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October 4, 2017

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5 Simple Ways to Decolonize Your Life

By: Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

The term “decolonization” is controversial.  It forces us to critically examine the western approaches to nearly all intellectual pursuits from politics to science to religion and social interactions.  The opinion is held by many that decolonization requires radical action while others propose further education to create a fully imagined multicultural society.  It can also imply that the status quo is flawed.  Yet there are aspects of decolonization that can enrich each and everyone of our lives. These indigenous methodologies make up the worldview of intact or native cultures and can allow individuals to find deeper connection and meaning in this world.  At Pacific Quest, we strive to utilize these concepts without appropriating native cultures and encourage our clients and families to find their own unique expression.

Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

When I began to study indigenous methodologies and approaches, I found more commonalities than I expected. I began to find the connections in science (Quantum Mechanics), sociology (Sociocultural perspective), gardening (Biointensive methods of farming), education (narrative education), and numerous therapeutic approaches (Neurosequential Model, Narrative Therapy, and Family System Models).  We may fail to see these approaches as uniquely indigenous methodologies.

Here are 5 simple ways (that we use at Pacific Quest) to begin the process of what I’m calling micro-decolonization:

  1.   Life is Cyclical

The environmental approach seen in social and family systems work, sociology, and therapy highlight something that intact cultures have always known: that life is cyclical rather than linear.  When we narrowly focus on end goals, we often fail to see the beauty in detours.  We fail to see the richness of each experience.  We fail to see that the seed is just as important as the sprout, the fruit, or the compost.  Whatever goodness has happened in the past will return, as will periods of struggle.

  1.  Value all perspectives in life development

Our society sees adolescence as a time of recklessness, upheaval, and boundary pushing. This view is echoed in our advertising, entertainment, and beauty standards.  We look at adults as providers and martyrs.  We see children as naive and ignorant.  We tend to see the elderly as disabled or old-fashioned.  Yet each perspective brings a unique lens and strength to our society.  The joy of childhood, the passion of adolescence, the steadiness of adulthood, and the wisdom of elder-hood all are valued in communities that thrive.

  1.  Accept differing perspectives as truth

We live in a world where we often are only able to accept one truth.  This is taught to us from an early age.  This color is orange and this one is blue.  But those colors are also various shades of gray to someone with color blindness.  They may be considered apricot or teal to someone else.  The truth is contextual to each individual.  It is their truth and how the world appears to them.  Adopting the viewpoint that more than one ‘truth’ may coexist in a situation allows for freedom of expression and can lead to mutual understanding.

  1.  Give gifts that mean something

It feels good to give.  And it also feels good to receive.  It’s validating to friends and family when the gift exchange represents more than just the dollars spent, and is infused with creativity or thoughtfulness by the giver, fostering more meaning for the receiver.  Ask just about any parent what their most precious possession is and there is a good chance that it is something that their child made or gave them.  As we age, our creative expressions can be tainted by criticisms or comparisons, lessening our desire to exercise our creative side.  When gift exchange with meaning occurs, the cultural value of gift giving and the ceremony of that act deepens the connections to those around us.

  1.  Have a connection to the source of your food

One of the main things that separates intact societies from colonized and western cultures is a deep connection to their food source.  We have lost much of the knowledge of where our food comes from and how to cultivate it.  To deepen personal connection to food, get to know the farmers in your area, shop at the farmer’s market, and grow your own herbs, edible plants and vegetables.  There is no better way to find meaning and connection to nature than working in tandem with nature to provide yourself and your loved one’s nutrition.

July 27, 2017

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Family + Rites of Passage: A Unified Approach

By: Mike McGee, BS
Family Program Manager

For anyone who has participated in a Rites of Passage experience, structured or otherwise, one of the toughest tasks is explaining the significance to loved ones. The feeling of transformation or the significance of a falling leaf or animal encounter can be easily lost in translation. For students in wilderness therapy, the lack of words to express the significance can be frustrating. Having a Rites of Passage experience that includes an examination of the family unit and the family system itself allows for shared language, experience, and growth.

Rites of Passage at PQ

At Pacific Quest, our Family Program is an extension of our Rites of Passage experience. By examining our families through the lens of the Four Shields Model (an approach overviewed below), we are able to see the value and viewpoints of each phase of life. The Four Shields Model examines the joys and naiveté of childhood in the south shield, the identity formation and differentiation of adolescence in the west, the responsibility and drive found in adulthood in the north, and the simplicity and wisdom found in elder-hood in the east. Without a holistic view of the human experience, adolescent Rites of Passage can end up an extension of the unintended selfishness of childhood. And the true intent of a Rite of Passage is to not only benefit the individual but the community at large as well.

This is not just work for the adolescent. Our society often fails to see the value of viewpoints from our children, adolescents, and elders. Who hasn’t been moved by the joy and honesty found in children? Our music and art stems from the passion and pain found in our teenage years or the wisdom and strength of an elder who can listen and share from a place of experience. When we, as adults, fail to see the value of knowledge from the entirety of human existence, we can fall into the trap of monotony, money, and the mundane. One of my teachers shared that our primary purpose of adulthood is to show adolescents that being an adult is ‘worth it’. Adulthood and responsibility, when viewed through a nonlinear model are a choice, and why would anyone choose to be miserable?

Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

When I ask our students who the most impactful person in their life is, the most common response is a grandparent. They often see their parents as independent of their grandparents. Students often fail to see that their parents most likely had issues with their parents, and sought solace with their grandparents.

We work with our families to highlight the strengths and acknowledge the flaws in each generation’s way of thinking. I cannot count the amount of times a family has come back from their experience blown away by the newly articulated views of their children. Many parents and adults have lost the language of expression found in those tumultuous years. The rawness of feeling that has been tampered down to be polite and acceptable in all settings. And our students can walk away knowing that their voice has been heard and that the adults in their lives have their best interest in mind. Only by listening, are we able to finally hear the value in the other’s words.

July 14, 2014

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

By Mike McGee, Program Supervisor

Students recently made an excursion out of camp to Hawaii Volcano National Park. Given the choice of several locations to check out the students chose to visit the interactive visitor center and the Thurston Lava Tube.  On the car ride to the park, the students reflects and shared with each their experiences in the Rites of Passage program and the realizations they made while there.  They also all came to the conclusion that they will never take family vacations for granted again!At the visitor center, the students were most fascinated the the 10 foot across model of the island that showcases all the volcanoes and the dates of the recorded historical flows.

After the visitor center, we headed down to the lave tube.  When a lava flow starts to cool, the surface crusts over and insulates the lava on the inside.  The result is a super-highway that propels the lava much father distance than it could over land.  The Big Island is covered with these tubes, the longest being almost 50 miles long!  Due to their isolated nature, many caves formed by these underground lava flows contain unique eco-systems found nowhere else in the world.  The Island of Hawaii alone has over 200 species of endemic cave crickets as well numerous spider, fungi, and only insects.  When we got to the entrance, several small school children were recited a Hawaiian chant before entering, we paused and listened as the melodious song echoed through the cave.  The cave was cool, which was nice a sunny hot day, and had a steady breeze flowing through it.

After hiking out, we traveled to our final destination for the day, the Volcano Art Center for some volunteer work.  The center has workshops and showcases local artwork inspired by the land around it.  For the last 15 years, the center has been helping reclaim an old growth Ohia Le’hua and Koa forest from invasive and noxious weeds.  Pacific Quest has been helping in this endeavor for multiple years.  Today, our task was to help remove Kahili Ginger, an inedible aggressive weed that chokes out the forest understory.  The took to the task with great enthusiasm and helped to remove about 350 pounds of the weed and its roots before calling it a day.  Tired from a hard day’s work and feeling good about the work they were able to do, we loaded up and headed back to camp, just in time for dinner…

August 7, 2013

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Students Visit Kahuku Ranch

By Mike McGee, Program Supervisor

IMG_1378Students recently had the opportunity to visit Kuhuku Ranch, a special area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Kuhuku Ranch was one of the largest ranches in Hawaii and sprawled out over almost 200,000 acres on the western slopes of Mauna Loa.  The ranch was purchased by the National Park Service due to the unique ecosystems found within the ranch. The ranch includes several large pit craters, visible reminders of Mauna Loa’s violent past.  The largest of the pit craters is about 500 feet across and almost 300 feet deep. The crater contains species that are found nowhere else in the world and only a handful of humans have ever been to the bottom, preserving the ecosystem as it had originally developed.

The students were excited to explore the area!  The ranch has the appearance of a mystical movie set.  Ancient Ohia Le’hua and Koa trees dot the landscape of deep flowing grass.  Collapsed lava tubes give the landscape a rolling feel of mounds and valleys.  After unloading the vehicles, the group began the short 1.5 mile hike to the crater while discussing the geological history of the land.

When the group arrived at the crater the students were amazed!  The group spotted an I’o, or Hawaiian Hawk, swoop across the crater as well as an Apapane, one of the last remaining species of the endemic honey-creepers.  These rare birds are found nowhere else on the planet and are currently listed as endangered species.

During lunch break, the group did an activity where students were given vague instructions on how to draw an animal.  Everyone shared their drawings and spoke to how animals will adapt to fill niches in a ecosystem and how sometimes that can look a little weird (Hawaii originally had a duck fulfill the niche of grazing herbivore). That lead us to a conversation about our roles in social groups and how people adapt depending on the situations they find themselves in.  We may find ourselves the leader on a sports team, a class clown in school, and a peacemaker in the family all in one day!




March 16, 2013

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Ecological Concepts and Application on the Human Scale

By Mike McGee, Field Supervisor

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramAround the year 1500, an old growth Ohia Lehua tree came crashing to the ground near the present day town of Volcano, HI.  It made a thunderous crash although no one was there to witness it.  It destroyed the undergrowth around it and killed many individual organisms that depended on the Ohia Lehua tree for their survival such as: epiphytes, various species of honey creeper nests, and endemic insects.  The tree had been one of the first pioneers on what had been a barren black lava field.  It had most likely lived to the ripe old age of about 400 years before it lost its battle with gravity and came crashing down to a violent end.

Now in its place, on a small native forest reserve, another tree holds a reminder, a vestige of its fore bearer.   The tree is nearing the end of its run.  A stately elder in a forest of rapid change.  The tree has a hollow space under its trunk, where the previous tree has rotted away.  The new tree has buttressed itself around the hole, and built solid, seamless roots that prop it up like concrete pillars under a beach pier.

Dynamic stability in ecology is the concept that dynamic and drastic changes in the system are the mechanism that provide its stability.  The tree crashes, allowing for new growth.  The fallen log provides a plateau for more trees to get above the forest floor.  The new tree grows, crashes and the system repeats.  This pattern is found everywhere in nature from raging forest fires to flooded deltas.  This system reboot allows for sustainable growth instead of rapid succession.  The healing aspect of the tree falling is that it further develops complexity and depth within the system.  Various species, varying ages of those species, and the numerous needs Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programand opportunities provides the forest with diversity.  The forest is only healthy due the traumas it has faced.  And the traumas are only tolerable to a certain extent, an extent based on the strength of the forest.

Humans often present themselves as separate from the natural world.  We speak of what separates us from other organisms.  Most of us spend more time in artificial indoor environments than we spend outside.  The time we do spend outdoors is often in manicured parks and fields.  Yet our brains our still hard-wired to be calmed by nature and our bodies respond better to clean, fresh air rather than filtered sterile air in buildings. Our behaviors and thoughts may have less to do with what separates us from the natural world than with what connects it.

When we look at human emotional growth, you can see the residues of our connections in ecological systems and the consequences of when we fail to adhere to the concepts of dynamic stability.  When we are shielded from death and loss, the first one we experience is devastating.  We, as humans, can see it as a personal attack rather than a necessary cycle of life.  When we are supported too much, we come to depend on that structure for our support and meaning in our lives.  When we grow without emotional support, or even worse, with a negative emotional attention we collapse outright or lose ourselves so much that few can recognize us, like a wind battered pine growing horizontally to the ground.

The key, for us, is grow like the old growth forest, slowly and surly and embrace the tragedy and loss around us.  If we persist, we will find ourselves diverse in our coping skills and well-versed in the language of altruism.  There is a time to mourn, as seedlings do not sprout overnight.