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.

Highbanks tree oct 2017.jpg

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.

Tar hollow pic

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.

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.

Andre and tree frog.jpg

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.

Andre backcountry cooking.jpg

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

Pappers and Andre backpacking Zaleski

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.

Elizabeth on the bridge.jpg

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.