Love the Prickles: Build Resilience

This week I was fortunate once again to be able to visit my friend and mentor, Dr Rev Anna Killigrew of Koora Retreat Centre, on the edge of Boorabbin National Park in the West Australian Goldfields. This is a place in which I never imagined to fall in love. A place that calls me back time and time again to rekindle the connection between nature and my soul. It’s also a place that helps build resilience for my day to day life.

Koora_sunsetBoorabbin National Park is situated between Southern Cross and Coolgardie in the semi-arid, hot dry wilderness of Australia. When I describe to my friends where I’m going, many of them express their confusion with statements such as, “But there is nothing out there,” or “What do you do in the middle of nowhere?” I think the ‘nowhere-ness’ is part of the reason that I love this place. All the modernalities that we become addicted to are stripped away. The partial isolation and simplistic living quarters, leaving just my own self, nature, stories and wonderful people with whom to share the experience.

The experience is sometimes a confronting one. On my first visit 10 years ago in winter, it was absolutely freezing with only a tiny railway carriage, indoor space to retreat to. We were either huddled up by the fire at night or closeted away with blankets indoors. There was the outdoor shower to endure. And the drop toilet with the most beautiful view, due to lack of a door. But then at first light in the morning, a walk in the bush revealed the most stunning jewels of white icicles that clung to leaves and shone in the morning light. A sight I would most definitely have missed if I was sleeping in the comfort and these are images that remain precious inside my memories.

Then there was the time when I was walking alone in the bush and found myself lost. I was not far away but I felt so alone, helpless and anxious about how to find my way back. It was hot and I had limited water. The desert wilderness felt so horrible, dry and scratchy and the dense prickly bushes became enemies as I tried to find a trail wide enough to walk through. I sat down to collect myself, breathe and work out what to do. In this time of pause, I discovered the most beautiful tiny wildflowers growing through the hard soil, under the harsh sun. These beautiful flowers of blues, pinks, purples and yellows were a miracle of nature in such a place and reminded me of how great things can come out of horrible situations. With this new confidence I could think clearly, get my bearings again, push through prickly bush and find my way home safely.

Another time, I spent a day alone in the middle of a clay pan. After exploring the place a bit, I quickly became bored. I alternated time with aimlessly walking, lying down and exposing my belly to the sun (enjoying the warmth) and studying the peeling bark and rings of spinifex grass. Through this space I gave myself, I felt the layers of city stress peel off my shoulders, my back and open my body just like the peeling bark of the tree. I returned the next day with pens and paint to create and give voice to that open space between the peeling bark.

There are many more experiences and their lessons that I have gained from this space and most of these lessons have come from confrontation. Experiences that have been out of my comfort zone, away from my general way of thinking, in a way that has made me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. This is how resilience is built: survival of the discomfort to discover an inner strength. It is an identity forming experience that helps me to understand myself, the world and how we are connected to each other, giving me the confidence that I can overcome challenges and that I am nurtured by the Earth through the struggle.

Of course, the addition of a mentor has also been an incredibly important factor in building resilience. In my case, I was able to talk through my experiences and help identify the jewels of new knowledge with Anna who opened my eyes to a new way of seeing and being. This confidence, identity and resilience has helped me cope with greater struggles in my life, try new things and bravely step out. With this beautiful new gift, I always feel an urge to give back to this place and people in some small way, prickles and all.

When adversity is relieved and basic human needs are restored, then resilience has a chance to emerge.

Maston, A (1994)

In Educated by Nature programs we aim to help families enter the prickly spaces, to challenge themselves, build resilience and learn within nature. We situate ourselves at the edge of the manicured grass, in amongst the dirt and dry leaves, crawl into scratchy bushes, climb up high and step into the swamp to challenge, take risks, face discomfort and then wash up, eat, sing and relieve adversity allowing resilience to emerge and bloom in the company of a mentor.