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  • Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

Whispers in the Woods

This week, I spent some time doing the trails around Rich Mountain (Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Indian Grave Gap Trail, Crooked Arm Trail, and Rich Mountain Trail). As so often hiking does, it gave me my inspiration around this week's blogpost. As I chipped away at those trails-- climbing steadily upwards battling bugs, heat, and mental blocks--- I realized that it wasn't only the trails that I was dealing with: it was emotion. And I took the time to watch the process, to observe the process, to engage the process, and ultimately to teach the process to my kids. So what process am I referring to? The process of handling emotion. The process of moving through feelings. The process of accepting and coming to terms with situations.

The process of moving through the Physical West of the Medicine Wheel. In last week's blogpost, I talked about using the Medicine Wheel for processing, but I've had a lot of people reach out, questioning about the Physical West piece of the wheel. Not surprising, this is the piece of the Medicine Wheel that a lot of people get stuck on, and ultimately are left with crammed emotions, broken possessions, or shattered relationships. Or all of the above.

As I said last week, the Physical West is that dark period of the processing cycle that involves sitting with the emotion and welcoming in acceptance. It is often difficult and weighs heavy on our hearts.

But emotion can't be ignored. It serves a purpose in our lives. And it's only through honoring it and feeling it do we move on and grow. You can achieve this through journaling, meditation, talking it with friends, etc, etc, etc, but my favorite way of working through the Physical West is in the forest, on a hiking trail. But what does this look like? How do you move through the Physical West on a hiking trail? I'll use my own past week's experience to show you how I moved through that Physical West.

We got to the trailhead bright and early and wasted no time heading up the Rich Mountain Loop Trail. No sooner had we started climbing the steeper part of the trail than the Medicine Wheel process begin. I began thinking about an emotional discussion I had had with a friend earlier in the week.

I was starting the process in the Mental East, thinking about that discussion I had had. Thinking about the facts (well, at least my perception of the facts). Thinking about what he had said. Wondering what he had meant by this. Considering the actions I did. And then came the Emotional South. As I climbed-- face sweating in the humidity of the trail and legs burning from the climb-- emotions boiled up inside. I felt anger for some of the things that were said. I felt sadness for the possibility of what my friend may have been going through. I felt frustration over having been in that situation. And then I felt the driving emotion, the one that was really propelling my need to process: I felt guilt for my own actions. Oftentimes, when I'm exploring emotions with myself or clients, I look for those driving emotions. The emotions that are truly the driving force behind the pain. These emotions are easiest to identify for how strong they are typically felt. For how relevant they feel. Discovering the core, driving emotion is major piece of the process of moving through emotion. Naming that emotion. Recognizing it.

For me on the trail that day, guilt was the driving emotion. I recognized the emotion and began feeling it. It felt pretty uncomfortable, as oftentimes emotions do. But I didn't run from it. Instead, I moved into the Physical West with one of my favorite activities: whispering the story to the woods. As I huffed and puffed up Rich Mountain Loop Trail, I whispered the story of what happened to the woods. To the trees. It looked something like this: *Breathe in deeply* "It started when my friend called me the other day," I whispered as I breathed out.

*Breathe in deeply* "I knew immediately by the sound of his voice that something was going on," I whispered as I breathed out.

*Breathe in deeply* "I asked him was what going on," I said as I breathed out. And I continued that process until I had told the story. Every piece of the story. I told every detail. I told every emotion. I whispered about my guilt. I whispered about my anger. I told it, with the intention that the forest was bearing witness to my experience. I felt the story coming out with every breath. I felt the emotion within my being, even the uncomfortable, unpleasant feelings of guilt. I told my story. That was my release.

And that was my Physical West. Because as I did that, I began moving into the Spiritual North. I felt that breath of Spiritual North come in-- the divine guidance. It's inspiration at its finest. I realized the lessons that I learned from this: to look for the good in others, not the bad. To cultivate patience. To teach my children the same process. I began having insight into why my friend said certain things. I was able to see what actions I needed to take in order to help heal the situation. I had moved through the emotion by telling my story and feeling the emotion. By giving my story a place.

Later on into the trail, another event happened that brought my Spiritual North lesson to the forefront of my mind: my son dropped his camera off the side of the mountain at the top. As he was grabbing it, it tumbled out of his fingers, rolled down the steep side, and then went off a small cliff. There was no way of possibly getting it (without getting injured!), and even if we could get down there, the moss green case would have camouflaged enough to likely never be found. And there his own Medicine Wheel started. He knew the facts: his camera was gone (Mental East). He felt the sadness of loss and the frustration over a careless mistake (Emotional South). But how to move through? How to get through that Physical West? I saw this struggle, and remembered feeling that my lesson from my own Spiritual North was to teach my children about the process of emotion. So,I told him about how I had whispered my story earlier. We talked about the story of his camera. We talked about how to identify the feeling. We talked about and explored the emotion. We acknowledged that icky feeling of loss over photos, and we let that exist. I taught him how to whisper into the woods. I taught him about the Physical West. And by the time we got halfway down Crooked Arm Trail, he was bouncing around in his Spiritual North. He had learned some greater life lesson: how to deal with emotion. Yes, the camera was still lost. Yes, that still sucked. But he had moved through the emotion and learned some deeper lesson. He had accepted the situation and had come to terms with this small experience of loss.

But how do you apply this to your own life? Try to find your way of moving through that Physical West. From this hiking story, you can certainly see how journaling can achieve the same goal. It gives you a chance to tell your story. It gives you a chance to release that emotion and move through it. But so does talking with friends. So does calling up a trusted family member, walking them through your story, sharing your emotion. So does going to a therapist and telling your narrative. So does exercising while reviewing/exploring your story. So does praying, lifting your story up to your idea of the divine. This is the stuff that guides us through the Physical West. This is the stuff that leads us to the understanding and acceptance of the Spiritual North. Rich Mountain area provided some beautiful life lessons to me this week. It helped me to push myself physically. It helped me to explore the process of emotional release. It helped me to pass this lesson on to my children. It listened to my narrative. It bore witness to my story. And somewhere in those woods, there are some trees-- holding my whispers and grounding the stories deep into the dirt and rock of that mountain.


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