Andrea St. Hilaire
We are what we repeatedly do...
With Halcyon being a bit over two months into existence as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in North Carolina, and with last week’s quarterly meeting for the Board of Directors, a Halcyon post would be a timely occurrence (aka, “Andrea, step it up!” :-P ). The souls involved in this endeavor, both from around the state and around the world, are owed endless gratitude and appreciation. Halcyon is coming to fruition because of the kindness and love being “paid forward” and shown by those who have navigated their own traumas; truly, because of souls who have discovered their own posttraumatic growth. This is about returning to authenticity, about allowing a copacetic realm for those who are currently experiencing such challenges.
Because of the scope of this (already abbreviated) update, I will do my best to produce shorthand sections. Calendar, principles, and philosophies to be discussed at the beginning of this upcoming week. What follows is an outline of sections A - F.
A. Review of approaches. With a focus on military trauma survivors of all statuses, from active to reserve, guard to veteran, Halcyon uses the “flow states” of sports, creativity, and somatic/restorative engagement for decompression, immersion, and exposure to positive experiences. At a minimum, the qualities of such repeated engagement can serve as a type of reprieve from intensity, and ultimately, a mental bolstering of resilience prior to encountering trauma. Additionally, the self-reinforcing nature of flow states (i.e., “autotelic”) allows this to be a beneficial methodology for aiding in physical and psychological healing subsequent to trauma exposure.
After all, we may not necessarily be able to choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose how we respond. (That’s one of the greatest elements of aiming for posttraumatic growth: choosing how one is going to move forward, and discovering the best fit for one’s new identity after trauma. Why not make it a beautiful adventure? 😊)
B. Divisions and leaders. To keep this brief as possible (hah!), this is a partial list of individuals with whom arrangements and planning have occurred (a further comprehensive list will be on the website, including advisors and directors). We are aiming to have one on-site and one off-site event each month, with leadership often provided by veterans and current service members. Other events are led by individuals intricately familiar with trauma healing, from trauma-focused yoga instructors to internationally-respected psychologists. (Also, because some volunteers and leaders are active special operations, I do not publicly discuss their involvement.)
1. On-site retreats. These will be offered at Halcyon to offer camaraderie, rustic farm immersion, and a peaceful, positive environment. While flow states and decompression are key, we are focused on the premises of growth and creativity replacing past trauma and death. Choosing to act, choosing to engage, and choosing to try can significantly contribute to the healing progression in establishing posttraumatic growth and identity.
i. Woodworking – Michael Merzke – as a veteran with a successful business in Raeford, Michael will be guiding participants in woodworking techniques, carving, and creation from the most basic approaches through more intricate, fancy work.
ii. Gardening – Malachias Gaskin, a veteran medic and creator of Warrior’s Garden, will be coming to Halcyon/Bragg in spring of 2020 to teach his dynamic concept of utilizing creativity, grounding, and personal faith to find the pathway to healing and self-restoration after trauma.
iii. Drawing/sketching and cooking – an officer currently downrange has agreed to lead classes in guiding basic drawing techniques with a unique flair, as well as cooking cultural dishes that are not wholly common to the Sandhills region.
i. Trauma-focused yoga – led by the inspirational Natalie Johnson, morning yoga on the farm will be offered as the weather starts to become mildly more tolerable. 😊 Natalie has a highly successful yoga practice in Winston-Salem, and has agreed to offer her trauma-focused yoga with her empathetic intuition and compassionate guidance.:
ii. Meditation – to be led by Dr. Mark Leary, a preeminent psychologist who recently retired from a stunning career at Duke University. Mark will be leading meditation sessions in the natural immersion of Halcyon environment, as well as discussing the role of “self” in healing processes. His work is legitimately fascinating, and he was foundational in the concept of “self-compassion.”
iii. Storytelling – traumatic experiences are often best processed by developing a “cohesive narrative” to understand one’s journey, progression, and evolution through life, as well as framing particular experiences and finding closure to events. In a phrase, integral to identity establishment. Dan Nevins is an inspirational veteran, leader, yoga instructor, and double amputee as the result of combat post-9/11. He and I have initiated talks for a storytelling-and-bonfire event on the farm. This remarkable soul is an individual from whom you want to learn, understand, and heal.
iv. Jam sessions – led with talent of a local group of musicians, Halcyon participants will be welcome to attend jam sessions at the farm. Bonfire, guitars and other instruments, animals for decompression: it doesn’t get much better than that.
i. Ultimate frisbee – Andy Brewer – as an intercollegiate coach with in-depth experience and multiple wins and championship experiences, Andy guides with positive insights, leading from the front, and building the team forward to succeed with specific orchestration. (And hey, this is seriously fun decompression! :-D )
ii. Cycling – a Special Forces veteran with multiple Ironman completions, who has served as a well-respected triathlon coach. As Halcyon sits on a cycling route, this is a perfect location for a peaceful starting point for rides.
2. Off-site excursions - Similar to the on-site events led by military and veterans, off-site excursions are activities conducted throughout the southeast with a “flow states” approach. This is a continuation of the “choice” paradigm within decompression framing, with mini-escapes away from the normal routine.
a. Kayaking, paddle boarding, rock-climbing, rafting: led by a Special Forces veteran who is an authentic healer, alongside his remarkable, inspirational wife, these outings will allow participants a quintessential experience of flow, returning to nature, and being in the best hands available for safety. This couple has been pivotal in the development of Halcyon, and these experiences will be truly incredible.
b. Fly-fishing trips: to be led by Chris Murphy, a veteran Special Forces medic who was instrumental in the original concept for “go with the flow” of Halcyon. These trips to western NC will allow participants to immerse in the flow experiences of casting, nature, and authentic decompression.
c. Pottery: I imagine that all individuals who have tried pottery will attest to the “flow state” immersion of getting into the zone with clay and the wheel. As such, the first Halcyon meet-up will be to Seagrove Pottery on July 6th, where individuals can try throwing clay and learning more about the creative process. Halcyon will be sponsoring two individuals’ to try the clay experience, so more information will be posted as details are confirmed early this week.
The horsemanship that is offered through Halcyon is viewed as an autonomous sport like the athletics described above, and is not equine-assisted psychotherapy. Just as an individual will practice, take lessons, and having coaching within triathlon sports, soccer, rugby, golf, surfing, tennis, you name it, equestrianism is another athletic pursuit where flow states are readily attainable and healing. (I am in the lengthy process of becoming PATH certified, but this is NOT my primary focus.)
I had minimal awareness at the time, but my training/riding for over three decades, and going pro the day I turned 18, were the elements that allowed me to consistently find flourishing after my own life traumas (especially five severe concussions). Coupled with the understandings from my ongoing (obsessive) trauma research, survivor discussions, nuanced insights, and continued assessments, this is why I am choosing to “pay it forward” with offering structured, consistent, empathetic training for the souls who have most earned the chance to heal. Please note, if you would like equine-assisted psychotherapy and such, I can refer you to other places within NC.
So what do these sessions look like? Following established safety-focused protocol, each session is a mixture of hands-on and theoretical principles with learning to effectively handle, care for, prepare, and train these wonderful equine souls. As is generally known, warriors have been riding and training for millennia, including Xenophon through WW1, and even into modern-day Leavenworth-style staff rides and experiences overseas.
Sure, you can complete an (markedly) challenging Ironman or (majorly inspirational!!) GoRuckHeavy event, but can you use your strengths of perception, self-control, and awareness to guide performing simply by your body weight and position? Challenge accepted? 😊
Here are some of the animals, each with their own stories of posttraumatic growth and finding a role (brief for this update, but I will expand for the website):
🐴 Scout’s Honor, or Scout, 2008 Thoroughbred gelding. Scout was bred to be a top racehorse, but many perfect storms caused him to fall through the cracks. He was handled quite unfairly and was consistently “lied to” by humans; his trust in others was nonexistent when he first came to me in 2018. After a time of being in full training, he demonstrated that his capacity to guide healing was unprecedented. He has helped reaffirm my intuitive assessments, and has guided me to better comprehend the natural give-and-take of pressure at a level I never fathomed. He’ll do the same for you.
🐴 Linda’s Pride, aka Linda, 2008 Thoroughbred mare. Linda has lovely old-school bloodlines, and was a racehorse out west for the beginning of her life. She came to my program in 2013 to become a performance horse, and while her athleticism and conformation are rather beautiful, small quirks from the racetrack have prevented her from becoming a competitive horse. Her gentle nature on the ground allows her to be a perfect addition to Halcyon, as hugs, nuzzles, and her “party trick” ticklish squeal are rather endearing.
🐴 Boo, aka Boo, 2008 Irish Sport Horse mare. With incredible bloodlines for the “triathlon of equestrian sports,” Boo was bred to be a competitive mare. When a pasture accident as a youngster caused a small “hitch” in her gait, it became clear that she would not succeed as a competition horse. She has now had one baby, and may have more in the future. At this time, she is the queen of Halcyon, demands hugs at all times, and will sell YOUR soul for carrots and ear rubs. (Her unique “tip of the spear” white marking on her forehead is simply foretelling of her future in Halcyon. 😊 )
🐴 Politics Aside, or Donnie, 2013 Westfalen gelding. Donnie initially came to me to be a competition and performance horse, as his bloodlines and physical stature are cut from the perfect cloth. He has shown us that his mindset and mentality are perfect for Halcyon (as well as size and substantial build), so for the interim, he will be working with participants. His playful, “chill” nature and desire to have a partner are ideal for working around the farm.
🐴🐴 Recon and Ranger, matching donkey geldings. Both rescues, these two formerly-abandoned critters came to us within weeks of each other from their life-saving rescuers. Recon is the engaging intelligence collector, always wanting to know what is occurring at all times, while Ranger quietly sits back and assesses, prepared to act as needed. (I’m not anthropomorphizing here – come watch for yourself. They are aptly named for their unique roles.)
C. Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Along with the psychology/clinical advisory team guiding development and the above activities, and military advisors giving overall feedback to this operation, our in-house NC Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Seth Boynton, is a remarkable soul with whom to work. With his undergrad and Master of Social Work from Boston University, Seth has a successful private practice and consulting business in Wilmington, NC. He is also in the process of establishing his own coastal healing center with a comprehensive wellness focus (counseling, massage, acupuncture, etc).
Seth is intimately familiar with Adaptive Disclosure, the current platinum standard for moral injury/moral trauma, and greatly enjoys working with military and veterans alongside the animals. As calendars align, Seth will be coming to Halcyon on a regular basis to guide clinical sessions with the animals, as well as hopefully attending many of our retreats and excursions. I have yet to meet a soul as empathetic, realistic, and authentic as Seth, and I am sincerely thrilled that he is on our team (considering I’ve known him for over half my life, this is truly an honor 😊 ).
D. Groups and Partnering.
1. Thanks to Michael Boscia of Irreverent Warriors Raleigh, we will be working alongside this chapter for fundraising efforts at highly-unique Raleigh restaurants/bars (dates to be confirmed with two in July, two in August), as well as the Annual Silkies Hike in September (and hopefully a VIP will be joining us for the events, if I can work some magic 😉, so this will be a markedly enjoyable experience). As bonfire season comes around in the autumn, there will be great events of improv/stand-up-comedy nights at the farm, accompanied with mandatory s’mores (simply because, well, it is known), as well as orchestration of and attendance at such events in Raleigh/Chapel Hill.
2. Discussions have been initiated with a surfing nonprofit in South Carolina to send Halcyon participants to the regular surf-and-wellness camps, or a week-long intensive surf experience (literally, a go-with-the-flow experience, as was the initial Halcyon framing).
3. Inquiries have also been made to other groups regarding potential Halcyon involvement and/or partnering, including golfing and scuba diving.
E. Projects and Details.
1. Farm layout is being tailored to allow a central “breakfast barnyard club” amongst the gardening area of raised beds. This will allow the greatest availability for access to the animals, a quiet yoga/meditation respite for outdoor practice (as well as the indoor office), and perfect spot for talks, writing, and vesper activities. Sheila has been amazing with painting the white fencing, and now commencing on the black, so everything continues to beautifully dovetail.
2. The remarkably skilled and kind Chris McHargue is beginning work on construction projects around the farm, from the much-needed privacy fence, finishing the office floor, and hopefully guiding the development of aforementioned meditation/mindfulness structures. That he is on board is truly a beautiful gift!
3. With the guidance of multiple veterans and active duty souls, we are looking into the possibilities with future expansion of Halcyon to incorporate experiences for a more comprehensive group of trauma survivors: law enforcement officers, first responders, kids who have earned healthy dynamics of mentoring/positivity, survivors of medical trauma/PTSD, and pediatric units (e.g., oncology) for quality of living purposes. The Halcyon authenticity and copacetic, natural environment are here for everyone who needs it, as decompression and “flow state” immersion truly are integral to healing processes.
4. In order to allow overnight stays and longer-term intensives for participants and families coming from a greater distance (e.g., Camp Lejeune), we are looking into renting two cottages near the farm.
1. With 501(c)(3) having been attained in late April, and with all registrations, numbers, certifications, and labels successfully achieved (this has been arduous at best – THANK YOU, Sheila!!), we are starting to apply for federal grants, financial partnerships, and general award funding.
2. As mentioned above regarding Irreverent Warriors Raleigh, fundraisers are beginning with team approaches in the community. Brainstorming and ideas are continually ongoing.
3. Personal and corporate contributions are starting to come in, which aid in feeding and care for the Halcyon animals used in horsemanship sessions, supplying materials for on-site retreats (e.g., lumber, plants, journals, sketching/art materials), covering admission/rental/equipment fees at off-site excursions (e.g., cabin, kayaks, climbing material), and supplies for Halcyon-specific projects (e.g., pergola w/concrete finished floor for meditation and yoga sessions). For individuals and companies who have donated, THANK YOU beyond words, as you are the cornerstone to these elements being able to evolve. Each donation has spearheaded new developments and possibilities.
I’m reluctant to use GoFundMe, as I believe that should remain geared towards emergency situations, but I am examining other platforms for suitability and relevance. A nonprofit PayPal account has been established, so donors can easily send to firstname.lastname@example.org (and receive an autographed donkey picture as a gift with their tax-deductible receipt :-P ).
And for now, that’s a wrap! Continuing to refine details, polish edges, and tighten the dovetail joists that the universe regularly throws into the team’s collective world. This is a dream come true, and dozens of souls have already benefited from the daily discussions, listening/“witnessing” for moral injury, and the enthusiastic teamwork of this realm coming together. This is a return to authenticity in the navigation of finding decompression and posttraumatic growth.