We go into the wilderness to engage our senses, to connect with nature. We feel the ground beneath our feet, taste the crisp air, listen to the wind through the trees, hear the calls of nature, and see a new world before us. Wilderness provides a lens to work with and within our experience. Outdoor excursions and adventures at Confluence tie together metaphors used in clinical work to lived experience. With this sentiment in mind last week our group set off on a new adventure - dog sledding through the forests and fields of the snowy Vermont landscape.
Not a single person, participant and mentor alike, is distracted as the instructor explains how to interact with the sled dogs. She explains, “Verbal and non-verbal cues are essential to a safe and healthy relationship with the dogs; be sure to invite them to you instead of moving towards them; let them have a chance to get a first impression.” In much the same way these methods of relation are essential in everyday life, in our community, and in our individual relationships. She continues, “Dog sledding is 75% taking care of the little things each and everyday, and 25% pure joy while sledding. If we don’t do the 75% first, then we can’t have the fun.”
“Everybody ready!” is all it takes for the team of Siberian huskies to know that it’s time to focus, look forward, and begin thinking and working as a team. Similarly the command peaks our participant’s awareness and attention. All eyes are trained intently on the dog teams harnessed to two sleds in front of us as the Mushers begin to explain how our adventure is to unfold.
"Pedigree indicates what we should be. Conformation indicates what we appear to be. But performance indicates what we actually are." - Author Unknown
“Let’s go!” The team knew it was coming. It’s the command to act as one, and pull towards a common goal. At Confluence each and every activity offers participants an opportunity to build on the therapeutic work they are doing. With a team of huskies leading the way participants now see how together a group can attain heights one alone cannot. The therapeutic milieu at Confluence is designed to engender the same approach. Together the group forms a collaborative effort — individual participants supporting one another, contributing to the community, providing help to develop paths forward, over and past obstacles.
Excursions give us the opportunity to pull together towards a team goal. At the farmhouse we have taken care of the 75%, participants have attended therapeutic modules, folded their laundry, woken up on time, and engaged in therapy. Cutting through the crisp air and falling snow, hearing the barks of the dog team and the gentle directions from the musher, it is evident their work has culminated in a moment of joy. There is no longer metaphor, this is real.