Sherpa ambassador Rachael, @gal_onthego, a twenty-something aspiring outdoor enthusiast and field instructor in wilderness therapy, focuses on holistic treatments through natural resources. Rachael outlines a few key things she’s learned through wilderness therapy, to help us all connect with the wild a bit more.

Wilderness therapy is a way of practicing healing while engaging with the outdoors. The way it is practiced can be diverse dealing within groups, families, or in individual settings. It may cater to addiction, behavioral issues including depression and anxiety, or recovery. To me, wilderness therapy allows one’s self to learn through new experiences and develop a setting where an individual can find comfort while being uncomfortable. It also strips a person of life’s many distractions to allow for a more full focused self-healing process. The wilderness enables opportunities for an individual to explore alternative ways of soothing discomfort and encourages self-realization.

Mindfulness in the Outdoors

1: The importance of interpersonal interaction and understanding

When we speak to someone are we engaged or rather caught up on an obscure thought about the week to come? Do we seek out personal relations or just stare into our screens while out in public?

Wilderness therapy has given me the opportunity to frequently place myself within the shoes of individuals battling through extreme personal conflict. Initially, I would notice myself getting frustrated and wondering why simple tasks were sometimes difficult for those dealing with such conflict. This brought me to a moment of realization that I needed to not argue but try and obtain their point of view.

Interactions in this form became more important, supported by intention and meaning.  I’ve noticed that when you allow yourself to open up and become vulnerable it shows how much you truly care about each and every interaction.

Find Comfort in Being Uncomfortable

2: Find comfort in being uncomfortable

For most who enter a wilderness therapy program, hiking boots and a 100-liter backpack may seem foreign. Sleeping under self-made shelters on the ground is uncomfortable. Legs will ache, shoulders will tighten, and at no point will one find any of life’s typical distractions to ease the discomfort.

Wilderness therapy allows the individual to notice, interrupt, and change. Encouraging the exploration of land, getting lost and finding your way back around, even waking up in the middle of the night under the stars; these experiences can show us to find comfort while being uncomfortable.

3: Practicing presence

What does it mean to be present? I've noticed that I don't want to just watch the sunrise; I want to see myself rise with it. I see the bright blues, yellows, oranges, and purples, but need to look closer to find the blends and shades in between. Recently, I've become more aware of my daily life and try to encourage everything to slow down. I've found sunrises to help start this path of presence.

This state of presence allows me to recognize what once went unnoticed and clarify that "I am here, I am now.” With most jobs time is of the essence, though in the wilderness time is not as structured. We focus on being here and only here. We pick out details of our own lives and find ways to soothe the past; however long it takes to do so is irrelevant. I’ve hiked many times before with the thought of just getting to the summit, not allowing myself time to stop and really see where I am. The practice of picking up upon these details is one of the greatest lessons someone can take away from wilderness therapy.

As for meaningful moments, the next time you pass someone while hiking through a forest or meandering through a foreign street, try to engage with him or her. Whether exploring our wild lands, or traveling around the world, strive to accept challenges and develop comfort while overcoming its discomfort. Putting yourself in a situation that can be difficult is often the best way to grow, and taking on these challenges can be the greatest teacher along the road to presence.