“You know, Seth,” my dad hesitated. “Maybe you should go to ANASAZI as a SinaguaWalker.”

“What?” I said, frantically trying to read my dad’s mind.

“It’s a program where people go to find themselves.”

Find themselves, I sarcastically repeated to myself. I know that what that means. He’s not fooling me. I don’t need to go to any program to “find myself.”

I was twenty years old at the time and although I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I was lost. My life was littered with mistakes and I was losing a lot of personal battles. I slipped into depression and life lost all color and meaning. I no longer saw my way ahead.

Me, working as a TrailWalker at ANASAZI.

My dad’s suggestion that I participate as a Walker in the ANASAZI program seemed (at the time) like a weak solution. The ANASAZI Foundation is an Arizona-based wilderness therapy program for struggling youth and young adults. Essentially, you go out into the woods (away from all of the bad influences in your life) and hike your struggles out. I also heard that the program was also based on a philosophy of love and having something called “a heart at peace.” Great, I thought to myself, hiking in the desert and singing Kumbaya while holding hands. That’s exactly what a chubby, depressed, anti-social nerd wants to do!

So I politely/flatly rejected my dad’s offer to send me to ANASAZI.

However, almost one year later, I found myself sitting in the ANASAZI office training to be a “TrailWalker,” a person that works with the youth on the trail.

How I made that leap, I don’t remember. I honestly don’t. To this day, I can’t remember filling out the paperwork (although I know that I did because it’s all in my hand writing). But no matter what I knew back then, I’ve since learned that when I came to ANASAZI I had indeed started on a journey to find myself.

Find myself. Even now that phrase makes me want to laugh, but not for the same reason that I scorned it when I was twenty. Because—and this is important—in order to find yourself you must lose yourself. I don’t mean “lose yourself” in the same way that it means to be lost, but to lose yourself in love and service of others. That is how you truly find yourself.

Since 2007 I have learned many things as an ANASAZI TrailWalker. I’ve learned how to make fires with just a few sticks, how to stay hydrated, proper nutrition, and how to carve spoons. I’ve learned how to tell time without a watch, how to build an effective shelter, and how to tie fancy (and not so fancy) knots. I’ve learned how to read maps, how to orient myself with the stars, and how to hike safely through treacherous canyons and barren desert landscapes.

But the the lesson that I’ve come to treasure most is learning how to love others or, in ANASAZI language, learning to “walk as WE.” As it says in The Seven Paths of the ANASAZI Way:

“You live in the age of ‘I.’ Man looks out for himself, and only secondarily for others. In the philosophy of your day, happiness is a product of the fulfillment of personal ‘needs’…Man’s obsession with his own needs is taking him further from those without whom happiness cannot be found. It is taking him from his people.

Would is surprise you to hear that man’s unhappiness is due in large measure to the way he is seeking after happiness? You know this already from your own life. For when you are have been unhappy, you have been unhappy with others–with your father or mother, your sister or brother, your spouse, your son, your daughter. if unhappiness is with others, wouldn’t it stand to reason that happiness must be with others as well?”

My greatest personal problems (then and now) have always stemmed from the same root cause: selfishness. I wallowed for a year of my life in the darkest depression because I was focused on my own needs, my own wants, and my own problems. The more I focused on myself: the more I felt lost, and unhappy.

But ANASAZI taught me to open up my heart to other people…and to the Creator.

The greatest happiness and joy I have ever felt has always come from serving and loving other people. As soon as I began to focus on the needs of others, my own problems began to shrink and evaporate. The darkness of a selfish depression was replaced with the light of loving others.

…In the wilderness, I was reclaimed from darkness. And I have met many along my way who have been reclaimed as well. Walk among the hills, the trees, the valleys and the streams, and you will know in your heart that independence is a myth. To be alive is to be with others. To be right with others is to be WE.

Yes, my walking on the ANASAZI paths taught me much. It taught me how to love and serve other people. It taught me a lot about second chances (thanks to an inspired Field Director), about redemption and about moving forward. It taught me to hope and not merely cope. It taught me that “within every child is a seed of greatness,” and that there was strength in me as well. It taught me that “to be right with others is to be WE.”

I walked the ANASAZI trail for the last time this week. I’m sad to leave it, but it is time for me to begin a new kind of walking. Part of the ANASAZI mission statement is to “move hearts homeward” and my homeward walking is leading me to marry my best friend, Kim. Together, we will walk forward as WE.

So, as it turns out, my dad was right. ANASAZI is a place where people go to find themselves. And I found myself by losing myself in the love and service of others.

I am grateful for all that ANASAZI has taught me and I will deeply miss the trail. However, what I experienced there is but a type and a shadow of what I can experience in the world around me. ANASAZI itself didn’t heal me…the principles it taught me did. The principle of loving others and being alive to their needs is as accessible in our homes and communities as it is in the Arizona wilderness. I can “walk as WE” wherever I am.

All walkers sometimes stumble. I never reached perfection with my people. Sometimes, despite all I have seen, heard, and felt, I have nevertheless withehled myself from their embrace.

But every time I have seen the dawn, or felt a breeze, or drunk from a stream, or walked on a stone, or eaten of a plant, or looked upon a lamb, I have been reminded again of the truth: My feet were placed on Mother Earth in the midst of others’ so that I might learn to walk together with them in my heart.

You and I, my young friend, walk only as far and as well as our hearts walk among our people.

Me in a final sacred circle with the TrailWalkers of ANASAZI. “Sure love ya!”

ANASAZI Foundation and Me

My first day at ANASAZI Training. What did I tell you? Chubby nerd.

In September of 2007, after being led on a difficult, five-mile hike through everything that I could possibly be allergic to, I laid underneath my simple shelter on the ANASAZI trail in Arizona and wrote, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not cut out to be a TrailWalker.”

Thus began my first week as an ANASAZI TrailWalker!

ANASAZI Foundation

For those of you that don’t know, ANASAZI Foundation is a wilderness therapy program for troubled youth and struggling young adults. ANASAZI offers a 50-day, wilderness-based, residential treatment program and outpatient services rooted in the belief that all people—regardless of their struggles or at-risk choices—possess an inherent “seed of greatness.”

Because of my father’s line of work, I had known about ANASAZI Foundation for years but never really understood what they did. After significantly painful and difficult experiences in my own life, my parents suggested that I enroll in ANASAZI and participate in the program. After learning that it was a wilderness therapy program, I believe I said something like: “Ah, heck no!”

Attempting to “bust a coal” (build a fire) during my frist week at ANASAZI.

But for whatever reason, the idea participating at ANASAZI worked on me….little by little….until, about a year after my parents had suggested that I enroll in ANASAZI, I printed off an application to work there.

Okay, first of all, you need to understand a few things about me: I hated being a boy scout. Is there a way to emphasize that…without using expletives? I HATED being a boy scout. Camp outs, tying knots, being “outdoorsey”….? No. Not for me. No. No. No. I was a chubby computer nerd fully satisfied with my lot in life.

So again, for whatever reason in 2007, I printed off an application to work at ANASAZI Foundation, a wilderness therapy program. I honestly do not remember my thought process at the time. I cannot remember filling out the application. And I barely remember the drive down to Arizona to start work. (I vaguely remember a phone interview from a member of the office staff: “You do realize that you won’t be walking on marked trails, right? You’ll be climbing through canyons and bushwhacking.” “Oh yeah, sure,” I lied. Truth be told, I literally did not know what the term “bushwhacking” meant. Literally.

Getting the hang of it at ANASAZI in 2010. 🙂

And before I knew it, I found myself in the ANASAZI office going through training. I was learning how to build a fire with sticks and pack my trail pack using a tarp and something they called a “burrito.” I thought to myself: Why am I here?

Soon after that, I was out on the trail, curled up in the fetal position under my tarp, sweaty, sore, tired and bruised. I couldn’t control my allergies and I couldn’t sleep. I was physically and mentally miserable. Again, I thought to myself: Why am I here?

But I kept working at ANASAZI. And as I did so, a change came over me. ANASAZI became a major turning point in my life: working with amazing individuals (the staff and the participants), learning about the ANASAZI way, having personal awakenings and strengthening my relationship with the Creator were experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. ANASAZI rejuvenated my soul and taught me to “walk forward” with a “heart at peace.” I often describe this period of my life as if I were “seeing color for the first time” because there’s really no other way to describe it.

In October of 2010, while working with a Sinagua band (participants over the age of 18) I found the answers to questions I had had for years. After telling them my background of coming to work at ANASAZI, I said “I can’t remember why I applied to work here….but I now know why I came.”

The simple principles taught at ANASAZI (the fundamental belief in a Creator, Forwards and Backwards Walking, having a new beginning, a Heart at War and a Heart at Peace) can, and have changed the lives of thousands of participants. I am constantly amazed by the caliber of the staff and the miracles which take place in that blessed program on a daily basis.

More than that, I marvel at the healing which takes place in the families that participate in ANASAZI.

For these reasons and more, I have quietly pledged in my heart to consistently support ANASAZI. I hope and pray that you too will discover the peace and joy that comes from living the ANASAZI way.

If you liked this article, please sign up for my FREE bi-weekly newsletter. And click here to read my novel Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern—a swash-buckling adventure book filled with symbolism comparable to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.