I remember the mud and leaves. The stones and twigs. The bugs and the rain-soaked camping trips. I remember the exhilaration of being unsupervised in the forest. The snow-covered hedges and other “forts" nature had prepared, just for me. The apple trees in the backyard. The northern lights for the first time. The micro worlds in a jar of pond water, teeming with invisible and fantastic life. The Rockies and the redwoods. The red pine needle carpet and the scent. The jays at Crater Lake. If I try hard enough, I can almost remember the Royal Gorge, though that might be just from a picture…
Most of all, I remember the feeling of being at home, at one with nature.
It is easier to come alive in the midst of life, and easy to die in the absence. We all need other life. We need the earth. In our experiences of the earth is something deep and real and vital to all of us and to all of the earth community. This essential and universal part of being human thrives in the midst of other life out there, in the natural world.
My personal lived experience fuels my passion for facilitating archetypal processes in nature. I have worked with others around the world – from the Kerry National Forest in Ireland to the wooded hills of Germany to the high desert of California to the wetlands and meadows of West Michigan. I have guided and witnessed many numinous and ecotherapeutic experiences in nature–including my own.
The Hilltending framework I have developed is a result of my personal lived experience coupled with my Jungian and Archetypal studies and doctoral research at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Hilltending strives to facilitate not only an ecotherapeutic response to our separation from nature, but also to celebrate and proactively tend to our relationship to soul in and of the natural world.
As a child, I was embraced by a sense of deep belonging to the earth. I didn’t know at the time, but it was a feeling that can best be described as spiritual or soulful. As I grew, that feeling gradually slipped away, eaten up by the demands of a society that leaves little time for nature. It seems as though part of growing up in modernity is separating oneself from the wonders of nature, convincing oneself, somehow, that the feeling of oneness with nature is a childhood fantasy. For me (and, as recent studies show, for many others also), this had disastrous results as I unknowingly tried to replace that feeling of oneness and to avoid the feelings of loss with any number of distractions. Eventually, the alienation from nature provoked a complete collapse of the structures of the modern life I had built up. This was a gradual process that only became apparent when the house of cards came crashing down, sending me into a long period of anguish and confusion. Many years later, I would begin the formal study of Jungian psychology, but at the time, I was just desperate to understand what was happening. Thankfully, the writings of Joseph Campbell and C.G. Jung fell into my hands. I realized that I was knee-deep in the process of individuation, the mythic hero’s journey, confronting and being confronted by the deep psyche. Unraveling the story I had been living, I began to uncover, recover, and integrate parts of my shadow and I become aware of the archetypes. The world was changing under my feet, and Jung and Campbell helped guide the way. It was still a confusing and uncertain time, but exhilarating. Somehow, I found my way back to nature and from there to healing and purpose. As I opened more and more to nature, I found a feeling of rootedness that I had not known for a long time. I felt astonished at the simplicity with which nature called to me in this process and with the immediate recognition I felt at the voice of the Mother. The sense of a spiritual home returned. I cannot imagine my life without that homecoming.
Maybe, just maybe, together, we can transform our relationship to soul and nature and re-member the feeling of being at home, at one with nature.
James has been facilitating nature-based archetypal experiences around the world for many years. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Depth Psychology and is currently a Doctoral candidate in Depth Psychology (Jungian and Archetypal Studies) at Pacifica Graduate Institute. His dissertation research aims to provide a foundation for an archetypal expression of ecotherapy that integrates different approaches to ecopsychology. He has been a guest lecturer at Grand Valley State University on topics such as shamanic traditions, Jungian art and aesthetics, world mythology, and the hero’s journey. James is also a photographer and writer. His publications include academic essays, the collection of poetry A Language We Once Knew, and the photography for Jason Kirkey’s Estuaries.