Outdoor Diary: How I Used Nature as a ‘Container’ for Big Feelings

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When trauma or difficult events seep into your life, it’s easy to get angry or sad — and hard to process them. Thanks to some advice from a past podcast guest, this week Amy hit the great outdoors to process some tough stuff going on, and use nature as a “container” for that work.

Some of the good stuff:

[:26] Some current events and emotions

[1:46] Using the outdoors as a safe place

[3:23] Brainstorming outside

[4:30] Changing seasons

[4:56] Where to find Humans Outside

Connect with this episode:

Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

If you’ve been following international news recently, you’ve seen a lot of development out of Afghanistan. I promise this has something to do with going outside, so stick with me. After basically 20 years of war, the U.S. is pulling its troops out of the nation leaving the Afghan forces we have diligently trained to do what they’ve been trained to do — fight to keep their country. However, as the U.S. has left the occupying Taliban, who the U.S. ousted, has over the last several weeks taken back what is essentially the entirety of the country.

I am not here to comment on whether America should be in Afghanistan to start with, the withdrawal, our “responsibility” or anything else. But as many of you know, I am the spouse of a soldier whose unit lost over 20 men over there in just a few short months in 2009. Luke came home with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD — he’s a disabled veteran. And so to say we have complicated emotions in this house right now is an understatement. We are angry. We are sad. We wonder if all of this loss, if our whole lives being fundamentally different forever and everything about who we are changing was for nothing. I’m not saying it was. I’m saying it’s a thought that hangs heavy. And these are the questions we have.

So what this has to do with going outside. OK. I’ve mentioned it before in an outdoor diary, and I’ll bring it up again. In an episode in Season 2, Judith Sadora, a mental health counselor who specializes in recreational therapy, talked to us about the outdoors functioning as a container, a safe place to process and work through complicated emotions. As you do hard things outside, you can work through the hard stuff going on inside you. As you conquer hard things in nature, you can conquer hard things in your life.

And so I took my anger and grief over this whole thing on a hard, 3 hour hike. As I huffed and puffed up almost 4,000 feet over three miles on the incorrectly named Lazy Mountain, I thought about how angry I wanted to be, and how being angry was going to take me being better able to breathe, something I was not in that moment. I thought about how the risk and pain of going up are, I assume, worth some kind of reward at the top — and that’s why I do it.

Nature and doing hard things outside became a container for the things I’m feeling around this Afghanistan stuff. I am still feeling complicated things. But I was able to leave a lot of them on the mountain and when I’m ready to see them again, I’ll go back outside and work through them some more.

You might be related to or a part of a military family, and if you’re feeling these things now, too, you’re not alone. You might be going through your own version of trauma or complicated feelings. If that’s you right now, we’re out here too, feeling complicated. May I recommend heading out into nature to use it as a container to process this stuff?

The other deep way I used nature this week was to help me brainstorm as I put the finishing touches on my book proposal and sent that sucker out in the world to agents, one of whom I hope loves it and wants to help me sell it to a publisher. The book’s theme will sound familiar to you — what happens when you spend a certain amount of time outside every day for a year, based on my own experience.

I took a little writing retreat and a week off of my full time job to make this big thinking happen. Sometimes you just have to lock yourself in a room and power through, but I prefer to lock myself in a cabin from which I can periodically escape to hit the beach for a walk.

Did you know Alaska has killer beaches? I wouldn’t call them swimming or suntanning beaches because it’s Alaska and everything, but the coast where we are looks out across the Cook Inlet onto these incredible, stunning snow capped volcanoes that just seem to appear out of nowhere. Walking along the beach helped me process sticky writing problems. I love the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It also served as a little bribery. If I just powered through for a few hours, I could go on a walk on the beach as a reward.

Things are about to get somewhat more predictable around here as my kids head back to school for the fall this coming week. The leaves are already changing, and while I’m not going to light fall scented candles yet, the season does come early to Alaska, with winter knocking on the door by mid-October. But we’re not done with the summer quite yet. I’ve got plenty of adventures planned for the last few weeks of August.

If you want to see those or any of my outdoor time, you can still find me every single day on Instagram doing that thing I do — posting my photos @humansoutside or with the hashtag, #humansoutside365. I’d love to see photos of your outdoor time, too, so please share them. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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