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November 21, 2013

Written by:

Tree Growth: A Metaphor For Our Lives

By Bridger Jensen, Therapist

Each morning, our newly-arrived Nalu and Kuleana adolescent students and staff travel from our sleeping quarters up the mountainside of the great volcano Mauna Kea. The short trip to our day camp is performed in silence to aid in self-reflection. From these historic, rolling hills through which we travel, sugar cane was once harvested, and constituted the majority of Big Island export. It is here, in the shadow of Mauna Loa, that our students spend their first few weeks. They reflect from a 1,200 foot-high vantage point over crashing waves, as the sun rises over Pacific Quest.  It is spectacular.

The magnificent hillside itself has therapeutic value for us as well. Majestic trees along the route have been sculpted by the near-constant trade winds blowing through them. Consistent winds push each branch and bud as they grow. Each leaf produced must adapt to the windy environment, or be absconded from the tree and carried away by the wind. The tree trunks grow accordingly to support the burdened branches. Thus, the hillside itself has become an excellent source of natural metaphors. Students often mention these windswept trees as a metaphor for their own growth.

As the students and employees learn about and teach horticulture in our gardens, we learn how plants grow intentionally and sustainably. Each seed planted grows to reach sunlight if needed, or even to face away from the sun if it must shade itself. In dry locations, a seedling may grow roots with the purpose of reaching water, while on a riverbank a plant may grow to stabilize itself as the ground beneath it erodes away. In therapeutic settings, students often talk about “Hehu stories.”

These Hehu stories are the stories of what shaped our lives. Like the windswept trees we pass by every morning, we each have stories about what shaped our lives. Were we depraved of nutrition like a seedling that grows in craggy rocks? Were we forced to struggle for each ray of sunlight like a seedling that grows on a dark forest floor? Perhaps our roots and branches languished, due to less-than-optimal resources? Or maybe we can liken ourselves to a healthy tree that has recently been damaged by a traumatic hurricane? Perhaps excessive pruning from our well-meaning caretaker stunted our growth? As we talk about our Hehu stories, students bring up the trees they pass by each morning. Often relating to the wind-sculpted tree that knows only how to grow with the wind.

There are so many variables that sculpt the beings we become, perhaps too many to account for. Some variables appear environmental, some internal. While we can’t completely control the environment that we grow in, we can choose to grow in our environment. Life events are opportunities to grow uniquely, resiliently and with strength. Like trees, we need the right conditions to grow and we will flourish, even amidst adversity, and sometimes because of adversity. Truly, trials beautify and strengthen us when care is given to our growth.

For some fun and interesting trees and Hehu stories, check out the links below:–the-crazy-tree-guy-saves-a-legacy-of-gettysburg

October 26, 2012

Written by:

A Story of Sustainable Growth

By Bridger Jensen, Therapist

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramRecently, I met with the staff of Pacific Quest to talk with them about positive psychology and sustainable growth. It was no surprise to find them already aware of how positive psychology facilitates change. They even had personal experiences and examples of how using it daily with the students enhanced the students’ experiences at Pacific Quest. It was wonderful to hear their many examples. I thought I would share one of these examples.

Brian is a recent graduate of Pacific Quest and had been bullied repeatedly throughout his life. As a result, Brian had adopted a negative concept of himself and he would not acknowledge positive things that occurred in his life. This was because positive things challenged his negative self-concept. He dismissed any of his achievements as “luck” or his social strengths as  “pointless” when in fact he had a lot of excellent qualities. This negative self-concept continued upon his arrival at Pacific Quest and he was dismissive of staff’s efforts to buoy him up by giving him compliments and positive interactions. It was difficult to navigate a conversation with Brian because positivity actually made him feel worse. It made him feel undeserving of such friendship and support. Furthermore, he realized that he had an ungrateful attitude, and he loathed that about himself.

Brian’s change came as a result of learning that the paradigm of his past was getting inPacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program the way of his life even more than actual experiences from his past.  Restated, Brian realized that the way he was choosing to see the traumatic experiences in his life was much more influential to him than the actual trauma that he had suffered. As a result of understanding this (and with a considerable amount of time), Brian was able to become more open to seeing the past differently. He began to see his trials and trauma as opportunities for growth, not obstacles to living. His investment in the garden increased, then his participation in groups, and then his relationships with peers. His therapist and the staff were able to assist Brian in positively reinterpreting the negative past and keep positivity in the forefront of his mind. In doing so, Brian began to become more open-minded to his own positive traits. As a result, Brian’s thoughts drifted from his failures to his successes, and from negativity to positivity.

Such stories are common at Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program. Our students’ progress continues to be our greatest testament to the truly sustainable growth that is initiated in our camps. It continues to be a privilege to be a part of the  Pacific Quest team and I look forward to witnessing the creation of many more stories like this one.