Guides have edges too. As guides learn, it is important that they also learn their own edges, and then practice expanding past them to become more skillful at guiding. We call this process “increasing your headroom.” This term “headroom” is used to describe the guide’s level of comfort and ease while guiding. The concept of headroom comes from the world of audio engineering. As used in this manual, it refers to the amount of skill, knowledge, and preparation that a guide has, in excess of what they need in a particular situation.
When we are leading Forest Therapy walks, we should always operate with enough headroom that we are not at the limits of our skill level. Another way of saying this is that we should never find ourselves far past our own edges and at a point of stress where we start to panic or feel overwhelmed. A guide who is panicking and breaking down will not be able to safely and effectively guide the walk.
Guides should be aware of their edges and cultivate headroom where needed. For example, if a guide has little experience working with children, and has never had any children on a Forest Therapy Walk, they should not agree to guide a large group of six-year-old children. To increase their headroom, they might start by guiding two or three children and have another adult along as well. Headroom is acquired through experience, training, and mentorship. Of these three, experience is probably most important. Each guide should have an ongoing relationship with at least one mentor who is a much more experienced guide. Part of the journey of becoming a guide is finding a mentor. In so doing, guides also place themselves in a lineage of guides, from which other guides can draw support. Experienced guides should honor the opportunity and obligation to the field by mentoring at least one less experienced guide. Being mentored and mentoring are both profound ways of learning and increasing headroom.
Below are some common edges for guides and some recommendations on how to build headroom around these edges:
Public Speaking: Many guides get nervous speaking in front of strangers. The best way to build headroom is simply to practice. If it helps, don’t be afraid to use note cards. Consider joining a group dedicated to public speaking, such as Toastmasters.
Discomfort with Inclement Weather: Guides should always have excellent gear if they choose to guide in inclement weather. Having a good waterproof jacket, rain pants, and boots go a long way in building headroom when the rain comes. It may also be wise to have extra gear for participants, in case they come unprepared.
Fear of Playfulness: Many guides have an edge around being playful and silly. Often, we are taught by our cultures that playfulness is for children and that adults are supposed to be serious. But Forest Therapy can be greatly enhanced by play, so it is good to learn how to embody it. To build headroom, let a child mentor you in their ways.
Fear of Simplicity: Many guides have a fear that offering simple invitations will make them look foolish. Practicing simplicity can be as easy as slowing down and finding the beauty in the most banal things such as washing teacups or sitting outside and watching the clouds. Lean into simple experiences to become more accustomed with their profundity.
Attachment to Outcomes: Many guides have an edge about releasing the desire for outcomes. This is a challenging thing to let go of for people who have been taught that work is about producing specific outcomes. Sometimes this edge also manifests as a discomfort when participants do not engage the invitations as they are given. To become less attached to outcomes, try going on short solo walks in nature and set the intention beforehand to have no expectation. See what happens when that intention is closely held.
Lack of Sensory Awareness and Connectedness to Our Own Embodiment: Many guides should build headroom in their own sensory awareness and embodiment. To do this, a guide should find a practice that serves to help them stop thinking and become more in tune with their physical experience. A few examples include mindful eating, dance, martial arts, flower arranging, pottery, and music.
Holding Space Without Fixing: Many guides struggle with the practice of holding space for others who are encountering such processes as grief, epiphany, and cognitive dissonance. For guides to increase headroom in this area, they might consider further training in the Way of the Circle or another empathic witnessing practice.
Hospitality: For introverts, it can be a challenge to quickly form connections with participants when they arrive for a walk. Headroom can be built in this area by practicing in everyday social situations, or beginning with smaller groups when guiding.
Wilderness First Aid: Anticipating, preventing, and responding to medical emergencies is a big edge for a lot of guides. This is why we require guides to get WFA or Outdoor First Aid certification. We hope that guides regularly refresh these skills and keep their WFA/Outdoor First Aid certification current. To better remember the knowledge learned in those courses, guides should practice regularly and review the written materials they received. Repetition builds confidence.
Physical Stamina: Some guides need to build headroom in their own physical strength and stamina to lead walks.
Nature Relation: We can’t help people experience something that we do not feel ourselves. This is one of the reasons we require mentees in practicum to do sit spot and go for a medicine walk. Guides are encouraged to maintain these practices and find new ways to develop their own authentic relationship with the More-Than-Human World.
Charging Money for Your Work: Many guides experience an edge about asking for money in exchange for their time and skills. We ask that guides charge money for one of their practicum walks so they can face this edge. This is an edge that demands we have confidence in the value of this practice and be willing to let go of work if the potential clients do not acknowledge that value.
Being Able to “Have One Foot in Liminality and One Foot Out”: When we guide, we must enter the experience ourselves so that we are guiding from an authentic place, but we must not let ourselves get lost in the experience. Guides need to do things like keep track of time and ensure group safety. This simply comes from experience. The more experience a guide has, the better they will naturally become at this.
“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face-to-face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”
– Judy Blume