The Wise Woman Steps Of Healing: Empowering Self, Others & Planet
I facilitate programs that encourage people to move their bodies outside with nature. There are many names for describing this, like: recreation counselor or fitness instructor. I work in the fields of outdoor behavioral health, ecopsychology, and lifestyle medicine. Regardless of what it is called, we use nature as therapy, or for growth, or leisure, because of course, we are deeply wholly connected to it. Regular doses of nature are the remedy. It contributes to our health and to that of our planet. People who live and work outdoors become stewards and take responsibility to conserve and regenerate our ecosystem.
We can use outdoor programs of all kinds as a health prevention tool for humans and for our ecosystem. Exercising, working, and healing outdoors does however present many challenges. It helps to have guidelines for decision making, a compass so to speak. My profession has morphed and shaped through many forms, from midwife to farmer to personal trainer, to emergency medic, to adventure guide, and to health coach. I would like to share with you the systems model for decision making that I use. It is the Wise Woman Steps of Healing that I learned from my teacher Whapio Diane Bartlett when I was training at LaMatrona Holistic Midwifery.
The Tao of Midwifery was our mantra: when the midwife’s work is done it disappears. Success in contributing to empowerment means that the client will be able to say, “I did it” not “I couldn’t have done it without you”. That’s how the midwife’s work is supposed to disappear. I see how this fits with adventure programming leadership, being a mother, being a personal trainer and in all the work I do.
|Wise Woman Steps of Healing||What that means, what we do:|
|1.Do Nothing||Trust, Wait & See|
|2.Gather Information||Observe, notice, ask, listen|
|3.Work With the Energy||Shift the environment, change the terrain|
|4.Nourish & Tone||Good food, good company, affirmations|
|5.Stimulate & Sedate||Challenge or restrict|
|6.Break & Enter||Cross boundaries, use force|
Really the Wise Woman Steps of Healing can be applied to anything. The steps are first: Do Nothing; next Gather Information; then Work with the Energy; Nourish and Tone; Stimulate and Sedate; last only when necessary is Break and Enter. Each of these steps can have actions or medicines that are used for each purpose to activate and bring safety and wellness as much as possible. We rely mostly on the first four steps, resorting to the last more in crisis situations. Explained in the next section are the first four: Do Nothing. Gather information. Work with the Energy. Nourish and Tone. If we always promote the first four in the beginning, we safeguard the process. It is always important to set up the first steps. The last step is rarely necessary or helpful.
By Do Nothing, we mean be mindful, be at peace. Let the mountain speak for itself. Have faith in an outcome that is greater than you can direct or ever imagine. It also means having faith in the ability of the people around you. This is always the first step. The second step is Gather Information. Here we find out what the group and individuals’ goals are. It’s active listening. What medical needs or physical handicaps do they have. Only after letting go completely of your control over a situation and then finding out what they want, and need can you then begin to put your ideas or your will/mark on it. This is at the heart of empowerment I believe. Also within the Gather Information step is to learn about your client population in general as well as about terrain and technical skills that overtime enable you to improve your judgment. Nourish & Tone is taking the time to meet people where they are, giving what help is needed and asked for. In outdoor adventure programming it’s sequencing for optimum safety and building on their strengths. Making sure people don’t go beyond their learning zone into the terror zone, however pushing them gently into their learning zones outside of their comfort zones but only for their benefit.
Stimulate and Sedate takes challenging to another level. This could be where you may or may not breach your scope of practice. And regardless of your field, your profession or your title, you should always be careful not to overstep the line. Stimulate, at one end of the spectrum is where you’re challenging people to their maximum capacity. I’ll use the example of a healing strategy used at Shunda Creek Treatment Center, where I interned. Clients are welcomed with rhythms and rituals of love and support specifically organized to dispel shame. They are given personal time and space to feel safe and talk when and how they are ready. Playful games and activities create a nest. Clients choose which modalities they will focus on for creating their own recovery plan. Only in the last weeks of an intervention, once participants have had a solid 10 weeks or more of care, of skills learning as well as many small challenges building up to this bigger peak challenge, does it start to have the full look and feel Stimulating, in the sense of the Wise Woman Steps. They are brought to the deepest challenge, so that they are triggered but still within an emotionally safe setting. On the opposite pole within this same step is Sedation. By Sedation we mean: bringing people back into their comfort zones, even going so far as numbing them even. TV or funny cat you-tube-vegging out without having any physical or mental effort is an example of sedation. It is important to take down time for recovery especially in a therapeutic setting. Stimulating and sedating can be used interchangeably in long outdoor expeditions or intense settings for therapeutic purposes. Sedation is used for basic recreation too, in that we use entertainment as a form of recreation. It can be used by giving individuals time away from the group. Or taking down time after a long demanding week of work. Meditation, prayer or sitting in silence is an important aspect of all forms of recovery. This is different from sedation in that it also includes attention and connection to something greater but it does share some flavors of sorts.
The last step, the one least often necessary and most often not recommended is Break and Enter. Itis the idea that we force people to do things they don’t want to do. Crossing the line from Stimulating and Sedating to Break and Enter is not always clear and obvious. Consent is a strong determinant. As a leader sometimes, usually for safety, it’s necessary to make that call. It’s definitely an action you want to refrain from if at all possible.At the same time it’s common that people have doubts and we’re to encourage them. There is a place for all of these steps in leadership. And most importantly actions can fit in different steps depending on Attitude, Intention and Dose. Different trades, roles, or ranks have more or less license to use tools of Break & Enter, and of all the steps for that matter in their scope in the proper circumstances. An herbal medicine could fall in Nourish and Tone, or Stimulate and Sedate, depending on its chemical properties and biological effects. Same with giving advice: using or recommending drugs, over the counter, prescription or recreational, and self-medicating could fall into any of the steps. What it is matters but so does who you are, where you are, and the person in front of you. Surgery of all forms usually fits into this category but getting consent gives it some Nourish and Tone like qualities. In emergencies, there are times where we’re not able to get true consent.
And sometimes we defer our own authority. Sometimes it’s taken fairly, other times unjustly. In counseling or in coaching will there be feedback? Are people correctly understood? Are we pathologizing? Is it helpful, as in: if I say this, will it be Nourishing? Toning or am I pushing into Stimulating/ Sedating or could this be a Break and Enter?
Telling someone something they don’t want to hear can have a little or a lot of the spice of Break & Enter. On the other hand sometimes our own denial can be harmful and it helps to trust an outside source over our own judgment. Other times we might be getting help for people we care about who don’t want it, but we fight for them anyway we can because we have hope for something better. There are many of wise women who’ve navigated these choppy waters. They play the balance between Doing Nothing-trusting, Gathering Information -listening, Nourishing, Toning and moving carefully, stealthily, and briefly into Stimulate, Sedate, Break & Enter– in order to overcome obstacles.
Whether we’re talking about defense, combat, positive psychology, religious debate or medical advice: fighting, challenging & pushing is tricky, that’s why we use a compass and guidelines. Finding that balance can be messy. We may have to fight for ourselves, advocate within systems that don’t always have our best interest or haven’t fully understood what we do. And then there’s mistakes of course, which we all make. Miss steps of all kinds: misunderstandings, mislabeling, misdiagnosing, or wrongfully interpreting. Can land no matter which one of the wise woman steps. It is important to ask for help. Use referrals and seek allies. The steps are fluid. The wise woman is careful. She uses the Wise Woman Steps as a safety web to question all of her actions.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please let me know what you think. In comments or elsewhere. Love, Danielle 12-7-2021.
I would like to honor here more of my teachers.. Firstmost my wise mom Lori Gouin. Earth angel Grandma Emilia Chevalier. Whapio Diane Bartlett for sharing the Wise Woman Steps when I was a wee baby midwife. She built on these from Susun Weed’s original and I have continued to weave into them my own personal professional guidelines as a member of American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine, and Association for Experiential Learning. I’ve added what I’ve learned from Keith Russell and my professors at Recreation WWU, Randy Burtz, Jasmine Goodnow, Melissa D’Eloia and Lindsay Poynter, from yoga + movement healing arts: Beth Collins health and Fitness Program chair at Skagit Valley College, Niki Meyers and Y12SR, Scotty Lewis and 5Rhythms, Michelle Thielen Sozo & Somatics and Cate Stillman’s Body Thrive and Yoga Health Coaching.
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