Authors: Faren Rajkumar @faren_wanderer ;
Judith’s journey has led her through experiences as first a wilderness therapist and now a liberation-focused therapist that integrates spirituality, ancestral healing and nature into what people of color may need or want.
1. Tell us about your journey?
“My journey has been a long one, especially as it relates to the outdoors. Being an Afro-Haitian Black woman born and raised in the urban streets of Jersey, I remember experiencing the outdoors in a way that often does not get valued as much as getting lost in the wilderness. I grew up hanging at the parks and roaming the streets with my friends in the city. We couldn’t wait for school to end so we could get caught up in shenanigans at the local park.
As I got older and moved further away from the city and into more rural locations that were predominately white, I started to experience the outdoors in different ways, maybe with more intentionality. My first camping trip was Upstate NY near Windsor and then soon after that, I went hiking by myself for the first time in the Red Rocks of Las Vegas. Those beginning experiences changed something in me emotionally and spiritually. Growing up with depression and anxiety I was always in search of something more. I loved the feeling of getting lost, but I desired nothing more than to get lost well.
Working as a wilderness therapist for a couple of years reinforced my desire to work with nature, but in decolonial ways. The field of wilderness therapy was a predominately white space and I quickly learned it didn’t and wouldn’t represent the vast majority of black and brown folks and the ways they connect to nature.
So here I am, a therapist working in her own practice, in a doctoral program with the goal of creating and establishing a way of connecting to nature in spiritual ways that promote healing, while also acknowledging the historical impact of racism and oppression. I am right where I need to be and I feel extremely blessed.”
2. How do you feel about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors?
“I have watched this movement grow and evolve in the last few years and it has created such a safe space for people like myself to feel seen in the outdoors. Not only does it increase the confidence in people of color to see themselves in nature, but it also empowers others to deconstruct what being in nature means for them. Seeing yourself somewhere is the first step to recreating and reimagining that very space in its truest form. For so long, white representation has created a narrative for what those spaces look like, what to wear in those spaces and who actually gets access to those spaces.
Representation matters and will always influence the beginning stages of diversity and inclusion. It doesn’t stop with representation, but it begins there. As an Afro-Haitian, I came to understand my ancestors’ deep roots in nature and its divine energy. The most important work I had to do after showing up has been reconnecting to my roots and returning back to presence. Reclaiming my identity in the natural world shifted my narrative from outdoor recreation to a lifestyle of communing with nature in indigenous and intentional practices.”
3. What does community mean to you?
“Community is spiritual. It means connection between souls. The ability to know oneself in the collective. Community is both/and. The ability to know yourself in a group of humans that love, care and hold you in spaces that are not meant to be held alone. Community is something our ancestors knew so well in the face of violence and oppression.
Community produces joy in the midst of suffering. Joy is experienced in community. The two are one of the same for me. That disconnection from community is similar to any dissociation to my body. It brings wholeness to my innermost being and reminds me that I am not alone.”
4. What are some challenges you face as Black female who loves to explore?
“Like many things, whiteness sets a standard for what things should be and anything outside of that becomes the alternative. There has always been a standard on how to “do” nature. There are Eurocentric and American worldviews that continue to perpetuate ownership, individualism and status in the outdoor community.
I have been met with those worldviews externally and internally. My challenges were the pressure of assimilating and trying to fit into what white culture set up as the standard. I have my racial identity to thank for allowing me to learn what it meant to connect with nature in my own way and in the ways of my ancestors.”
5. How do you practice joy while on the road?
“Joy is practiced through rest. My intentionality around rest has grown the past year, given covid, but more so because of the work I have put into learning about how my body has labored in white spaces. That is historically my trauma generationally past down to me and I am dedicated to breaking that cycle. So I rest. I rest as a way of honoring the labor of my Haitian ancestors. I rest with laughter, playing, naps, music, food, art, dreaming, gardening, and community.”
6. What kind of therapy can folx find in the outdoors?
“Healing can be birthed in the outdoors. I like to think of nature and its elements as my co-healer or co-therapist. It’s a channel that supports healing. Research has shown an increase in resilience, self-efficacy, and a decrease in anxiety and depression, but I like to think that it heals in deeper ways that we are often unaware of. It heals society’s urge to make everything around them an object that is only used for individual gain.
The outdoors, when practiced with intention, has the ability to heal the very problems we see within a capitalistic culture. Cohabitating with nature has the ability to heal individually and systemically if practiced with intention.”
More inspiring stories and photos from Judith can be found on her IG @triunehealthandwellness