Finding Kapwa

This past May our 12 year old son Robbie was chosen by the National Park Trust to be a “National Park Ambassador.” His mission is to educate children and adults in underserved communities about the benefits of nature and going to parks. 

Robbie got to this point by a journey we started in the National Park system in 2016. The trip started off as a time to recover. Our family was living with high amounts of stress, chronic illness, and general unease in daily life. Robbie and I drove across the country to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons while Bart stayed behind.  The 2 weeks became 5 weeks as Robbie’s breathing became easier and his chronic runny nose cleared up. I no longer woke up with my heart racing and the feeling of constant doom. A thread of natural joy in everything and everyone became a constant within us. I talked with Bart: we decided Robbie and I would continue our journey deeper into the parks. 

The 5 weeks became 8 months of living in a tent, then 8 more months of living in a van/tent. Now 5 years later, we continue our journey in the National Parks from several weeks to several months at a time during the year. I sometimes laugh wondrously to myself about our journey when I think of the more than 200 National and State parks we have lived in. We started before “van life” and “tiny house living” became the thing it is today. We had special diets and needs with often no Asian groceries or cellular for over an hour away. At the time we started, we were at a crossroads as a family, and the healer within me said, “Go now.” I felt I had no choice but to listen, I had to help my family. 

People ask us often, “How did we do it?” It is interesting to me how very specific that question is to the questioner. It has very little to do with my experience and more to do with helping the questioner identify what their needs are in order for me to answer the question. Once you know your needs, pretty much anything is possible, if you are willing to be challenged. And the real necessity in doing anything of importance has to do with finding an internal sense of home.  For a more detailed description of this, I wrote a book called, “The Unconventional Life” that you can find on my website, www.ritanaomi.com/ebook . For the parents and grandparents of children wanting to reconnect and learn about the benefits of nature, a new book will be coming out this winter called, “Go Outside: Connect and Learn with your Children in the National Parks”, which will be available on Amazon and my website at www.ritanaomi.com .

But I digress. Our journey in the outdoors and being surrounded by vast trees and mountains gave us both a sense of being uplifted outside of what we knew and transformed into all the possibilities life has to offer. Nature reinforced our sense of value within. 

What we lived wholeheartedly is being published now in research around the world: nature has remarkable benefits for healing. Studies have shown a significant reduction in depression, anxiety, and blood pressure. Children develop a capacity to focus, connect with other kids and the larger world in a meaningful way. They also keep the ability to hear their unique wisdom to heal themselves and the larger world. We need this with the fires and aberrant weather systems that are the new normal.

Interestingly as we traveled, our connection to indigenous people deepened. We were invited to water ceremonies in the Pueblos of the Southwest, and walk the Arctic lands of the Nunumiat people of Alaska. Indigenous people make no distinction between themselves and the land: care for the land, you care for your family.

In so connecting, I became aware of my Filipino indigenous roots. I was asked many times in our travels by Native Americans, “Who is your tribe?” I felt a deep sense of loss with this question, highlighting a sense of separation I have always felt. I put it down initially to losing my mother 3 years before. 

The Filipino society has a majority society of Mestizos. After 350 plus years of colonization, most of us are no longer aware of our origin tribes, one of the greater tragedies of colonization. With the elimination of our “indigenous” roots, many of us nowadays have no connection with nature. We may know instinctively that nature has benefits yet have a deep abiding aversion to anything “natural” to include the very indigenous people that still exist in the Philippines or with having darker skin. As my relationship with nature deepened, a sense of connection to my family lineage deepened. Our Kapwa – a sense of internal connection with the larger “Whole”,  a type of togetherness or sameness we share with all people – is in the understanding of our history, which is deeply rooted in nature. All this is integral to our health. 

Robbie said to me at the beginning of this summer, “Mom, to feel quiet inside, all we have to do is go outside and take 5 breaths in and out.” “Touching a plant can also help.” As he spoke, I saw a long line of people stretching out from far behind him, people in communities around the United States, people from the Philippines, people from Scotland and Ireland. There were tree people, rock people, grass people, and cactus people, all rooting in the soil and breathing life in behind him. We went outside and put our feet in the soil and breathed deep, ambassadors to the wildest dream of our ancestors: joy expanding, sun rising, nature thriving.

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