Intro to Backpacking for Mental Health & Wellbeing with Center for Nature-Informed Therapy
We all gathered together, nestled among the trees, bonding over our shared openness to embracing nature. After making introductions and welcoming new faces, we pitched our tents and formed our initial circle gathering. Transitioning from a fast-paced societal rhythm to becoming beings of the wilderness, we paused for a mindful moment to breathe and truly arrive in nature. Our first evening was spent savoring warm chili, listening to the crackle of the fire, and deepening our acquaintance with one another. We concluded the night with a counsel practice under the moonlight—a tradition of speaking from the heart while others listen with the same depth of presence. This art of attentive, heart-centered listening has become a rarity in modern life, often replaced by the inclination to respond or relate rather than fully hear another. With the glow of the fire to warm us, we revived this ancient practice of storytelling that our forebears once cherished.
Awakening with a sense of connection and eagerness, we packed our backpacks and set out toward the trailhead. Climbing the mountain together, the support we offered one another was palpable. Our path was lined with the vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow foliage. At one serene spot beneath the canopy, we stopped to share a meal, followed by forest bathing—a practice that invites us to engage all our senses and merge with the surrounding natural world. Ascending the mountain in a contemplative silence, we passed through a thicket of ferns and over verdant moss that adorned rocks, tree trunks, and soil alike. Reaching a clearing, we established our backcountry camp. With logs encircling a stone-crafted campfire, it felt like home. After setting up our tents, we rested briefly before regrouping for a profound discussion on radical acceptance, letting go, and altering perspectives. Gazing up at the trees invoked a profound sense of eco-centered awe.
As dusk approached, we purified stream water and prepared dinner on our Bunsen burners. Encircled by the woods, our meal seemed to taste better in the company of plants and wildlife. The counsel practice resumed with the rise of the full moon, the fire's warmth complementing the camaraderie we shared.
The final morning arrived all too soon, and after packing up, we descended the mountain, leaving trails of gratitude within the forest. At the close of our journey, we reflected on our transformative experiences, each selecting a natural item for a community mandala—a symbol of our collective appreciation. Nature simplified our existence, focusing us on the present. Outside the confines of society's roles and standards, our purpose was simply to exist—to be true human beings. Nature offered a sanctuary for trust and connection—with each other, with ourselves, and with the spiritual. Embraced by the earth, we allowed ourselves to fully feel our emotions and accept them as they were. Grateful for Mother Earth's embrace and for the openness of my fellow backpackers, we shared a journey of vulnerability and adventure.
– Poem by Rachel Oppenheimer
The moss rests upon the rocks
Green gentle fractals
Softly kissing the earth
Easy to let go
About the author:
Rachel is a Master’s level Clinical Mental Health Counselor from Villanova University with a passion for fostering self-acceptance and awareness in adults grappling with anxiety, emotion regulation, and negative self-talk. A certified Nature Informed Therapist and trained sound healer, she integrates the serenity of nature and the healing power of sound into her holistic therapeutic approach. Rachel specializes in maintaining eating disorder recovery and cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness techniques to promote present-moment awareness and self-compassion. Her EDIT approach and sound bath sessions offer a unique and immersive experience for those on a path to mental well-being.