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Defining Wilderness

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

As I am a believer that “when the student is ready the teacher appears” (Pinkola Estes, 1992, 1995, p. 153), I was not surprised to have encountered the word ‘wilderness’ this week.  I have been working to add wilderness coaching to my narrative ecopsychology practice.  For me wilderness can be the literal natural splendor as well as the metaphoric place of transition from what was to what is…from whom you were to who you will become… Wilderness, as defined by therapist and coach Pat Burgin, is the span of time before you come to a clear ending (Big Change, p. 2).  In his marketing blog Seth Godin (January 2012) also saw wilderness as a span of time but in this case it’s the time when an innovation must spend being “ignored and unfunded before breakthrough” (p. 1).

What I find interesting about defining the wilderness experience is that Burgin used the story of Moses as a reference point and I immediately thought about The Cultural Creatives (2000) because the biblical book of Exodus was looked at as a guiding story at one point.  If you were to look up Moses in the bible, he lives in the book of Exodus as the man chosen by God to lead the Israelites from bondage as slaves in Egypt into the Promised Land as a free and devoted people.  Exodus represented “a whole people who made a transition between stories” (p. 254).  Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson re-imagined the Exodus metaphor as “a map for the journey” calibrated from the point of view of the Israelites…Initially to them, the wilderness was death.

In order to travel through the wilderness…in order to transition to a new story…you must first leave Egypt.  What pushes you to leave what you know is a realization…an awareness…The Israelites realized what slavery was.  Traveling through the wilderness, the Exodus, is the ‘process that we go through to get free” (p. 256).  The next thing you must do, as with any quest, is cross over because the “waters aren’t going to part unless somebody starts walking” (p. 257).  The third stage of the Exodus from story to story is wandering…”into the unknown” where bitterness is transformed, your heart is softened, and you find “the spirit to continue” as well as to let go of your old way of being (p.257).  The final stage of the Exodus through the wilderness is “receiving revelation” and “building a place in [your] own heart for a sacred connection that could never be lost” (p. 258-9).

My offering, called Sacred Time, views wilderness coaching as a partnered pilgrimage through the transitions of life…through the wilderness…  While this journey can be done outside, no matter the location it is mindful of the resonance nature brings and a move from recreation to revelation…  For me, coaching is time aside for Divine inspiration so that what you find “can flow into your community and all your relationships” (p. 260) making any place you go the Promised Land.

Works Cited

Burgin, P. (n.d.). Big change, one stroke at a time. Retrieved January 26, 2012, from Seattle Coach:

Godin, S. (2012, January 27). Reconsidering Gartner’s cycle of hype.

Pinkola Estes, C. P. (1992, 1995). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Ray, P. H., & Anderson, S. R. (2000). The cultural creatives: How 50 million people are changing the world. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

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