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Stories from the Field: Mental Health and the Outdoors

Dec 23, 2019

Norman Elizondo is the Family Wellness Counselor at Open Sky. Norman's journey into the wilderness field began when his dying mother encouraged him to leave his finance career and "do something that would really help people." Norman shares his extraordinary journey from being an immigrant from the Philippines to growing up in the Chicago area to working in finance to leaving that to be a field guide at Aspen Achievement Academy. He would leave Aspen and become part of the founding team of Open Sky in 2006.

From the Open Sky Website:

Norman earned his BS in Business Management from the University of Illinois at Chicago and began his professional career in investment analysis. Following the death of his mother, he considered her parting advice about doing work that really helps people and began his career in wilderness therapy as a field instructor at Aspen Achievement Academy.

As an immigrant from the Philippines, becoming educated and assimilating into American society has driven Norman to work hard, adapt, and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for being a U.S. citizen. As such he has enjoyed tremendous opportunity; one of the largest and most meaningful was to help found Open Sky.

Norman served as the first field guide for Open Sky, receiving the first student in May of 2006. Demonstrating both a command of wilderness skills and an aptitude for therapeutic skills, he moved quickly to being a senior field instructor and then a trainer for field instructors.

The focus on family systems and parallel process with parents has been an inspiration and driving force in Norman’s time with Open Sky. He helped create the programming for the Wellness Weekends and has facilitated these weekend intensives since the very first one in 2006. He takes a special pride and pleasure in helping parents understand their child’s work at Open Sky and developing the same basic skill sets of emotional regulation, assertive communication, and effective boundary holding that are so crucial in parenting. In addition to the Wellness Weekends, he facilitates the parent support calls, graduations, meditation instruction, and field guide training.

Meditation has been a cornerstone of Norman’s life. His years of practice deeply influence his ability to work with people in crisis and to train others how to develop their confidence and emotional resilience to work with challenging populations. With prior study and practice in the Southeast Asian Theravada tradition beginning in 1995, Norman has been studying and training as meditation instructor in the Tibetan tradition since 2001. He is a certified meditation teacher with the Dharma Ocean Foundation.

As part of his commitment and ongoing training in meditation, Norman spends 4-6 weeks each year in retreat along with his daily practice. With most of his vacation time spent in retreat, he finds it important to make time in his daily life for exercise, playing music—DJing, singing, and drumming—and getting into the outdoors just for fun.