which you might actually expect to see little gnomes and fairies wandering around. Breath-taking beauty, forests with a lush mossy carpet floor, ferns and rhododendrons galore, and a striking abundance orchids; we just may have stumbled upon a version of paradise in the Cranberry Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia.

Toadstool mossy cottageElizabeth in a natural mossy chairIt had been 4 months since my colleague Russell and I had taken our last backpacking trip together. During that space in time, we both had some outdoor adventures separately and moved through significant life-altering experiences along the way. As we began our trip out to West Virginia, I noticed the comforting feeling of easing into an unknown wilderness with a familiar companion.

Russell and I set our intentions as we approached the trailhead. He named his intention of being present and awake to more fully noticing the landscape surrounding him. I named an intention of dropping down into a more grounded and centered space as I moved through and related to this natural landscape, as I related to Russell on this journey, and as I related to my own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Russell in the big forestElizabeth walking amongst the trees and rocksRussell taking a breakElizabeth taking a rest on the mossy rock As we shifted out of the overwhelming stimuli of our urbanized environment, I noticed my whole body quieting. I felt more spaciousness and allowance for simply what was in the moment. I noticed appreciating the richness of shared silence as much as the richness of meaningful conversation. I became more fully aware of the stars overhead (there was no rain on this particular trip, so we were truly able to sleep beneath the stars each night), the sounds of the birds, the lulling trickle of the creeks and streams nearby, and the cadence of my own breath.

Landscape view We experienced the physical exertion of carrying a pack, navigating some muddy trails, walking long distances in search of water, and moving up some steep inclines. We experienced deep relaxation provoked by the sensations of sunlight and the breeze against our skin, delicious food cooked over a camp stove while surrounded by a stunning environment, and by the knowing that both of us relied on one another in such fundamental ways on those trails, and that both of us would show up in support of one another as we navigated areas of smooth and challenging terrain.

Elizabeth and Russell looking up at the skyCairnDuring our car ride back to Ohio, we talked about our hope for future backpacking trips. As we reached the month of May 2018, we both agreed: of course we will return to the Monongahela National Forest. The plentiful orchids will be in bloom. The majestic Cranberry Wilderness will call us back.

 

The 6-, 36-, and 66-year-olds set out for a backpacking adventure…

This was an adventure. We were the explorers. Neither the 66 year old nor the 6 year old had ever backpacked before. I (the 36 year old) seemed a trusty guide. The time was now.

Andre with treking poles and mommyWe arrived in at Zaleski State Forest on a Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect September day. The grandson and grandfather were excited and uncertain…would they be able to do it? Would their packs be too heavy? Would the hills be too steep? Would the night be too dark? The animals too wild?

They bravely set off on the trail.

Andre and mommy backpacking

pappers and Andre backpacking

Surprised by our physical strength and eased by the cadence of the backcountry, we three backpackers trekked for a few miles before it was time to set up camp. Night descended and curiosity enveloped fleeting fears. The adventurers found that nightfall was brimming with its own special wonders.

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What memories! We cooked together. We laughed and rested together. We talked about the wonders of life and death together, as we looked up at the trees, just beginning to show signs of autumn foliage.

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And so was our little journey, woven by three generations of humans together on a simple, beautiful adventure.

Pappers and Andre backpacking Zaleski

Lost

Elizabeth contemplating

All of us have experienced those moments in which not even the best map and compass can help us navigate our sensations of feeling lost inside. In these moments, we might notice rolling waves of grief, confusion, sorrow, and fear. We might feel our world has turned upside down. In one such pivotal moment in my life, my mentor offered me a poem. This poem has become one of my navigation tools, nudging me back into being “found” in those moments when I seem to have lost my way.

So, now it’s my turn to offer it to you:

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~David Wagoner, 1976.

 

Our monthly offerings for fall/winter of 2017

laurel

Along with sharing reflections, this blog also serves the purpose of providing a platform to describe what we are offering to the community. Thus, we announce our

Monthly Outdoor Reflection Series

In this series, we will offer supportive facilitation to assist with grounding and centering in several beautiful natural settings. This will involve periods of movement (walking and/or gentle grounding exercises), periods of quiet reflection and/or exploration, and periods of optional sharing and reflecting with one another.

You are welcome to come to all 4 meetings in the series or just 1; we encourage you to do what feels right and manageable to you.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” -John Muir

Monthly Reflection Meetings for 2017:

Monday, September 18, 2017, 6 – 8pm:  Beginning the week with intention

Description: We will meet at the beautiful 120-acre Scioto Audubon Metro Park and together slowly unwind from the day through grounding and centering exercises, reconnect with our natural landscape surrounding and within us, and notice what natural intentions emerge.

Sunday, October 22, 2017, 3 – 5pm:   Autumn Reflection

Description: Amid colorful fall foliage, shale bluff, ravines, and tributary streams of Highbanks Metro Park, we will invite you to explore and ground in your own internal autumn – noticing and embodying our own processes of releasing and letting go.

Sunday, November 19, 2017, 3 – 5pm:  Gratitude & Renewal

Description: This will be a time in which we will welcome the creation of a restorative space together at Batelle Darby Creek Metro Park, facilitating an opportunity to more deeply connect with that which we carry within our bodies and spirits that resource us with vitality, strength, and peace.

Thursday, December 21, 2017, 6 – 8pm: Winter Solstice candlelight celebration

Description: This celebration of light and darkness, both within and surrounding us, will take place in the outdoor courtyard at 1550 Old Henderson Road, followed by shared reflection, nourishment, and tea in the warmth of the indoors.

Pricing:

If you register for one meeting at a time, the cost is $50 each.

If you register for two meetings at a time, the cost is a total of $80.

If you register for all four meetings at a time, the cost is a total of $150.

To reserve your space or if you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Olate at olate.elizabeth@gmail.com or 614-390-6482. All of our activities will happen rain, shine, or snow. We will notify you if we cancel for potentially dangerous conditions such as torrential downpours, lightning or snowstorms. Please dress in ways that feel comfortable and warm/dry for you.

Facilitator Description

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Elizabeth Olate, MA, MSW, LISW-S, is a nature-lover, mother, and psychotherapist. In her private practice, she specializes primarily in working with adults and adolescents on issues related to trauma, anxiety, and depression. Elizabeth has taught classes at The Ohio State University at the undergraduate and graduate levels, she has led clinical training workshops as well as intensive therapeutic retreats, facilitated therapeutic groups (in indoor and outdoor settings), and she has engaged in clinical work with individuals and families since 2004.

In addition to her therapeutic work, Elizabeth has always been an explorer and lover of the wild outdoors. She is certified in Wilderness First Aid and engages in backpacking, hiking, and camping outings locally and throughout the United States. In addition, she completed a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in wilderness expedition leadership and guidance. Elizabeth combines her knowledge of gestalt and somatic therapeutic practices with her reverence for and connection with the natural world, drawing on nature as a resource for enhancing self-awareness, connection, and awakening.

When Elizabeth is not at work in her private practice or out in the wild, she enjoys the presence of her family and friends, and trying out culinary “experiments”.

 

Coastal North Carolina

“When anxious, uneasy…thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”  ~Rainer Maria RilkeSunset pier Oak Island.jpg

Did the coastal North Carolina landscape unfold before me or I within it?

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As I traversed its coastal forests, enchanting wetlands, carnivorous plants, and rhythmic ocean waves… as I inhaled the scent of salt, heavy in the air…

I found myself thinking less and feeling more.

Trail NC Beach State ParkswamoCanoe sunriseSound at sunsetDusk Oak Island beachLandscape CB SPI felt my soft mammalian body moving, so tiny, along the vastness of the shore.

I found myself a little more.

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Easing into Natural Being

Children are some of my greatest teachers; their curiosity and zest for exploration often seems downright palpable. I love most when I’m out in the wilds with children – or with grownups who have the ability to access their inner adventurous child. It is with the young at heart (regardless of their chronological age) that I myself experience more fully the enchantment, the mystery, and the awe of our earth.

After an hour (or a day or a week) of submerging my feet in startling, soothing cool water, watching the way the shadows from the leaves above dance on the path, marveling at the beautiful design of a single blade of wild grass, and noticing the scent of soil and water as I breathe…

Blade of grassYellow Springs 2017

..I find I can exhale a little longer and fuller. I can think with more clarity and peace.

still water

Even as I return to the bustling dance of urban life, I am at ease.

Wild Women Under a Full Moon

This weekend was dedicated to joining with a special group of soulful and strong women in hiking and exploring the wilderness within and surrounding us at Mohican and Malabar Farm State Parks in Ohio. We engaged in deeply moving conversations, meditative silent hiking, and enjoyed delicious fresh food cooked over a campfire. As the day was winding down and nightfall descended, we camped by the light of a wondrous glowing full moon.

Her heart was wild,

but I didn’t want to catch it, 

I wanted to run with it, 

to set mine free.

-Atticus

Wilderness Practice at Red River Gorge

“Modern psychotherapy is almost universally practiced during a fifty-minute hour in an office, in a building, in a city or suburb. The pattern is all but automatic; opening a ‘practice’ means opening an ‘office’ that must usually be reached by driving a car along a congested freeway through a threatening city.  Ecopsychology poses a powerful challenge to such therapeutic business as usual. It reminds us that the original environment in which teachers and healers sought to save people’s souls was the natural environment, and the farther from ‘civilization,’ the better. Is it possible that certain unconscious assumptions about the world are built into the city? Do those assumptions prevent both therapist and client from finding the most effective kind of healing? Is urban culture itself concealing repressed contents that need to be reclaimed and returned to consciousness for analysis?

Wilderness therapy – or ‘practice,’ as Steven Harper prefers to call it, by way of making a vital distinction – is the boldest ecopsychological method so far developed for raising questions like these. It abandons the office, the city, the clock in favor of a setting that more closely corresponds to the natural habitat that has always been used by traditional cultures for healing the troubled soul. As Harper suggests, the authentic experience of wilderness undercuts all our suppositions about the ‘civilized’ and the ‘primitive’ in ways that can deliver a ‘reality shock.’ If we approach nature as he proposes, we may find ourselves asking where the ‘wilderness’ really is. Is it perhaps within us, still waiting to be explored?”*

In my career, I identify as a therapist who meets people from all walks of life for outpatient therapy in my indoor private practice nestled in Columbus, Ohio. And I identify as a practitioner who meets people from all walks of life for wilderness practice in natural wild landscape.

I reside in a city with a population a little shy of 1,000,000 people; my solace unfolds in the wilderness. As Russell and I invite others into the wilds, we learn how they too often experience a deepened sense of themselves in connection with soil and rock beneath their feet. They seem to experience belonging in new (ancient) ways.

Our backpacking trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky was intended to be a facilitator retreat; we had much to discuss about determining our next steps moving forward with projects for our program NSWE (Natural Step Wilderness Experience).

When we moved into a natural area of Corbin Sandstone formed over an estimated 300 million years, however, our agenda shifted into the periphery.

How could we not be captivated?

We arrived. We were reminded that nature is our facilitator; we are mere student participants, naturally exploring moment to moment.

So, instead we experienced a deepened sense of ourselves in connection with the soil and rock beneath our feet. We experienced belonging to our earth in new (ancient) ways.

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WildflowerRock picCampsite & Russell making a fire

 

Fungus

Elizabeth walking on the rock

 

*Roszak, T. (2014). Foreward to the way of wilderness. Retrieved from http://www.stevenkharper.com/wayofwilderness.html.

 

Zaleski

It was late April. Both Russell and I thought that weekend we were going to be hiking at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, but for several reasons we last-minute decided to change our plans and instead drove an hour away to Zaleski State Forest in Ohio.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, this unfolded into one of those spontaneous, marvelous choice points…you know, the kind when you impulsively shift your course of action and discover yourself in a treasure cove?

Zaleski State Forest is the second largest state forest in Ohio and offers lovely backpacking trails. That weekend we listened to a beautiful whip-poor-will, apparently content to serenade the forest from a branch above our tents nearly all night long. We spotted a red-eft newt camouflaged amongst the leaves blanketing the forest floor.

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We raved over the showy orchid (Galearis spectabilis) blooming beneath the canopy of trees.

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We watched a coyote deftly move up a steep forest incline. We marveled at the moss, the lichens, the ferns, the fungi, the sunlight gleaming through the trees. There was nothing else we wanted for besides all that already surrounded us.

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As we hiked out of the forest that Sunday mid-morning, I felt my wakeful presence meet the fast cars on the highway and I was reminded of an essay I had read by Robert Greenway. He stated:

“…when consciousness opens full to wilderness and immerses itself in natural processes, the return is almost always a painful experience…In the painful ‘reentry’ experience we feel our newly open and connected beings congeal into hardened, separate, well-defended selves. Although unpleasant, this process is perhaps a unique opportunity to experience mindfully the cultural forces that normally operate outside our awareness…I counsel wilderness participants to leave the wilderness without regret, without holding on, to find healing in the transition, and also to plan for continuing transitions between wilderness and culture on a regular basis. It is also helpful to establish political and cultural relationships with the wilderness visited. Since all wildernesses are at risk – all are being damaged in one way or another – there are plenty of opportunities for such relationships. Of course, continuing with the wilderness group itself supports an ongoing healed relationship with nature.”*

As I return to my memories of that weekend, I find a collection of ordinary moments that became infused with the extra-ordinary. Perhaps this is what happens when we move into a state where being on earth itself is cause for celebration – and when we allow ourselves to ease into relating with the coyotes, the red eft newts, and the showy orchids.

My heart is wild and full.

 

*Passage taken from: Greenway, R. (1995). The wilderness effect and ecopsychology. Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 133-134). Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.