The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Healing

Can a Health Crisis Be an Adventure?

You aren’t imagining things. I indeed disappeared from the world for a month or so… I’ve had an unexpected health crisis and am slowly recovering. I’m finally clear minded and more even-keeled emotionally. So, while I spend much of each day physically recovering on the couch, I have plenty of time to ponder. Since I write about epic adventures, I’ve been wondering about the similarities and differences between a health crisis and an adventure…

Rather than leave you wondering, here are the basics before we move on to consider adventures. I had some slightly out-of-the-ordinary female symptoms for a number of months. My doc and I were quite comfortable just monitoring the situation with no action needed unless things changed. Then in early October, I started having a bit of spotting and aching. Things progressed rapidly—within just two weeks, I had 4 visits to the Hospital ER, multiple tests including a biopsy, was admitted to the hospital on day 13 and had emergency surgery on day 15. Whew! This health crisis wasn’t just a roller coaster…it felt more like a powerful, fast moving hurricane. (And I have the bruises to prove I was in a battle…HA!)

vampires, phlebotomists

I wrote a blog post in March considering whether my daughter’s robotics team was an adventure. (You can read that discussion HERE.) When I look again at the criteria I laid out, I think this health crisis was close to being an (unwanted) adventure:

Personally Stretching and having an Uncertain Outcome: Definitely true! It’s fine when I CHOOSE to step outside my comfort zone. And I’m okay with trying something new even when it’s not clear how I will do. This time, however, I was given no choice. I dislike being sick and I hate feeling like life is out of my control. If I didn’t choose the risks, it doesn’t feel fair that I’m stuck in the situation. Maybe someday I will get better about accepting these unexpected challenges as part of life…

Requires Perseverance, Hard Work and Finding Appropriate Mentors/Information: In this case, I kept pushing hard to get medical providers to take the spiraling pain and increased bleeding seriously. I finally found a specialist who is amazing at listening, researching, and acting. Good thing I did—having a tumor turning gangrenous would have had a very bad outcome if treatment had been delayed! Even when I was curled up and crying with pain, I’ve learned to keep fighting. (Thanks, Appalachian Trail backpacking trips for helping me deeply internalize these lessons! Read a post about the challenges of a long-distance hiking trip HERE.)

Makes a Good Story Later: Oh, yeah. There’s an amazing surprise ending to this story! Even the doctor was surprised… (Teaser: I’ll tell the story of miracles in my next post…) For now, I’ll just comment that even my daughter’s dog knew something was terribly wrong. For the past three weeks, she has been glued to me, cuddling beside or on top of me while I have spent most of my time on the couch. Now, however, I must be mostly cured—the dog is back to spending all of her time with daughter.

guardian dog, healing cuddles

BUT…was it an Adventure? My criteria for something being an adventure also includes it being an “enjoyable activity.” Nope, nope, nope! Even with my comfy blanket dragged with me to every hospital visit, this health crisis was in no way “enjoyable.” Thus, I vote that although it had some things in common, this emergency was NOT an “ADVENTURE.”

comfort blanket

However, when I take a further look at the introductory pages on my blog, I think this past month might well fit the definition of a “Big Epic” (which is a larger category than just adventures). This crisis was certainly a change from normal routines. And it was a life transition. (You can read more about these definitions  HERE.) I am learning (again) the significance of making time to rest. I am learning (again) to set aside my independence and allow others to help. And I am learning how much I LONG to get back outside and continue building my new practice as a Forest Therapy Guide.

I would love to hear about YOUR unexpected adventures and life transitions! Post a comment here on the blog or on my fb page

Meditation vs. Forest Therapy: What’s the Difference?

When I describe the practice of Forest Therapy, many folks assume it is merely doing meditation in an outdoors location. There are actually three different practices which look very similar to each other. Traditional Meditation, Forest Meditation, and Forest Therapy all have the goal of balancing life, resetting priorities, and bringing inner calm. However, the actual practices are different. Let me explain…

Meditation focuses the mind inwards; Forest Therapy focuses the senses outwards to Nature…

In Traditional Meditation, we are taught to withdraw our senses and focus inward. We work to find peace inside of self. As part of the process, we need to resist multiple thoughts, coming back over and over to an inward focus.

Sitting Pose, Meditation

Forest Meditation is a blend of traditional meditation with the health benefits of being outdoors. In this practice, we are taught to open our senses to our surroundings as we observe the world around us. We connect with nature in order to make outside peace become part of our inner being. With this practice, we allow our thoughts to just “go with the flow.”

Meditation, Standing Pose, Outdoors

If meditation works well for you, that’s great! Personally, no matter how many times I have tried to meditate, I end up either agitated or bored. My mind usually jumps from thought to thought to thought. Plus, emotion plays a big role in how I perceive the world and interact with it. Doing meditation outside is a help, but it is still difficult for me to find calm when I’m focused on the hard work of clearing my mind.

Forest Therapy is a perfect fit for me! In this practice, our goal is to reawaken the senses as we immerse ourselves in the forest. Noticing what we are feeling in the outer world (physically) and inside ourselves (emotionally/spiritually) is a much more intuitive practice for me. Often with the help of a guide, we learn how to allow a focus on nature to clear the mind and lessen negative emotions. In addition to reducing stress and bringing peace, Forest Therapy is a gentle way to rejuvenate energy and add strength to inner healing.

I am excited to find a calming practice that fits well with my personality and passions. Traditional meditation feels like a difficult task to master. But Forest Therapy simply brings new dimensions to spending time in nature, an activity I always enjoy. I am intrigued to explore this practice in my personal life. And I’m excited to help others learn this method of connecting with nature. I have been accepted into the 6 month training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. My cohort begins our mentoring program with a week-long intensive in September. (You can read more about this HERE )

I invite you to join me in exploring Forest Therapy practices. If you make a donation to my Go-Fund-Me Campaign, one of the rewards for donors is a week of daily emails giving mini-invitations to try on one’s own. (Find more info about rewards HERE and donate HERE). Late this fall and through the winter, after I complete my initial training camp, I will need local “guinea pigs” to take on practice Forest Therapy explorations. And by this time next year, I will be offering 7 week sessions to help stressed-out folks experience Nature’s healing via guided Forest Therapy walks.

One Gray Week–Two Stories (Part 1)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. Today I share the first part…)

Last Monday was a gray day; a dismal, dreary, drizzly day. It was a stay-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-coffee sort of day. I used to easily find color-filled activities to turn days like this one upside-down. But after the death of a son ten years ago, I just wanna crawl in a hole on gloomy days.

So I burrowed under the blankets on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I glanced at a friend’s post. Mariah described a very difficult day including a trip to the ER. Then she said “One plus, it’s raining! I love rain!!! It’s calming, slows the world down a bit, and gives you an excuse to stop and enjoy life.” That stopped me in my tracks.

I was alone in the house for 24 hours. That should have been an opportunity for doing things just for me—whether writing, making art, or pampering myself. But instead I was having a pity party. My friend’s words woke me up. I forced myself off the couch and out the door into the rain.

By the time I got to the local park, the rain had turned to mist. I started down the leaf-covered, mud-smeared trail. I noticed this jumble of dead branches. I took a photo since it was a good illustration of my day.

But then, Nature started its healing therapy. When I looked beyond the mess, I noticed a beautiful tree with golden leaves dancing in the breeze. And when I looked more closely into the pile, I discovered the quiet colors of lichens on the bark.

I kept walking, following the sounds of a rushing stream at the bottom of the hilly path. It was invigorating to find that the heavy rain had turned the trail into its own unexpected waterfall.

You can, of course, guess what happened next…mud, slick leaves, flowing water, hillside path… Yep, I slipped and ended up covered with mud! Now, you might guess that would have made my day worse, right? But somehow, I started laughing. That muddy fall turned my day around! I felt alive again, back to my usual “Susie-Sunshine” self.

Later in the week, I had a last-minute opportunity to travel with my middle daughter for a few days in Virginia. While she went to interviews, I was free to explore the area. The dismal, gray weather continued, but I had learned a lesson. Instead of hanging out at a coffee shop, working on writing projects (or feeling sorry for myself), I decided to get outside. I didn’t have energy for a full hike, but found a nearby cave tour. Ahhh… Since I was a little girl, I have always loved being in a cave. Beauty, peaceful quiet, a sense of timelessness… somehow, I fully relax in a cave.

I finished that day by sitting beside a quiet river. This dreary week held an important reminder. Nature brings peace and contentment when I make the effort to get outside!

(You can read the second story HERE…)

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

Child in the Woods

“God has given me this child…and she is in God’s hands!”

I have had many folks question how we could consider taking our young teen on a long distance, multi-week backpacking trip. Although I usually just smile and make some inane comment about how much she enjoyed the trip, my thoughts scream out “I had no other choice! This is exactly what she NEEDED!”

We have tended to be “outside-the-box” parents, homeschooling our kids, letting them explore interests, and helping them pursue passions. This one, our youngest, has extra challenges. She is very smart and learns some things quickly. At the same time, most “book-learning” takes extraordinary amounts of work. She craves social contact, but lacks many of the skills needed to be successful in building relationships with peers. She is often at the center of a hurricane of emotions, made more unbearable and unmanageable with extreme anxiety. Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of appointments with therapists and doctors to find the help she needs to manage daily living. That’s no way to feel strong and successful in life…

child in the woods

Then we decided that she and I would spend a few months backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. As journaled here on this blog, I researched, planned, bought gear, and off we went. Along the way, we discovered that this is exactly what she needs! Being in nature brought anxiety and emotions to manageable levels. We could walk peacefully through most days. She enjoyed the social contacts along the way, with little of the stress that debilitates her in town.

Folks questioned how we could make her take this trip, focused on the physical dangers. We now realize that she and I will take many more adventures along the AT, focused on the personal healing that comes when this child is in the woods…

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