A Digital Wilderness by: Alex Bailey

When was the last time you felt truly connected with something, or had a felt sense of being an integral part of something much larger than yourself? The places we work, the sites that we visit, the families that we share, to varying degrees, provide such sanctuaries to feel safe, secure, and valued. These environmental qualities are essential (current research is quite compelling in this regard) for our well-being, growth, and development as human beings. Even more encouraging is that our relationship to these environments is something that can be quantifiably measured and qualitatively examined and often fluctuates as do the seasons with regards to our orientation in space and time. Wilderness Therapy is a broad term used to describe the integration of the natural world along with some basic principles and traditions into more traditional approaches to mental health counseling which emphasize one’s relationship with the environment as a primary source of understanding and growth. It can also be an umbrella term used to include areas of outdoor education, leadership, and adventure/recreation therapy. The term “wilderness” invites us to consider that which is somehow inaccessible or otherwise just beyond our reach in a traditional sense, and I would generally agree with this interpretation had it not been for my experiences training as a “Wilderness Therapist.” People often ask me, ‘what do you do as a wilderness therapist. Does it mean you talk to trees, or take yourself and clients to the most remote regions imaginable? Does Wilderness Therapy mean that you HAVE TO be knowledgeable about the outdoors? Can I do wilderness therapy? Well, the simple answer is, YES; to all of it. With a few minor caveats of course. When we begin to turn our attention inwards and focus or mind to our internal environments, in whatever capacity, we begin to quickly notice the state in which we experience balance, harmony, and homeostasis, or (as is often the case) the absence and lack thereof such qualities if this way of practicing has become somewhat foreign to us. Some might say that within our body, mind and spirt lays a vast Wilderness¸ ripe with triumph, challenge, and mystery Whether we are avidly engaged with the outdoors, or simply have a curiosity to learn more, the invitation to explore has always been, first, to start with yourself. Somewhere inside of us all exists a part or piece that longs for a return to this primal connection. It is well known that spending even minimal amounts of time outdoors decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression and can reduce stress and worry across a variety of metrics. In most Western medical models, practitioners often seek the appropriate dosage of medications. What would a dose of nature be? It really depends on each person’s comfortability and availability and encourages us each to find the appropriate balance within ourselves. For some, it may mean 7 days in a remote wilderness area, and for others it may simply be stepping outside during lunch to eat as opposed to at your desk. Bridging the gap between onscreen productivity and endeavors to seek ecologically adaptive and wilderness-based interventions may not be as distant or hopeless as one may think. In fact, the pursuit of such integration may lend itself to lesser digital fatigue and increases of energy and overall performance. Adopting a physical environment and clinical practice that emphatically invites the sensational nature of lived experience and hardwiring for adventure and social connection can become quite a challenge, yet the very practice of therapy itself requires some degree of exploration and adventure. Both clients and clinicians are embarking on a journey together, both to places familiar and occasionally crossing into the unknown. Embracing uncertainty, optimism, possibility, and challenge becomes part of the ride. Check this link for examples: 9 Lush Green Jungle Offices & Desk Spaces – Jungle Spaces Leaning into the work itself is but one way to adopt the wilderness spirit in a digital age, and for most individuals there may also be ways to tangibly evoke this attitude in daily practice. There are many ways to go about Bringing the wilderness to you, particularly if current circumstances are serving as more of a barrier for access. Even the mere glimpse of another living, breathing, organism can immediately reduce stress hormones and promote a sense of relaxation and belonging. This may look like adding flora and fauna into the mix so to speak. “Commit to falling in love with the good in the world. Stop to notice the beauty in all things. And with time, but no rush, remember how you are just another part of the universe, just like the birds, trees, mosses, and animals that warm your heart.” -Lucy Fuggle It may seem odd to consider time spent on screen as an opportunity to spend time outdoors, which may largely reflect societal norms and expectations about what a working environment should look like. Adapting our venues to incorporate free doses of Vitamin-D or arranging offices with the ergonomically minded comfort and ease of a vacation with a modern touch of digital prowess is fine art unto itself. The same is true for those of us working from home. Is there space step away from the often cold, distant, and formal aesthetic of screen and desk, and instead incorporate more of the things into our environment that bring us closer to life? Would we encourage our clients to do the same? Check this link for examples: 9 Lush Green Jungle Offices & Desk Spaces – Jungle Spaces Regardless of the intensity or frequency, we are finding that even a regular practice of changing one’s orientation to incorporate and reflect one’s place as a living creature amongst all the rest has serious benefits that extend far beyond the click of the mouse or stroke of key.

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