Call us at  808.937.5806
Established 2004
Menu
Slide

October 23, 2016

Written by:

Pacific Quest Receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

By: Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle M.A. recently accepted the national award in Therapeutic Garden Design from the  American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). The nomination process included an outpouring of inspiring testimonials from families, alumni, educational consultants, and mental health professionals from across the country. Travis comments, “The greatest part of this award is knowing that our gardens are saving lives, re-invigorating families, and changing the face of wilderness therapy.  Receiving this award is a humbling reminder that hard work pays off, and why healing gardens belong at the center of our communities as a reminder of our own resilience and of life’s endless possibilities.”

Pacific Quest receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

Travis accepting award at AHTA Conference in St. Louis

Pacific Quest’s commitment to stewardship and their neurosequential approach to garden design and program structure makes them well deserving of this recognition.  Here is one of the many testimonials that the AHTA committee received during the award nomination:

“Our daughter was lost, struggling, and unhappy. She reconnected to nature and her healthy self through Pacific Quest’s horticultural therapy program.  Simple and hard work in nature helped her strip away unhealthy behaviors and unproductive patterns, and empowered her to understand how good process leads to good outcomes. In the garden, she learned how to work with others, delay gratification, tend weeds (psychological and natural), embrace discomfort, and envision a positive future. She developed resilience and sense of self by getting a little dirty and doing a little hard work. Every day, PQ’s guides and therapists helped her see how her work was helping her heal. We will be forever grateful to PQ and that patch of dirt for helping our daughter get past a dark period in her life.”

Upon his return from the AHTA conference and award ceremony, Travis shared, “Looking back to when PQ first began, we spent most our days hauling rocks and burning piles of dead grass to clear the jungle to make space for a visionary garden that would one day become the epicenter of our values as an organization.  As we cleared the land, one by one we planted fruit trees and built garden beds that have become a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many people.  I feel honored to be a part of it!”

September 20, 2016

Written by:

Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide – Part III

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looked at the role itself and highlighted Nikki Robinson.  Part II introduced Master Guide Alyson Alde.  In this third and final entry we meet Nick Olson and learn about his focus within this role!

Meet Nick Olson

Master Guide Position: Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program

Nick working with a student on the land.

Nick hails from the high plains of Wyoming. There his wonderful parents worked diligently to instill in him a strong connection to a healthy diet, gardening and traveling. He studied International Studies at the University of Wyoming and in embracing his dream of vagabonding, traveled for two years following college. In the backwoods of Thailand with rambunctious kids, he realized that playing with youth in the dirt rules.

Nick started at Pacific Quest in March of 2015. He finds purpose in this job by helping students foster their own connection with the land, their food and their own self worth. He pulls from growing up in his tight knit community to help students build their sense of responsibility to their community, both here at Pacific Quest and back home. It’s a good day for Nick when his students find themselves deep in conversation, comfortably seated on the earth with their hands in the soil.  He comments, “What motivates me here at Pacific Quest  is when a student transforms a section of the garden and through their hard work they get invested and connected with the well-being of the land.”  As a master guide he hopes to help garden-shy guides feel more comfortable working on the land and getting their hands dirty.

In his off time he enjoys the quirkiness of Hilo, the comfort of his porch swing and the adventures with his community here on the Big Island.

September 5, 2016

Written by:

PQ Presents at Wilderness Therapy Symposium

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, M.A. recently co-presented with Darcy Ottey, M.A. at the 2016 Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Park City, Utah.  The three hour experiential workshop focused on the ecological perspective of rites of passage and provided conference attendees hands on activities to activate the senses and deepen their understanding of the integration of rites of passage and nature assisted therapy.  Travis comments, “I believe this is the next wave of innovation in wilderness therapy.  The challenge of the future isn’t going to be climbing a mountain, or hiking in the desert, it’s helping young people learn how to live a more sustainable life.”

Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

This breakout session brought together clinicians and direct care staff from across the country and included a PQ alumni, now finishing her last semester of college. Together, Travis and the alumni led the audience in a lesson on transplanting; offering participants a tangible experience to reflect on the biological process of stress and adaptation in nature and how to use this as a metaphor for the life transitions that clients experience in treatment and beyond. Participants commented that the highlight of the workshop was hearing the PQ alumni talk about her journey toward self-acceptance and describe the role that working in a garden played in overcoming the debilitating effects of depression.  The alumni commented, “Two years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be here today planting flowers!”

As the presentation concluded, audience members had the opportunity to reflect on their experience.  Participants reported that they felt “deeply moved,” “inspired,” and “hopeful” after the workshop.  As Travis states,”We are promoting a paradigm shift in wilderness therapy, and the greatest reward in my work is seeing the change that our alumni students are bringing to the world, and the love and hope they bring to their families!”

To learn more about Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage at Pacific Quest, please visit the following links:

June 6, 2016

Written by:

Combining Trauma-Focused Treatments with Horticultural Therapy

Theresa Hasting PQ

Theresa Hasting, LMHC

By: Theresa Hasting, LMHC
Therapist

Working in the garden alongside students and seeing the benefits it yields students (and, of course, myself) has left me asking “How do we integrate additional evidence based treatments with our practice of Horticultural Therapy?”  The garden offers so many options for regulating the nervous system and calming the mind and body.  Having specialized in working with students with trauma histories, it seemed only natural to fit the pieces together.

 

Modalities

Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an evidence based, manualized, psychosocial treatment model designed to treat posttraumatic stress and related emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. It incorporates trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive behavioral, family, and humanistic principles and techniques. Students learn new skills to help process thoughts and feelings related to traumatic life events; manage and resolve distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related traumatic life events; and enhance safety, growth, parenting skills, and family communication. The first stages of TF-CBT involve learning relaxation skills and emotional regulation skills.

Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), also an evidence based model, is designed for working with students who have suffered from relational trauma. It focuses on the tenets of Empower, Connect, and Correct. Through empowerment, students learn effective means for regulation and gain a sense of felt safety. Connection, or relationship, focuses on re-establishing trust in others and in one’s self. The tenet of correct looks to give students alternative and appropriate methods for cognitive and behavioral expression of needs.

Melding the above treatments within Horticultural Therapy model of PQ has been a seamless process. Before a student can work through the 11 session manualized TF-CBT model, they must first have access to the parts of their brain in charge of reason. To do this, regulation and connection must exist. Through nature and the garden, students are able to customize their regulatory techniques- whether it be mulching banana trees, working the compost pile, weeding, or using the garden to create an individualized 5 sensory meditation practice. The gardening experience also allows for experimentation in life and death, promotes teamwork, and a nonjudgmental environment for students learn; thereby starting the process of connection to nature and to others. As students start to feel more connected to nature, others, and themselves and are functioning in a regulated fashion, they can then start to engage in rest of the TF-CBT process; examining their cognitive processing and exploring their trauma narrative.

A Client’s Perspective

But don’t listen to me, hear a student in her own words about her experience at PQ where she engaged in trauma focused treatment:

“The garden here is a lot different from the small garden I had at home.  At home, I never learned much about gardening of the processes  that made the flowers bloom and the lettuce grow.  There was no relationship between nature and me. Here at PQ, I learned about something called Aloha Aina, it refers to the deep connection between humans and the land.  It is sacred to the native Hawaiians and it is sacred to me as well.

“The garden means a lot to me. It is where I can be myself. I can weed, plant, mulch, and no matter what, I feel good and do good, which is my essential goal and personal legend in life.

“Usually when plants are transplanted they a little in shock when they are pulled out of the soil and taken away from what they are use to; however, with a little help, love and care they can blossom and grown. This is in direct alignment with what I am going through at this time.  I am being transplanted.  In order to cope, I will utilize EFT, coloring, cane grass meditation,  rock thingy, ocean breathing, and lavender- sniffing just as plants utilize chicken poop, water, sunlight and the soil that they have.

“I am quite like the banana trees. Each time I harvest a rack, I must cut down the tree in order for a new banana tree to grow in its place. I have been cutting down my inner banana trees.   During Nalu, I cut down the banana tree of thinking that I didn’t deserve love and support.   During Kuleana and Ohana, I have been cutting down shame and depression and anxiety.  When I leave PQ, I will continue cutting down bad habits so good habits can form. I love the garden and I love myself!”

Connecting the Dots

As a therapist, I’m passionate about creating meaningful relationships in a healing environment for our students to step into the power of redefining their story.  Pacific Quest provides a unique experience for the combination of these therapeutic modalities.  Relationally based TBRI emphasizes felt safety in a therapeutic relationship, allowing the body and  brain to be regulated enough to utilize TF-CBT, all the while giving space for HT to access and reprocess trauma on the level it was experienced- in the body.

May 10, 2016

Written by:

Transformation Tuesday: Parallel Processes in Gardening and Life

By: Anthony Florig, BSBA
Purchasing and Farm Manager

Almost all of the gardens at Pacific Quest are built from the ground up, and also down, by the hands and hearts of all the students and staff that find their way to the Big Island of Hawaii. I would like to share a story about the construction of these gardens, and the parallel process of the development of our students.

The garden camps have been a work in progress for over ten years, constantly changing and evolving and growing along with our student population. When I was a Guide for the Young Adult Program at Reed’s Bay, our Kuleana (Hawaiian for “personal responsibility”) student group was responsible for clearing an area that has come to be known as The Village, the property adjacent to the main Young Adult building in Hilo. It is a small outcropping overlooking Reed’s Bay, surrounded by rock-walled spring-fed brackish pools known as The Ice Ponds. These ponds connect to Reed’s Bay via a small channel, so you can enter for a refreshingly cold dip and then swim out to the bay where the ocean water is warmer.

pacificqueststaff

Anthony Florig, BSBA

The entire Village area used to be covered in cane grass, and was being overtaken by the coastal jungle. Now it is a beautifully landscaped garden park full of Hawaiian canoe plants like taro (kalo), purple sweet potato (uala), turmeric (olena), and banana (maia). To enter The Village you need to cross a small red wooden bridge that spans the first two ice ponds. You are met with various types and colors of Ti trees, with flowers and herbs planted in tree-trunk planters lining the path, leading to a dug-in stone fire circle. There are large garden beds with taro and purple sweet potatoes on either side of the clearing. Off the main path there is a rock-lined meditation labyrinth next to another ice pond. From the fire circle you can follow another path through more Ti trees and colorful relative Cordylines, with white pineapples growing along their base. From here you can continue on to the compost pile (or ki’pulu as we call it here in Hawaii) past various young fruit trees including mango, avocado, soursop, breadfruit (ulu), and plenty of ice cream and apple bananas. Or you can turn right and head past the Red Cuban bananas towards the final ice pond, which is surrounded by a canopy of thick Hau trees (ocean hibiscus). Over the course of the day the vibrant yellow flowers will turn orange and eventually fall into the pond, creating an idyllic scene and popular favorite spot for reflection.

About three years ago, there was one area underneath a large banyan tree that used to be nothing but vines. I remember a particularly rambunctious group of students who needed to get out some serious energy, both physically and mentally. They wanted a punching bag, so I agreed to make one with them. I got an old tarp and we began pulling all the vines off the hillside. For each bunch of vines we placed on the tarp we spoke about something that was bothering us, or that we were angry at. As students identified people or situations they were mad at, we helped identify the feelings and root causes of their pain. One student in particular who had been slow to open up really led this project, and she was able to speak about many of her resentments and what she called her enemies, and also how she wants to learn to forgive them and to let them go. We packed all the vines in the tarp, rolled it up, and tied it into a pretty solid punching bag. The students really enjoyed themselves getting out some more energy and aggression, but pulling the vines seemed to have already worked as a regulatory activity. In fact, underneath the vines we discovered a small hillside of some very rich soil, which was quite a pleasant surprise and grabbed everyone’s attention.

Today that hillside is now two terraced garden beds that wrap around the banyan tree and produce pounds and pounds of turmeric, taro and purple sweet potato. These beds were created and farmed the same way the vines were cleared from the hillside, by a group of staff and students talking about their problems and working them out on the land, over and over again. On top of the hill is a cleared circle of black cinder surrounded by a small rock wall, inside is a ring of coconut log seats. This is now a popular location for council and ceremony, or just a shady place to talk story surrounded by years of intention mixed with the beauty of Hawaiian tropical agriculture.

April 29, 2016

Written by:

Treating Anxiety: Overcoming the Fear of Fear Itself

By: Brian Konik, Ph.D.
Primary Therapist

As I look forward to working with a new group of students this summer at Pacific Quest, I am reminded of what a unique opportunity the gardens provide when designing individualized interventions. I feel very fortunate that, after spending over 20 or so years researching and designing interventions for individuals struggling with anxiety disorders, I have found an environment that facilitates a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach. I rely heavily on the principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) when designing exposure-based intervention. The students at Pacific Quest are immersed in an environment that integrates daily access to meditation, yoga, horticultural therapy, and mindfulness exercises to provide a perfect complement to a CBT and ABA approach.

PQ therapist Brian Konik

Dr. Brian Konik

I often say to parents and students that although problematic anxiety is one of the most prevalent, researched, and reliably treated psychological phenomena, it is also alarmingly underreported and treatment is not regularly pursued. Why is that? We find that those dealing with significant anxiety often avoid the experiences and/or settings that cause the anxiety and they ultimately fall into a pattern of avoidance behavior that stifles their development. Eventually parents and loved ones find themselves in a position where they have to insist on treatment. The PQ setting is unique because we are able to manipulate environmental variables to engage in exposure-based interventions with our students and to subsequently reinforce an evidence-based approach to therapy.  

Our ability to individualize the student experience provides me the opportunity to weave evidence-based practices for anxiety into the overall program. Students who struggle to thrive at home or at school are being challenged in the Pacific Quest gardens to face their fears head-on and to break the cycle of being anxious about being anxious — worrying about worrying — panicking that they may panic. Watching students who experience generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, panic attacks, social anxiety, Tourette Syndrome, selective mutism, body dysmorphic disorder,  and specific phobias overcome their challenges and begin to thrive in the PQ model is an incredibly rewarding experience for me as a Clinical Psychologist. I can’t wait to join another group of students on their journeys to overcome anxiety in whatever form it appears to them!  

April 22, 2016

Written by:

In Celebration of Earth Day: Nurture through Nature

By: Danielle Zandbergen, MA
Therapist

In celebration of Earth Day, I thought it fitting to write about nature and how it has proven to be one of the most important aspects within the human condition. Nature has been shown to inherently support those struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, stress, low self-esteem, obesity, substance abuse and addiction, social insecurity, obsessive-compulsive behaviors (many of which can be technology or materialistic), physical-verbal-emotional violence, lack of empathy or compassion…the list goes on. A great amount of children and adults alike struggle with a variety of pathologies and nature continues to prove to be an essential, positive, and healthy intervention for many, if not all individuals. It is surprising that more therapeutic programs, treatment interventions, or even academic settings haven’t integrated the exploration of nature.

Let’s face it – humans have a damaged relationship with nature and while many areas of the world are running out of natural resources that are absolutely essential to our very livelihood (most particularly water and food sources), we continue to be blinded by material goods that do not provide the same amount of happiness, or sustenance, as nature does. The very medicines we typically use are derived from a variety of herbs, spices, roots, and leaves from many kinds of plants and flora. Lavender cannot only be used for its scent but can also be used as an antibacterial, antiseptic and analgesic substance for a variety of ailments such as acne or skin irritation, as well as a natural soothing herb to help alleviate stress, cough and cold symptoms. Basil, most commonly known for cooking, can also be used for headaches, stings and bites, ear infections and help with stress reduction. Lemon balm alleviates anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, and even helps with cold sores. Rosemary is sometimes used to support memory and focus, and may even elevate one’s mood. If one looks closely, medicine can literally be found in our backyards!

PQ_therapist

Danielle Zandbergen, MA

When people engage in the outdoors, a natural sense of wonder and awe opens up a heightened awareness of connection. It rekindles a sense of belonging to the natural world that one cannot experience elsewhere. Some studies have shown that students who often feel fatigue, anxiety and stress have shown an overall sense of restoration both psychologically and physiologically after they take a walk in the woods or a nearby park. In contrast, walking through a crowded shopping mall or around tall buildings with little to no greenery has actually been shown to lower overall self-esteem and increase psychological stress.

Horticultural therapy has been shown to be extremely effective in stress management, treating alcohol and substance abuse, enhancing self-esteem, help elderly individuals with feelings of social isolation, and curtailing burnout experienced by healthcare providers. On top of the psychological support, horticultural therapy decreases one’s dependence on chemically treated food products and increases the inclination to grow fruits and vegetables in our very own garden. In a book titled, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, edited by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist, quotes “If you want to enhance self-concept, self-esteem, and self-confidence, facilitate treatment of the mentally ill, or improve family relationships, employing nature is a potent therapeutic intervention. Nature-guided therapy is about putting these demonstrated benefits into therapeutic practice, in ways that will most enhance the achievement of the person’s therapeutic goal.”

So what are you waiting for? Are you feeling stressed, anxious or frustrated? Do you feel like you need a “reset” button? Are you having a hard time concentrating? Take a walk in a nearby park. Embark on an adventure on a weekend camping trip instead of going shopping for things you probably don’t need. Save some money and grow your own natural and organic food, and most of all, take advantage of the cheapest medicine out there…nature! Happy Earth Day!

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”
– E.O. Wilson

 

April 13, 2016

Written by:

Gardening in LA: Alumni find solace and camaraderie in service project

By: Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director

Approaching Wattles Farm from Hollywood Boulevard is surreal.  A short walk from the iconic walk of fame in the heart of Hollywood, one navigates speeding sports cars, stoplights (which apparently aren’t enforced), and screaming police sirens to find the gate encircling the margins of Wattles Farm.  After traversing an ancient avocado grove, one emerges in the 4.2 acre organic garden of eden- a setting that couldn’t be more dichotomous from the immediate surroundings of bustling Hollywood.

The garden was reminiscent of Pacific Quest- meandering paths lined with rocks and downed limbs, tropical fruits draping from tree branches, and luscious garden beds overflowing with lettuce and kalWattles Farm Alumni Evente.  Travis Slagle and I felt at peace as we toured the garden, taking time to absorb every element of the Wattles oasis.  We basked in the familiarity of the natural landscape and reprieve from the urban gridlock surrounding us.

Head Gardenmaster for 23+ years, Toby Leaman, introduced Travis and I to the array of work needed to maintain Wattles garden.  She identified specific areas that our Pacific Quest alumni group could complete during our community service garden project the following day.  Travis observed closely as Toby showed him where the invasive onion grass was overtaking the roses and geranium, as well as where the rock wall was eroding.  While many people may view the immense undertaking Toby outlined as a nuisance, Travis and Toby see potential.  Being gardeners in their heart and healers/role models for youth, the garden is a means to connecting with something greater – a deeper sense of self and greater connection with community.  Excitement grew as we refined our plans for our project the following day.

Our alumni group dug into our community service project at 10 AM.  Smiles, laughs, and reminiscing about funny stories from Hawaii ensued, while the group maintained diligence and attention to eradicating the onion grass. The group overhauled the rose and geranium beds, creating a discernable difference.  Apparently that project wasn’t enough, as the group then devoured the opportunity to weed a long pathway through the avocado orchard.   Toby exclaimed what an amazing group of volunteers we were, highlighting our attention to detail and positive attitudes.

AJandTravisOver a nutritious lunch and closing circle, the group discussed some observations throughout the day.  Many noted “being in the present” and “sharing a common goal,” as being significant aspects of the project. Others shared a sense of fun, camaraderie, peacefulness, and giving back.  Each of these observations speaks to the power of gardening and intention- when we set aside computers and phones, carve out a shared gardening project, we find meaning.  The group observed that the experience was far from insignificant, but rather served as an amazing conduit for connection and leaving a legacy for others in the future.  It was certainly a memorable Sunday!

I want to share a huge THANK YOU to Toby Leaman for being such a warm host and project leader.  I also want to thank the Pacific Quest alumni for their dedication to others and desire to continue to deepen their self awareness. And lastly I want to thank the entire community for maintaining Wattles Farm for others to enjoy.  Community gardens are a growing movement, and one can see layers of significance far greater than just providing salad greens.

March 30, 2016

Written by:

The Mango Twins from O’ahu

By: Dr. John Souza, Primary Therapist

Last year my wife and I visited the town where my Portuguese ancestors first lived and worked on the sugarcane plantations– Waimea, Hawai’i, on the island of O’ahu. There we discovered a fruiting mango tree with the most succulent mangoes. My wife suggested I bring a seed home to plant. At first I rebuffed the suggestion. But, with a little cajoling, I was soon toting home one of the seeds for planting on the Big Island of Hawai’i. From that moment I began to feel a sense of connection with the seed; it was both the symbolism of the seed as a part of my Portuguese heritage and also my worry about whether or not I could actually grow a tree from a seed I found in the wild. This is how horticulture therapy begins.

john_souza_450x566

When my wife and I returned home I was excited and anxious to plant my little bundle of joy. I hurried through online readings about how to grow a mango tree, to find the right container, and the right soil mixture. I was careful to find just the right spot in my yard for my little mango keiki (the Hawaiian word for “child”) to grow. I placed it near my front door so that everyday I would remember to check on it.

Horticulture Therapy and Seedlings of Hope

Each day I checked on my little seedling of hope, looking for any signs of life. Days became weeks, but alas nothing seemed to be happening. I began to lose hope and started preparing myself for the possibility that I had failed; either I wasn’t very good with plants or I hadn’t done enough. I felt pangs of disappointment in myself, a few times thinking I had let down my Portuguese kin.

Then, the following week, signs of life! I couldn’t believe the seed was actually sprouting! And what’s more, there were actually two sprouts showing. Twins! What joy! I was so relieved. Maybe I wasn’t such a bad gardener. I was after all, part Portuguese! I was beaming with joy as I talked to my twin keiki, showing them off to friends and family. I was a proud mango papa.

Months passed and my little mango keiki grew very well. Each had strong stems and bright almost fluorescent green leaves. All was going well, until I started to notice that their growth was slowing. At first I didn’t think much of it. But after another month of them looking relatively the same size, I wondered if it wasn’t time for them to move out of their comfortable little hale (Hawaiian word for home), into an environment where they could stretch out a bit. I knew this to be true, but subconsciously I put off actually doing anything about it. Two months went by and I was barely aware of the fears driving my procrastination: What if I hurt them? What if I killed them?! They looked so healthy; I didn’t want to do anything to cause them harm. Do they really need to be moved?

How a Mango Can Transform

But one day I woke up and knew it was time. I marched outside and gently picked up my mango twins. I began preparing two new pots for them, carefully placing in each another mixture of soil and tender loving care. Then, the moment of severance: I carefully pulled them out of their home. After a bit of clearing of some of the soil, I discovered they were still connected by the last remnants of the original seed casing! This meant having to physically pull them apart. I was aghast and worried as I pulled, hearing the snapping of little plant parts; heart-wrenching! I worked quickly to get each plant into it’s new home, offering a lot of love and several apologies for what seemed to me a cruel and unusual act of betrayal and plant butchery.

Then it was over. As I looked at my two beautiful twins, now in their own homes, separate, yet connected, I felt a bit of relief, but with a distinct undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Again, those pesky thoughts came to me: “What if they don’t make it? What if they die?!” However, I put these thoughts aside and went about my day, holding out hope that the twins would survive the transfer.

The next few days were nerve wracking. Each day I checked on my beautiful little keiki twins, and at first it looked like they were doing well. I knew that plants go through shock and that this could actually be a good thing for them to develop resilience. But as I looked at my twins, I noticed they were both starting to show signs of stress: Their leaves began to droop and on these leaves began to form dark spots. One of the twins was in really poor shape; it’s leaves beginning to brown. One day my wife noted that this particularly brown plant looked nearly dead. This hit me hard, as I had been in a bit of denial. But she was right. I had been blindly holding onto hope, not seeing what was happening right in front of me.

I began to panic. We’d had a few days of fairly heavy rain and my intuition had been telling me the twins were getting too much water. Why didn’t I put them under a shelter?! How could I have been so careless?! I texted a desperate plea for guidance along with a picture of the twins to my friend and Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle; no response. I looked online about what to do for a dying mango tree and websites offered the use of a weak sugar-water mixture. I jumped on the suggestion, but as I was about to pour the water, a little voice told me this was not the answer. They were already suffering from too much moisture. But I didn’t listen and poured the mixture onto the plants. Soon after, Travis replied texting, “They’re sensitive. Keep the faith and don’t over water.” Noooooo! Why didn’t I listen to that little voice in my head?! Why didn’t I wait until I heard back from Travis?! Why didn’t I do more reading ahead of time?! I was becoming overwhelmed with feelings, but not paying attention to the feelings; I was too busy trying to find a solution. I was in crisis mode.

Horticulture Therapy :: Life and Loss

Then my wife (clearly the level-headed one) noted that it seemed I was grieving something, and that it might be more than just the twins. This gave me pause and I considered the nature and source of my feelings. It turns out she was right (of course). In fact I was in the midst of a grief and loss response. The grief I was experiencing for the plants was interconnected with all the grief I had ever experienced throughout my life: The missingness of my father from my life subsequent to my parents’ divorce, moving to new towns and away from childhood friends, the deaths of loved ones, and on and on. All of it connected to the present sense of no longer being able to experience the joy of seeing my twins thriving. Moreover, I had imbued those mango twins with all myriad of meaning ranging from my ability to care for another living thing to my worthiness as the bearer of my ancestral heritage.

Again, I texted Travis, “I think one got too wet and may not make it.” Travis responded, “Namaste little mango.” And that was it; that was the correct answer. Namaste is the Sanskrit word for seeing the light in others. I interpreted that to mean to accept the good in all things, including life’s losses.

It remains to be seen if the twins will survive the transplant. Either way, I will accept that there is something good that will come from it, for they have already borne fruit by providing me insight into my own internal processes, compelling me to connect with friends and family, and most importantly, myself. And now it’s given me this story to share with you, which (hopefully) will inspire you to consider your own responses to life and loss. Then, be sure to share it with someone else. In this way, from a single mango seed from O’ahu, we will propagate connection with self and others.

Thanks for reading this far. Namaste.

March 22, 2016

Written by:

The Hero’s Journey at Pacific Quest

By Alex Stitt, MS

The journey both to and through Pacific Quest is exactly that, a quest. A quest is a very specific journey. It’s a Hero’s Journey, and like so many hero’s journeys the adventure is so often the reward. As always, our intrepid explorer sets out on a mission to find an elixir of healing, the magic sword of power, or the ruby slippers home, only to discover that the yellow brick road was far more valuable. This is the true nature of a quest. In searching for something more than ourselves we find something that was always present: our true self.

Step 1 in the Hero’s Journey

The first step in the Hero’s Journey is The Call: That sense of beginning, of summoning, of need for change. In addictive behavior cycles, The Call is akin to the pre-contemplation and contemplation phase, where one begins to realize the story has already begun. The second step is The Refusal of the Call, that humbled, intimidated, reactionary rejection that says: “Oh! Not me! Not I!”

And that is where Pacific Quest begins.

heros_journey_PQAs a horticultural therapy program, Pacific Quest uses mindfulness to connect its students with the world around them. After living in a literally growing environment, tending everything from lilikoi to self esteem, from purple sweet potatoes to self acceptance, the students enter a contemplative period wherein the students write and reflect on their life story, recounting their journey thus far. This is a crucial step, for while our story remains the same, the way we tell it will always change.

As the students progress through the program, they enter into a Rites of Passage phase called Huli Ka’e. During this time the students develop both a deeper understanding of self, and an intent statement claiming that which they have always known themselves to be.

A Transformational Hero’s Journey

Pacific Quest provides a beginning, middle, and end to one cycle of a transformational hero’s journey that is part of a much longer life story. The implementation of mindful self-awareness; connectivity to self, to others, and to the larger natural world; the identification and acceptance of core values; and the very comprehension of life as an exploration and not a goal, changes the narrative. We may begin as the lost innocent, or the victim, or the orphan, but we do not end there.

Over my years at Pacific Quest, as both a guide and a support therapist, I have personally witnessed several hundred young people answer the call. Stories told with shaky voices are retold, the content just the same, the tale just as harrowing, but this time? I hear thrive over survive, I hear passion over anger, and I hear courage— not as the absence of fear— but as the steps taken and the words uttered when we are most afraid.

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work, states:

“The ego is as you think of yourself. You in relation to all the commitments of your life, as you understand them. The self is the whole range of possibilities that you’ve never even thought of.”

It is a privilege to witness the authentic self revealed through the Hero’s Journey at Pacific Quest and the endless possibilities that flow from this experience.