As a wilderness guide, I am serenely comfortable outdoors, be that canoeing, hiking, gardening, or dogsledding (to name a few). I feel my most whole Wild self when I'm outside in natural areas, whatever the weather, all my senses alive, tuned in to the sights, sounds, smells, and the feel of the air. In cities, hotels, and airplanes? Not so much. As my speaking business has grown, I find myself traveling extensively, scarcely recognizing myself as I pay ridiculous attention to miles earned, MQMs, and medallion status; trying not to cringe when the cute toddler gets seated directly behind me; and never quite putting my suitcase away when I'm home.
This has put my sense of Wild Wellbeing to the test. How does one stay aligned with what feeds and inspires them when out of the elements that most ground them? How does a wilderness guide and poet find space and air to breathe when seated nearly on top of other passengers, breathing our recirculated air over and again?
Surely each of us has our own version of this. The disconnect between our wellbeing and where we find ourselves.
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love what I get to do for a living—the guiding AND the speaking. The privilege of people's attention as we explore Wild teams, leadership, or diversity is a gift and an honor. There is a reciprocity of inspiration and learning that is hard to describe. Happily, guiding and speaking have many surprisingly similar qualities.
So, what to do? How do we access our source(s) of wellbeing when our surroundings feel contradictory to our nature? I offer these 3 thoughts, lessons still unfolding on this journey of Wild Wellbeing...
1. Self-awareness. We need to know what we need: what feeds us; what doesn't. If we are going to have the courage to bring the gift of all of who we are to all of what we do, then we need a pretty good handle on who we are, and genuine curiosity toward the parts of ourselves that we don't yet know as well.
2. Compassion. Everywhere that I speak, I ask audiences and groups when they are feeling Wild, what words come to mind? Regardless of the group—from small grassroots organizations to large corporations, the words are remarkably similar: free, alive, daring, spontaneous, creative, passionate, fun. It speaks to a shared understanding and hunger to live more from our Wild sides, perhaps most especially at work.
With this in mind, part of the path to our own Wild Wellbeing is to recognize this shared need between us. Imagine a home or work environment where we understand and pay attention to one another's wellbeing—supporting and encouraging each other to do what they need in order to feel a little bit more Wild.
3. Vulnerability. This is where thoughts become action, and where courage resides. We've established that I am not the best traveler in airplanes to cities. And yet, it's essential to being able to do my work. I have tried ignoring the part of myself that is deeply sensory and needs open space. It seemed to me that other speakers manage travel just fine, and that I should toughen up and get used to it.
This has been the least healthy period of my life. It's embarrassing. Health and wellness are big deals to me, and here I am limping through airports, drinking pots of Throat Coat tea, and struggling with chronic pain.
I don't have the answer here (as if there were one). But I can tell you that I feel my soul relax when I celebrate—rather than stuff away—the parts of myself that don't travel well. I know that part of my appeal as a speaker is indeed this same part of me that reflects and explores; that breathes deeply and feels great peace; that draws parallels from the natural world and brings them in to offices and off-sites.
And that part has to travel too. So, I'm experimenting and exploring. What can I do or bring with me that connects me to home and to my senses? What can I see, taste, smell, and hear? Essential oils; fruit leather made from my garden produce; looking out at the clouds from my window seat; finding the nearest water to my hotel; going for a run outside to get a sense of place. And of course, staying connected to friends and loved ones.
What about you? What feeds you? What draws you away from your Wild side? How creative can you get in celebrating those parts of yourself that feel like they don't fit?
Wild Wellbeing is more of a thread to follow than a formula. It is your beautiful unique thread, though, and worthy of your care and attention.
As for me? I'll keep you posted on my own Wild journey. And maybe I'll see you in the TSA line.
The Wild Institute
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Selected as a Top Ten Speaker of 2014 by MeetingsNet, Chris Heeter is out to create a Wild revolution in the workplace. A wilderness guide since 1984 and professional speaker since 2001, she was featured on the Discovery Channel's National Geographic Today. Combining business expertise with hilarious stories from her sled dog team and from guiding whitewater trips, Chris challenges and inspires organizations and individuals toward Wild leadership, compassionate presence, and daring authenticity.
By Chris Heeter
Slowly, tantalizingly, the green tomatoes
make their way toward red
in my lovingly watched and overflowing garden.
Some have ripened.
There may be nothing sweeter
than sun-warmed, fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes.
Others could be picked now
on their way, but not quite, to their sweet spot.
And still others, for now, remain a deep glossy green.
It is good to watch this process
to feel the anticipation and occasional impatience,
to see undeniably the beauty of each stage of ripening.
It is good, because we, too, exist in this way.
Over and again, new tender beginnings
slowly mature toward deeper levels of richness.
In Aramaic, the closest interpretation
of “good” and “bad”
is “ripe” and “unripe.”
It makes me look again at my garden,
already bountiful and abundant,
and imagine the difference if I were to view
the tender, messier, sometimes maddening
parts of myself or others in this way:
that we are just as we are meant to be
for the stages we are in
holding the gifts that come with ripening
but not yet ripe.
In the end,
most new growth will ripen.
Some never will, touched by frost too soon.
Others will get missed, over-ripe from not being noticed.
So, too, do we live on this beautiful planet
doing the best we can
in our shared journeys of ripening.