Reflections in the Natural World
The season of Spring represents many opportunities for new growth snd self-discovery. This process requires that we release outgrown parts of ourselves. Such a cycle of death and rebirth is powerful. I am learning to lean into this cycle in a conscious matter.
One of the reasons that I love the wilderness is to see the ways that water and wind have shaped the canyons, rocks, and trees. I come here to discover that these wild places shape me as well. I return again and again because I know that I will come out transformed. All of life changes us, we inevitably are shaped by our events and circumstances. And we become who we are as we adapt and respond.
Stepping into nature provides ample metaphors for the terrain of our inner wilderness. Walking upon a trail through an old forest burn area, the blackened trunks of the trees stood bare while a fresh carpet of green beamed beneath; a stark reminder of the cycles of death and rebirth. Looking upon the scene I was reminded of the ways in which we all must allow parts of us to die and that as we release that which no longer serves us, we too can rise out of the ashes reborn again.
“This process of self-discovery invites us to remember who we really are and were always meant to be. For most of us, this involves the integration of the wounds that may have once been a source of shame or confusion. Healing asks us to integrate these parts into a cohesive sense of self so that we can reclaim a sense of dignity and the knowledge that we are so much more than our trauma or our pain. Healing allows us to walk in the world with a deep sense of belonging.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Snakes shed their skin because they are growing…and the skin they are living in is too small. Likewise, as I grow into more of who I truly am, I must practice the art of releasing the beliefs and behaviors that keep me small. Doubting my self-worth or living inside of fear once helped me survive—but, they do not serve my purpose now.
Shedding my skin involves grieving for the ways that I have betrayed my true self because I didn’t know how to stand inside of my worthiness. As I make these amends to myself, I am leaning into the heaviness in my heart. I am letting go of the outer “skin” that I grew around me to stay safe (and small).
After crawling my way over rocks, shimmying across narrow slot canyons, sliding down water pockets…I have completely lost any idea of who I am…rather I am inside a purely instinctual self—a much more embodied human animal self. My antidote for the busy mind and frenzied pace of our modern world.
Rebirth and Renewal
This past week, my family camped at Bryce Canyon National Park. We were weary after a long day of hiking and had no plans of getting up early—despite knowing that this place is so famous for its sunrises and sunsets that they have viewing locations designated for each. But, early next morning when the fellow travelers around us starting stirring, I awoke and knew it was important to fulfill our pilgrimage to view the rising of the sun. We exited the warmth of our sleeping bags and cozy tent to gather with other visitors who had come here from around the world. Standing upon the rocky cliff side we all awaited the first light.
Just as the clouds turned crimson, a woman with a strong European accent rounded the bend and exclaimed, “Oh my, this is the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen!” And, just then the moment struck me…as if I had never before been witness to a sunrise. The tears started to roll down my cheeks. Indeed, this is the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
The most important takeaway for me is knowing that tomorrow’s sunrise will also be the most beautiful sight, as will the following sunset, and the way the flowers we passed on the trail grew out of a rocky crack where their seeds took root last fall, and the delightful way that the clouds caress the mountain peaks as if painted by design.
There are endless possibilities of magnificently beautiful moments of awe and delight…so long as we remember to look for them.
As a seeker in life, I am interested in growth. I want more. I want to stand into my potential.
I was in college when I was first introduced to Maslow’s concept of self-actualization. Learning that the purpose of life is to fulfil our potential rang true in the very core of my being.Self-actualization can take many forms such as through creative expression, spiritual quests, scholarly research, or acts of giving that enhance our world.
At its most basic level, self-actualization is about self-discovery to who we really are and were always meant to be. For most of us, this involves the integration of the wounds that may have once been a source of shame or confusion. Healing asks us to integrate these parts into a cohesive sense of self so that we can reclaim a sense of dignity and the knowledge that we are so much more than our trauma or our pain. Healing allows us to walk in the world with a deep sense of belonging.
The inability to fulfil our potential or express our gifts is a recipe for depression. However, Maslow compassionately reminded us that we often cannot turn our attention toward self-actualization until we feel safe and secure with our basic needs such as having food, shelter, and financial security. Often, we need support to help us transform our suffering into growth or to transition from surviving to thriving. Nonetheless, there are times when the human capacity to embody our potential can transcend situation, time, or place. Sometimes, even in the midst of challenging life events we wake up to Self and begin to fulfil a quest towards a greater good.
No matter where we are in life, I like to think that we are here to lift each other up and to assist each other to bring our unique gifts into fruition for the benefit or others and the world.
Most importantly, self-actualization is not about being better than someone else and it is not about being perfect. It is about being true to yourself—honestly and authentically you.
An Invitation to Practice
The Japanese offer the practice of Shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. They believe that time in nature improves our physical, emotional, and social well-being. Likewise, in the Native American tradition, we are well-advised to “walk in beauty” which involves aligning ourselves with nature so that we may stand in right-relationship with the world around us. When we cultivate a mindset of presence in the outdoors, we ask ourselves to “be here now” and notice the details of the world around us.
Approach this practice like a walking mediation; an invitation to awaken all of your senses. Maybe you begin to notice the breeze on your skin, some deer grazing, the buds of flowers on the trees, or the filtered quality of light as it passes through branches.
The next time you step outdoors whether in your garden, neighborhood walk, or hiking trail, take a moment to set an intention. Perhaps, this intention is one of loving kindness, or self-compassion, or gratitude for this world we share. Take the time to become present by awakening your senses. Savor the sensory details of the light, the sounds, the smells. Notice the way the clouds move in the wind, or pause with a moment of gratitude for your strong legs that carry your body through the world. Allow that beauty around you to strike the chords of your heart, to move you, and to inspire awe.
Stepping outdoors has the potential to bring us home to the very heart of who we are—a connection to our true nature as it exists within and all around us.
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.
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