Wildness Level: 3/5
Happy Juneteenth, people!
Take a break from the tumult within and out. A break from the division of Us against Them. Change isn’t always comfortable…and healing can be exhausting. Give yourself a break to refuel for the continuing fight for social justice.
We’re all on a collective journey of acknowledging and excising the deep-rooted remnants of the white supremacy that built our country. Rampant racism and internalized oppression are far-reaching legacies passed down through generations. We’re all battling internal demons and navigating ancient swamps of systemic and systematic oppression. We each must figure out how to find wholeness and authenticity in a world that needs to be shattered and reassembled.
It’s exhausting—and it’s important to take a moment for yourself before plunging back in.
Visiting Belle Isle with a holistic healing mindset
From the parking lot near Tredegar, framed by the immutable iron CSX trestle and the rumbling Lee Bridge highway above, you can already see the James River flowing toward downtown Richmond—both banks lined with greenery.
Belle Isle. This little slice of nature has been corralled—but not tamed. There’s a little wildness within us too that needs to roam free. If we’re open to it, the earth is here to help us heal.
Many women, men of color, and those from the LGBTQ+ community tighten up when entering nature’s unknowns, while others can enter a trail for a walk with nary a worry about being threatened or seen as a threat. All of us have a right to connect to our deep need for the nurture only nature provides.
Let’s take a walk and engage our senses…
Nature therapy on Richmond’s epic suspension bridge
Up the ramp and onto the bridge, suspended like a giant’s porch-swing from the soaring vault of a concrete cathedral.
Stop a moment and take a few slow deep breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. In this moment, you are safe. You are brave and strong.
Much like thought, breathing is something that happens both automatically and intentionally. Focused breathing is a small but vital form of therapy. Conscious breathwork is a powerful medicine.
Smell the river teeming with life. Pull the tree-filtered air deep into your core. Absorb the healing ions all around you. The bottled oils and essences you find at Whole Foods or Ellwood Thompson’s are here, free for all, floating in the air. Breathe it in.
Now exhale the stress. Expectorate the internalized oppression and sludge—collected sub/un/consciously as we move through our days guided by systems and beliefs rooted deeper than we can imagine…all around us and within us, from sources subtle and overt.
Breathe in hope. Breathe out love.
Now notice the skyline…Brown’s Island…the cranes building up our city. Look down and notice the crumbling 150-year old granite pylons—the bones of a once-important railroad bridge connecting Richmond to Manchester.
Gaze into the current and think about how much water flows past this spot under your feet—minute by hour by day by year by epoch.
Turn upriver and listen to the tumble of Hollywood Rapids where kayakers play and where the Powhatan fished their livelihood. On a good day you might spot osprey and herons swooping on prey. Maybe a cormorant drying its wings in the sun.
Think about how the rapids change through floods and droughts. As dams and diversions redirect the river’s flow and course. Think about our own ups and downs through life, and the transience of it all. In what ways do we merely distract ourselves from hardship—and how do we flow more deeply into a healthier way of living and being?
How can we integrate social justice and healing into our everyday lives, choices, and thoughts?
Absorbed by nature: holistic therapy amid history’s rubble
Now it’s a pedestrian park, but Belle Isle was once a hot spot of Richmond industry. As you step off the bridge and meander the gravel paths, pay attention to all the places where nature is reclaiming the island. Healing its wounds.
Old foundations buckling under vines, grass and moss spreading cracks in concrete, bits of steel framework rusting away paper thin…wind and rain and sun working apart the seams of man-made structures until life gets a foothold and starts growing.
But healing doesn’t mean forgetting…and standing at the sandy northeastern corner of the island you can almost see the granite auction blocks of Shockoe Bottom where kidnapped men, women, and children were marched barefoot through the streets…poked and prodded and sold like livestock by Americans who resolutely believed dark skin meant inferior, subhuman—somehow deserving of this fate worse than death.
How can we channel remembering and being angry and grieving into healing? How can we work through the pain of oppression? How can we ally ourselves with a marginalized group who doesn’t share our particular privilege?
Life is marked by change: holistic therapy connects the dots
Past the field on Belle Isle where Union prisoners of war once slept, the gravel path curves past rocky beaches often dotted with sunbathers and swimmers. Look at how the river has shaped the sloping rock into cups and bowls. Picture the eons of swirling grit and pebbles that carved out those hollows as the river flowed over
Picture places in your psyche where similar small, constant swirls have marked you. They can’t be undone—but you can choose how to see them, how to fill them.
Locate something growing among the rocks. Is it fragile or strong? Hopeless or intrepid? Is its life bleak or triumphant?
Keep walking and you’ll pass the old water-filled granite quarry where summer camps now picnic and rock-climb. Think about the blocks cut from this hillside… Where are they now? Whose hands are touching them? What are they supporting?
Pick up a stone and look at it closely. Feel the texture, the heft. Imagine the mixture of heat and pressure that turned compounds and minerals into this hard little object.
Return to the river and find a piece of driftwood. Where did it drift from? How long did it take to grow? What made it fall? How long until bugs and rot turn it finally into dirt?
Belle Isle tells a microcosmic story of preservation & decay
Think about all the different ways nature digests its traumas. Always moving, always growing. Therapy is that way too—never erasing but processing, decomposing, making anew.
All around us is a country and culture built upon a foundation of blood and plunder. Under the surface of all our successes and achievements are the scars of our collective trauma and the symptoms that go with it. If we want to make progress into a better future we have to address the pain and what caused it.
Big wounds or small, healing doesn’t happen by suppressing the memory. It happens through a patient and determined process of reflection, learning, contextualizing, and rebuilding atop new foundations.
Toss your driftwood into the current and watch it float away toward Rockett’s Landing. Can you follow it through time? Can you see the footsteps of those long ago displaced people who survived and thrived as a culture through generations of inhuman hardship? Can you float with the driftwood to a better future?
Close your eyes and follow it in your imagination.
Looking for more calm & focused nature therapy with a guide? Let’s take a walk together…