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Wilderness and Mental Health

The mountains are calling and I must go and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” John Muir
Zion National Park, Utah

This has obviously been a very heightened year, so many things have changed within the past three months it is hard to imagine what life even looked like in February. Between COVID-19 and the racial protests we are truly living in history, as always, but this is on another level. I am going to speak for myself because that is all I can really do, but we have all felt the heightened emotions, energy, anxiety, trauma, hatred, fear or whatever you want to characterize it as. I have noticed the difficult to stay alert, positive, upbeat and hopeful every single day. There are days where I feel down, feel unmotivated, uninspired, non-confident, self-conscious, hyper sensitive. All of these feelings are OK, and not to be ashamed of, but that's where it can go south because then I judge myself relentlessly for it and it drives the spiral even deeper into the well.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Thankfully, I can recognize it and mitigate the descent but sometimes it can take a couple of days. There are so many tools that I have learned over the years such as working out, meditating, journaling, listening to music, yoga, talking about it, admitting it, acknowledging it and working on it. The last one is being outside, being in nature or in the wilderness. I feel the need to head to the mountains, the desert, the ocean or wherever there is just nature.

Much of this little blog will be about how we can access nature wherever we are. Some weeks will be about survival and primitive skills, but this week, what is heavy on my mind is the link between mental health and connecting to nature.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

There are numerous problems in the world right now, but another pandemic that is getting increasing attention is nature-deficit disorder. A wonderful book on this topic is "Last Child In The Woods" by Richard Louv. There is record numbers of anxiety, depression and suicide in our children that could be linked to a lack of connection to nature. Admittedly, when I do not get out into woods for a long while, I feel the depression sinking in, the longing for that connection, the biological need to feel the energy of the Earth. It is also often suggested to get out for a daily walk for fresh air which invigorates the lungs and the brain, to get needed vitamin D which most of us are deficient in, and for exercise. This is not to say it will cure all ailments, but it is certainly not going to hurt. I feel like a different person after a workout, a walk or a short run. As Nietzsche said: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” Thoreau, also claimed, “the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow.”

My Brother @ Olympic National Park, Washington

I am writing this because I need wilderness therapy, wilderness healing, just like I believe we all do right now. This does not need to be in the same form for all of us, but unarguably, we need healing. John Muir's quote in the beginning, which is usually cut short, speaks to me because the wilderness is not just a playground, it is our home and we need to take care of it because she takes care of us. I will work incessantly on myself, to become more aware, more confident in my abilities, more grounded, kinder, to listen more, to react less and to just be a better person. To offer everything that doesn't serve me to the mountain, to the rivers, to the trees, to the birds and the animals because this is where I find God. I will travel to the mountains as safely as I can right now to reconnect with myself, my partner, the Earth and heal. That way, I can be ready to serve, to lead, to guide or whatever it is that I am called to do.

My hope and prayer is that we can all carve out some time to reconnect, to ground, and to heal, whatever that may mean. I cannot make anything in this world better if I am not, if I do not go within first to find loving kindness. So that is what I intend to do for a little bit, until next time.

Olympic National Park, Washington

"When we can truly be ourselves, it is quite relaxing"

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