Seasons of the Soul

Last year, Seattle’s city council voted unanimously to change the name of Columbus Day, a federal holiday, to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This post is dedicated to the second observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Seattle this coming Monday.

If we honor the land, we honor the people who lived on the land before us, and we honor the salmon whom they consider their brothers and sisters. And if we honor the salmon, we honor the Salish Sea they live in, and see it as connecting all life in our region.”

6E455BC4-5783-4CAE-BF7F-5083F7810BA5My sister just entered the fifth year of a continuing education model I find really interesting. It’s called Seasons of the Soul and it’s a hybrid, experience-based seminar of sorts that combines parts of a number of different educational philosophies and practices. It is collaborative, individual, participant-led, nature-based and rooted in psychology, with connections to all fields.

Several years ago, she embarked on a Vision Quest through the Animus Valley Institute in Colorado. This institute was started by Bill Plotkin who wrote books such as Wild Mind and Nature and the Human Soul. He believes much of human suffering is caused by our lack of connection with the natural world, and that healing ourselves and the parts of the world we have destroyed grows out of reconnecting to nature. Much like the “No Child Left Inside” movement, he encourages individuals to explore wild surroundings as both a mirror and a teacher. Two women who worked as guides at Animus Valley started their own practice here in the Pacific Northwest, based on Whidbey Island, called Northwest Soulquest. One of the educational opportunities they offer people is a yearlong, deep exploration of their own nature through connection with the land and each other. Groups meet once each season for several days at a time, spend significant amounts of time outdoors in wild places, using a variety of practices to learn about themselves and work together.

unnamed-2After two years of meeting as a group facilitated by their guides, this group of nine women decided to keep meeting, but without their guides. They made a commitment to attend all gatherings (in two years no one has missed a single one), share the leadership in both planning and facilitating, bring their individual strengths to the collective, learn from and teach each other. Occasionally, they have found something they’d like to learn more about, and have hired an instructor to come teach during part of a workshop. Through conversations with my sister over these past few years, I have developed a deep respect for the work these women are choosing to do and how they go about it. Each of them has grown both personally and professionally in profound ways, and the work they do together influences everyone else they encounter. I believe the elements of their program — developing deep relationships to nature, sharing leadership, commitment growth through challenge, is applicable in most educational settings.

Just today I received an announcement about an upcoming workshop combining nature and innovation for solutions to business problems; it reminded me why nature is so important, and how easily we city dwellers can forget:

  • Connecting with nature instantly centers and grounds us, decreases stress and reactivity and allows our minds to open up to new ideas.
  • Working with nature sparks a sense of wonder and curiosity; perspectives shift and novel solutions emerge.
  • Looking through nature’s perspective reveals connections and systems, expands awareness and increases the ability to make better decisions.
  • Collaborating while working with nature activates a sense of play, dissolves social  barriers, builds trust and increases team engagement.

unnamed-1Doing this kind of nature-based work on a regular basis makes one aware of how powerful these kinds of interventions are. At a recent poetry workshop some of the women attended, they agreed it was good but would have been excellent if it had included time in nature. As my sister and her group continue their explorations and nature-based education, I vow to spend more time in nature myself, and use it as a mirror and teacher in my work.