Alumni In Action: The Power of the Heart

I didn’t want to come to Wilderness Awareness School. Rain. Grey. A survival trip that required me to find my own food for a week. I was happy living in sunny California and originally told my partner he could go without me and just tell me all about it on weekly phone calls. Now, here I am, 3 ½ years later, living in the woods of Washington.

Nature connection is now a major thread in my life. I spend lots of my free time wandering around the woods, trying to spot birds I’ve never seen before.

My time at The Immersion not only introduced me to new skills (friction fire), conversations (decolonization work), and interests (bird language), but also helped me deepen my understanding of the path my life was already unfolding before me.

What called me to The Immersion was the curriculum pieces of personal awareness and expression, as well as community leadership and peacemaking. I knew I valued people and communities who were willing to look within, be real and authentic, and generate responsibility and integrity. I had just spent the first decade of my career with an organization doing just that. But I also knew I wanted to explore what else was out there. I wanted to explore leadership from a holistic approach and understand other ways of operating in the world.

The Immersion allowed me to learn how to listen more deeply, tap into my intuition, and work with conflict as a way to create connection, all of which is critical to my current work.

As the Managing Director of the Compassionate Listening Project, I lead workshops in the U.S. teaching communication and conflict resolution skills, and I also accompany groups of people to the heart of Israel and Palestine, to listen across the political divide, hear each person’s unique story, and humanize “the other.” This requires sitting in the fire at times, and maintaining composure and connection to my heart, which I learned how to do navigating difficulties with my Immersion tribe. Going to sit spot, slowing down to listen to a place, and engaging with my tribe through some difficult challenges all prepared me for going into a war zone and teaching people to listen and speak from their heart, which I believe is a critical tool for the times we live in.

The Immersion also offered me opportunities to push my edges. It challenged me, tested me, and made me aware that I’m capable of a lot more than I had originally thought. When life seems hard, I sometimes stop and remind myself, “C’mon, think of what you did during The Immersion, you got this.” I know myself as a more capable and resilient person because I pushed those edges, and I’m now offering new adventures to people to learn compassionate listening skills in exciting new ways. In September of this year I’m taking a group of ten on a white water rafting trip down the Rogue River in Oregon, where I’ll be teaching them the compassionate listening basics.

Terry Tempest Williams said, “Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” I feel that really captures it.

The Immersion taught me what I am connected to, it showed me that I belong to the natural world and that I want to protect it, and it gave me tools I never knew were possible.

I feel incredibly blessed to be a graduate. I don’t think I’ll ever stop recommending The Immersion to others, or being grateful that I didn’t stay home in California. It is an experience from which I will never recover, and will forever be imprinted on my heart.

Laurie Archbold is an Immersion graduate of 2015-16, and a Nature Instructor Training program graduate of 2016-17. 

Wilderness Awareness School