Their healing journeys are providing hope for us all to learn better ways to create resilience, wholeness, and well-being in a world of stress and trauma. Much of what we know about the science of stress emerged from the challenges in military medicine to find new ways to deal with trauma to mind, body, and spirit.
I want to tell you about an amazing project—one that starts by serving our Wounded Warriors and their families, and in the process will serve us all with healing, important stories, and valuable scientific research about stress, healing, and wholeness. It is the Green Road Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centerin Bethesda, an immense labor of love born of the type of collaboration that is so very rare in the medical world.
While the current state of our healthcare system stresses us all, there are remarkable pockets of hope as the world of medicine evolves to embrace new (and actually ancient ;)) definitions of health—not as the absence of disease, but as the positive state of wholeness and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The Institute of Integrative Health, founded by Dr. Brian Berman, serves to catalyze new ideas, understand the complex network of factors that influence health, and promote well-being for individuals and communities. They are connecting, innovating, and supporting amazing projects, such as the Green Road Project.
Former Navy neurologist, TIIH scholar, and poet, Dr. Fred Foote, recognized the need for
more holistic approaches to healing in the military health system. He conceived this project to offer healing spaces and nature to those heroes whose lives were torn apart by physical and emotional trauma. Together with The Institute of Integrative Health, The TKF Foundation, and the generous contributions of funding and labor of so many others, Dr. Foote directed the overhaul of downright scary woods and a hard-to-navigate road that stood between the wounded warriors’ living quarters and their treatment areas to create an incredible natural and safe oasis that will support healing and community.
The result is so special—really sacred—and already deeply appreciated. Every detail has meaning, from the benches made from George Washington’s pickle barrels, to the stone circles for music and conversation, memorial spaces to honor the fallen, to the truly accessible facilities that take the fear out of spending time outside. The amazing TKF Foundation supports projects that recognize the power of nature minds, bodies, spirits, communities, and design—their work is phenomenal. One of their trademarks is supplying journals in natural spaces for people to record and share their reflections, worries, thoughts, hopes, and dreams—they have been used already!
Thanks to incredible vision and leadership, this project is also a lab. Dr. Foote, together with Dr. David Lary, and TIIH, have developed specific scientific metrics to examine the healing effects of nature and holistic approaches for trauma. Working with National Institutes of Health, the Uniformed Health Services University, and the University of Arizona, the team will measure biomarkers of stress, analyze the language of the stories, and even track changes in gene expression as shown in Dr. Herbert Benson’s work at Harvard.
We already know intuitively and empirically that humans benefit from connection to nature. This new scientific data will be of enormous value, not just to the medical world, our military heroes, you and I, but to urban planners, engineers, architects, environmentalists, and all those who aim to create a world in which humans thrive. The Green Road Project is a perfect example of the power of science, wisdom, heart, and humanity to change our world and bring hope. It is also the perfect example of the power of moving from our reductionist, siloed, and scarcity-driven ways to generative, interdisciplinary collaboration around a powerful, shared vision.
Today and everyday, we thank our Veterans, our heroes, their families, their healthcare teams, and the courage and heart of all who support the vision of a world in which humans can be resilient and whole, no matter what the challenges.
Of course, projects such as this require enormous funds, dedication, and support. If you would like to know more about how to help, please read on and join in creating hope for all.