Journal of Organic Psychology and Natural Attraction Ecology (OP/NAE)

Project NatureConnect  Akamai University Institute of Applied Ecopsychology
VOLUME 1,  NUMBER 2011-2012                                                      Dr.  Michael J. Cohen, Editor

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A San Juan Island Gathering of Camaraderie Friends in Joy, Wonder and Nature Community Vocation

- Reflections by an Anonymous Participant  
Applied Ecopsychology education, counseling and healing article. 

When I drove south to San Juan Island, Washington from the northwest coast of British Columbia, I did not know what to expect from the gathering I was going to. It was to be my first face to face meeting with fellow students in the Project NatureConnect (PNC) community. Having built a few relationships with others in my online course group, I was excited to meet those individuals in person finally. Additionally I had made a great connection with Tabitha and was definitely excited to experience Mike in person after speaking with him on the phone and viewing him in the documentary Naturally Attracted. The PNC community intrigues me and I was committed to taking that next step to experience it in a group setting. Having an open mind and positive attitude my expectations were exceeded before I even left my home country.

I was lucky to pair up with Natalie and carpool.  We had great conversation and immediately I knew that more like minded people awaited our arrival on San Juan Island. This was a major highlight for me - Talking, camping, dancing, singing, and connecting with other students with diverse ethnicities, homelands and vocations. It truly mirrored the diversity that exists in nature. Spending a year behind a computer screen sharing online with my course group was now energized with face to face interactions. In a digital learning environment this was a crucial element I cherish.

Secondly, as a professional Coach, I enjoyed meeting other Coaches who are using PNC in their work. I feel that as a small working group we built camaraderie in our niche and have a great platform to continue sharing tools and resources with each other. I'm really excited to see how we can collaborate and integrate this in our work. I see an opportunity for the next gathering to have small working groups to catalyze this. As a result of this gathering Tabitha and I have applied to facilitate a workshop at a Healthy by Nature conference in Vancouver this Fall.

Experiencing the natural attraction model in real life was a big learning outcome. As a group, with Dr. Mike's lead we arranged ourselves randomly as nature does on a daily basis. While it was happening I often felt like I didn't know what was going on but as we continued to let our natural attractions guide us, our group formed, normed, stormed, and performed. It was a refreshing experience coming from the city where people operate completely opposite. I felt free, low stress, and a part of something more powerful than myself.

Our group embarked on many adventures around San Juan Island. Mike guided us through nature reconnecting activities in the forest, historic parks, on the ocean coast, and in our lakeside base camp. As a student it was remarkable to experience the activities in such diverse landscapes. Following the activities we shared with each other our attractions, listening to others enhanced my personal experience. Strands of connections wove us together by debriefing each activity.

Of course a good old camping trip wouldn't be complete without music dance and play. Again, Mike continuously intrigued me with his stories, musical performances, and desire to share his personal island lifestyle with the group. I felt like I warped into another world- but really it was just San Juan Island.  I tried contra dancing for the first time, and laughed myself into learning a few figures. This cultural experience reminded me that I have a choice of how I live my life. Certain elements of this playfulness are now ingrained in me.

One observation I did leave with was some opportunity to invite the next wave of youth to join in our gathering. It leaves me curious in wondering how many people in their 20s are being exposed to PNC coursework and is there an opportunity here to keep the flame alive by sharing it with those younger than us. Does this cohort exist in our community or do we need to make PNC more accessible for the next generation?

As a whole experience, I left San Juan Island feeling both grounded and uplifted. Grounded in my nature roots and those of the new relationships that emerged. Uplifted in feeling a sense to keep moving forward with my studies and a desire further integrate PNC with my work.

I am truly grateful for Mike's hospitality, the organizing committee, Barb & company, and each of the gathering's attendess. Additionally, I am equally grateful for those who were there with us in spirit. Thank you to all of you for sustaining this community in your own unique way.

With each subsequent person who arrived I immediately felt a deep connection to. These were people I had connected in the graduate support group or through phone conversations with. I really had a sense of connecting with old friends ˆ even with those who I'd had no interaction with before the gathering.

For me, that was the best part. I've never been to a gathering before where I can say that I connected deeply with every single person there. Every connection was unique and really special to me. For the people that I'd already connected with before the gathering I had a real sense of that connection deepening and growing. With the new people I met I the sense of connection is still firmly entrenched within.

Close to that was the experience of sharing NIAL and PNC nature activities with others and being able to express this part of me in a safe environment, knowing that I was truly supported. My memories are filled with so many joyous, wonderful nature connected moment that to share them all with you would probably takes pages and pages of writing!

The gathering raised many questions for me about PNC. How can a person go deeper into PNC? How can PNC evolve and meet the needs of the people of today? How can we get PNC out to a wider audience? How can I strengthen my understanding of PNC in my work? How can I truly embody PNC in my life? How can we have more face-to-face connection within PNC? How can PNC gain wider scientific credibility? Not all of these questions have been answered fully but I trust that Nature will show me the answers in her own way and her own time.

One thing that has become even clearer for me though is that my passion for PNC is deeper now as a result of that gathering. When I look to my future I see if filled with the joy and wonder of PNC and what it has to offer others. Since then, I have taken a more active part in helping with PNC, am undertaking an internship helping to implement nature-based discussions within a PNC orientated organization, developing PNC even more strongly into my own business, gathering ideas for research studies and arranging to return to America/Canada to undertake PNC orientated activities that reconnect me again with some of the amazing people I met on San Juan Island.

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