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June 7, 2010

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The Long and Winding Road

By Mary Beth Osoro

The road was windy. I knew where I wanted to be, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I was afraid I would get lost, or miss my turn, or just get there so late, no one would be left to greet me. The scenery was beautiful, but I was so concentrated on the road, it was hard to look up and appreciate what was around.

The road was windy. She knew where she wanted to be, but wasn’t sure how to get there. She was afraid of getting lost or missing something. She didn’t always see the beauty around, as she was often focusing on something else.

The first paragraph is about me. I was on my way to Carlbrook School to tour the grounds and say hello to a past student that was getting ready to graduate. I had flown from Hawaii to the East Coast and was turned around either due to the extreme jet lag I was experiencing after a red-eye or the confusing back country roads.

The second paragraph is about Allie. She was graduating from Carlbrook, and windy road was a great metaphor for a young woman who started the journey confused and insecure. She didn’t always see the beauty in herself, but if she only looked up, slowed down and focused, she would be sure to see what everyone else saw in her.

Luckily, we both got to our destination.

The next morning I found myself on the same road, only more familiar with the terrain and confident as to where I was headed. Though I was well rested, it was only because I was so exhausted that I didn’t hear my alarm and got to sleep in. Arriving late to the graduation, I felt guilty and embarrassed, and slipped into the crowd. thankful the sun was not yet blazing down. I looked around at the intimate group and was impressed by the love and care I could feel from everyone—the parents, the teachers, the headmaster, the other students, the advisers/therapists.

Though love was present, it was the feeling of gratitude was overpowering. Each and every one of the 23 graduates expressed thanks to their parents for giving them the opportunity to come to Carlbrook. All 23 of them! How I wished I could have told Allie that she would be thanking her parents for this. Had I told her that during her first weeks in wilderness (or her last, for that matter) she would have thought I was crazy.

I had gratitude as well. Gratitude that Allie had invited me to her graduation. Gratitude that I got to witness amazing young men and women start a new chapter in their life. Gratitude that I got to see Allie come full circle.

The Long and Winding Road - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

You see, I get the pleasure of working with students when they first start this windy road of a process. I rarely get to see the end of the process. Rather, I stand with the student and the parents at the start of the daunting journey—a road so long there is no end in sight, so many highs and lows it disappears from view, so curvy one is guaranteed to get sick along the way. I only wish I could wrap up what I saw at Carlbrook, the gratitude, the pride in both parents and in the students themselves, and the love, and show parents the end of the road.

This was written with consent from Allie herself who is excited to head to college and start shopping to decorate her dorm.

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April 16, 2010

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A Glimpse of Solo

A Glimpse of Solo - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young

At Pacific Quest the students choose to go on a 3 night, 2 day Rites of Passage/solo fashioned about the model of a Vision Quest .  They prepare by reading books that focus on the solo experience, do assignments that focus on severance and beginning a new story in their life, and create an intent that focuses on the gifts they are claiming for themselves.  Though all the preparation work is crucial, the actual experience the students have out there on their own, no one can prepare them for because it is sometimes the most powerful experience the teen has ever had.  I have been humbled and impressed by the words and thoughts that come from this experience when the students return to share their story.

A Glimpse of Solo - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young

Below is an excerpt from a student’s journal at the end of her solo. When I heard  it, it brought tears to my eyes, and I feel lucky she is letting me share it with all of you.A Glimpse of Solo - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young

“My solo is drawing to a close. The earth has completed another rotation. The sun begins to set in the sky. Upon waking in the morning, I’ll pack up and head to base. I’ll walk back through the threshold. I’ll eat peanut butter and jelly and begin the process of incorporation. I can’t say I’m not relieved. I’m hungry and bored and lonely. But what I’ve experienced here, I wouldn’t trade for anything. I will return to the world a different person, a woman who has come into her intent, a woman with a renewed passion for life and love for herself. I will look in the mirror and I will not cringe. I will smile at the sight of this girl who is caring, intelligent, affectionate, creative, adventurous, and wise. A young woman who has been through so much and yet so little. So tomorrow, as I watch the sun go up and prepare to pack up my stuff, I will know that this is not an end but a beginning. The beginning of the rest of my life.”

–Pacific Quest Student

A Glimpse of Solo - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young

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December 28, 2009

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The Best Teacher I Ever Had

 

One of the most influential people in my life is my 5th grade teacher Mr. Murphy.  Mr. Murphy did not impart any words of wisdom that I specifically remember, nor has all the knowledge he taught me stayed with me throughout the years—in 5th grade I could name all the states and the capitals, and that is no longer the case.  I can say that every Christmas my mother still displays a Santa made out of egg carton pieces that sits in a silver painted turkey bone sleigh I made in his class, and that decoration will probably outlast any of the knowledge learned in Mr. Murphy’s classroom.

One might ask why Mr. Murphy is such an important person in my life if my school year spent with him 20 years ago, though wonderful, wasn’t life changing.  It was out of the classroom that Mr. Murphy helped me meet the best teacher I ever had:  the wilderness.  My father had introduced me to the wilderness as a child, taking me camping and fishing with the family, but Mr. Murphy solidified my passion for the out of doors and helped it become a long lasting love.  For that I will be forever thankful, as this passion and love has not only lead me into a profession I love, but the wilderness has contributed to a higher self-esteem and a positive sense of self.

At about 13 years old, I embarked on my first backpacking trip ever with Mr. Murphy as the lead.  It was a week long trek that ended after hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States.  One might think that is impressive for a first backpacking trip, but perhaps more impressive is that my second trip was two years later when I hiked the John Muir Trail (200 miles total) with Mr. Murphy and 3 others.  I have been up Mt. Whitney a totally of three times in my life, all with Mr. Murphy as my guide.

Me, Mr. Murphy and my Mother on top of Colby Pass.

I was excited to come back to high school in the fall able to report that I backpacked 200 miles when giving reports regarding what we did during summer vacation.  I felt accomplished.  I felt important.   In high school where everyone is judged and ranked, the outdoors provided relief from all of that stress.  Mother Nature treats everyone the same; if she rains on you, she is raining on the guy next to you as well.  She doesn’t play favorites and she welcomes anyone who wants to join her non-exclusive clique.

I accomplished something that I didn’t think anyone else in my class had done, and even if they had, it wouldn’t have felt like a competition.  For example, anytime I run into a person that also did the John Muir Trail, it is a way to connect through memories and shared adventure rather than compare and compete.  Just doing it is a feat, and no one is keeping time or marking the score.  That is the great thing about the wilderness: it isn’t about being good, but rather just being out there.

Being out of doors became something I needed as I grew older.  I crave the sunshine, fresh air and feeling free.  Due to the trips I took with Mr. Murphy, I became a strong believer in the power of the wilderness.  It helped me find out who I was, gave me room to explore and think, challenged me both physically and mentally, and showed me I was capable of anything if I put my mind to it.

Because of this passion, this love, I have become someone that helps others experience the wilderness.  Right now it is in the form of gardening.  Feeling the dirt in your fingernails, naming more plants than you ever imagined your brain could remember, harvesting food and cooking it that same day, witnessing seeds you planted grow, sweating due to hard work, helping others, and accomplishing tasks you never fathomed you were capable of, all happen at Pacific Quest.  Not to mention all of this is done within a group of peers that consider themselves family, meaning they support, love and care for each other and the land on which they tend.  All of this can help someone harvest a sense of belonging, an opportunity to learn more about yourself and increased self-esteem, products that come along with the bananas, papayas and greens growing in the soil.

So although Mr. Murphy was a wonderful teacher, he will remain a role model not for being an educator but for being a guide.  I hope I can be to just one child what Mr. Murphy was to me.  I may not be the best teacher in the world, as I am no match for what the wilderness can teach.  I can only hope I can introduce the wilderness into people’s lives so they too meet the best teacher I have ever known.

By Mary Beth Osoro

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November 17, 2009

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Happiness is NOT the Goal

By Mary Beth Osoro

“My goal isn’t to teach your child how to be happy. My goal is to help your child learn how to be unhappy in a productive manner.”

That has become my catch phrase while talking to parents when they mention their desire for their child’s happiness. And who wouldn’t want their child to be happy? Every parent I have ever worked with or talked to wants this for his or her child. Funny thing is, because parents focus so much on happiness, they can miss teaching their children the key elements that actually contribute to happiness. And even more interesting is that what can contribute to happiness sometimes involves actually being unhappy for a while.

I was listening to NPR and caught an interview with Richard Weissbourd, child and family psychologist who is on faculty at Harvard and author of The Parents We Mean to Be. He argues that developing our children’s morality will better help them navigate through the troubles of life rather than simply teaching them to be happy. Happiness does not always equal making healthy choices or promote well-being. For example, choosing what makes me happy may negatively affect others around me. Weissbourd identified if we help children develop healthy skills in order to manage their emotions, develop a commitment to values that provides moral motivation and develop a strong sense of self in addition to a desire to care for others, then we are setting them up for not only a happy life, but a moral one as well.

There is such a thing as healthy amounts of painful emotions (aka unhappiness) such as anxiety, guilt and fear. Being able to feel and tolerate and ultimately deal with these emotions is important in one’s growth process. Often times parents try to take away a child’s painful emotions, which ends up robbing the child of learning how to manage emotions and feel a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy for working through such a difficult situation. Weissbourd agrees, “Many of us slip into habits in the name of promoting happiness—such as regularly monitoring and seeking to adjust our children’s mood, organizing our lives too much around our children and praising them too frequently—that are likely to make children not only less moral, but ironically, less happy.”

Shifting focus from achieving happiness to achieving enduring well-being might be more sustainable. One can’t always be happy, but one can be practicing qualities that are key to maintaining well-being and a moral lifestyle. Weissbourd identifies these qualities as “the ability to balance and coordinate our needs with others, to be reflective and self-critical—to fairly and generously assess our behavior—to receive feedback constructively, and to change our behavior based on our own and others’ assessments.”

At Pacific Quest, each student gets the opportunity to learn and be challenged to practice all of the qualities listed above. They are provided a stable environment with copious support to do so. I think the harder part of the process is helping the parents do the same in an environment with less support and structure. In many ways, the kids get the easy end of the deal. For children to embrace these qualities within themselves, however, their parents must not only teach them, but value and role model them as well. Sometimes that requires us adults to sit with the unhappiness, and that’s hard to do!

So maybe it’s time for a new catch phrase: “My job is not to make you happy, but to help you be unhappy in a way that your child can learn from and model themselves after.” Hmmm…I wonder if it will catch…

Blogger’s are catching on to Weissbourd’s work. Check out the Harvard blog and the Psychology Today blog to learn more about his ideas.

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