During the warm days of autumn, a small group of us gathered in a wilderness area beside a lovely mountain stream, high above Santa Fe. The entire mountainside was covered with green conifers and aspens turning gold. At 10,000 feet elevation, deer and elk are abundant and the air is pure. Just listening to the sparkling stream running over the stones brings a sense of well-being.
I asked the group to engage in a traditional “medicine walk”, a ceremony long practiced by native people. After creating a healing intention, the participants wandered in the nearby forest and along the stream, allowing themselves to be “invited” here and there by nature.
One woman sat by the stream, shoes off, for a long time. Upon her return to the circle, two hours later, she described feeling peaceful for the first time in weeks. A man followed a small creature up the mountainside, and later told the group how he suddenly remembered magical childhood moments spent in the woods.
Indigenous people worldwide have always relied on the connection with Mother Earth, and tribal healers are experts in earth-based ceremonies, knowledge of plants, and rites of passage to help people mend broken hearts, make difficult life transitions, heal addictions and trauma, and cure illnesses. Modern people may not have ready access tothese powerful healing ways.
In recent times, however, some therapists have connected with tribal healers and curanderas (traditional Mexican folk healers) who are willing to teach non-native people. These earth based practices bring a much needed holistic foundation to contemporary mental health methodologies.
Earth based ceremonies teach us to honor the healing energy of Mother Earth, to find solace beside a stream or at the base of a tree, to listen to the wisdom of birds and animals. We find ourselves taking deep, relaxing breaths of fresh air and dipping our toes in a cold stream. An ancient oak tree speaks to us of strength, patience, and courage. We find ourselves feeling whole, perhaps for the first time.
Carol Parker, Ph.D. LPCC, is a former chair of the Counseling program at Southwestern College and former Director of the Ecotherapy certificate program (previously called the Transformational Eco-Psychology certificate program). She is a vision quest guide and pilgrimage leader, and facilitates ceremonies in Death Valley, Canyon de Chelly, the Peruvian Andes, and other sacred sites in the U.S. and internationally. She has been initiated into a pre-Inca lineage in Peru, and has worked with native elders and healers from the Lakota, Navaho, Chippewa, and Mayan tribes.