why we do what we do...

When Exploring Roots founder, Adam Magers, came home from the Iraq War in 2008, a new war began. His own struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the necessary therapeutic process that came with it led him into new practices and studies, including mindfulness meditation, yoga, Depth Psychology, Ecopsychology, and a deepening relationship with nature itself. In early 2014, he founded Warriors' Ascent, a program for veterans with PTSD, which is now regarded as one of the leading programs of its kind. As his experience in working with combat veterans deepened, he soon saw that combat trauma was not the sole - or even primary - cause of suffering among program participants. Chronic stress, a product of an unnaturally hectic lifestyle that is a common feature in our modern society, and repression of instinctual healing qualities within the personality played significant roles in the emotional dysregulation of those who sought healing. The acute traumatic experiences they encountered in war or elsewhere served as the catalyst that sent the already dysregulated psyche into turmoil. The program uses elements of both Ecopsychology and Depth Psychology to initiate the person's inherent healing mechanisms (that is, restoring the person's natural systems for healing from trauma), creating an opportunity for participants to follow a path that leads to healing and transformation. Soon after seeing the impact of the program, a new discussion began about how to best bring similar programming to the general population. He was joined by Exploring Roots co-founders, Andrew Potter, Dan Allenbaugh, and Dale Duncan - all of whom bring their own unique gifts, talents, and expertise to the fields of nature-based wellness programming, conservation, and environmentalism.

What many people fail to recognize in the discussion about mental health is that our disconnection from nature is itself a trauma. A bear or lion cannot be healthy in a concrete and metal cage, nor can an Orca be if it is isolated in a tiny tank. We too are animals, and no animal can be healthy if it is separated from the biological conditions that it requires for wellbeing. Our bodies, brains, and souls have evolved over millions of years to exist within certain conditions, and when those conditions do not exist, we become ill.  Today, 85% of Americans live in urban areas and we are losing access to nature as increased development degrades the quality of the natural world. With these facts in mind, the focus of the development of the Exploring Roots program centered on repairing the traumatic separation between people and nature. Without healing this critical relationship, the prospects for improved mental health in our country are poor. In our hometown of Kansas City, in particular, the opportunities to connect to nature are far from adequate. All we have left near our home are parks or "nature sanctuaries" (an oxymoron) where human activity is so intense that one hardly feels he/she has left the cage of society at all. Truly wild places have been eradicated near our home, and one must drive at least four hours to find lands where bears, elk, and other great native creatures still roam, and the sights and sounds of human activity are far away. Knowing where to go and having the resources to get there limit such opportunities to the privileged and connected who can have a mentor show them the way. Those of us who are able, and feel the need for a deep connection to nature, spend significant resources and time to escape our homeland and go on adventures in far away places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or the forests of British Columbia. Of course, that such experiences are limited to the fortunate is unacceptable.

The fact that our ancestors did not do more to preserve wildness within reach of every city, and that most people today do not even consider it unusual that so little access to truly wild places does exist, is a testament to the terrible psychological position of our culture. Even worse, the fact that so little wildness remains and we still have forces that want to undermine those places shows the ecocidal nature of our society - a result of deep unconscious wounds that remain untended. Research tells us that we cannot care for that which we do not have a relationship with. If we do not know nature, we will not care to protect it. Given the geographical shift of people from rural areas to cities - along with the materially-focused reality of our culture - we might expect the future to be characterized by less and less access to nature. If we, and our children, are to enjoy a future where access to truly wild places can be a reality for all people, we need a conservation renaissance where locally-established wild places are a feature of every city. We cannot make this reality possible without cultivating the human-nature relationship, and helping to generate an ecological consciousness where people see that they are animals who have deep psycho-spiritual needs for a connection to nature. Nature is health's foundation, and we need to create a future where that foundation is much more solid than it is today.