Becoming Human: The Four Shields Model of Nature-Based Therapeutics


Sep 29th, 2024 - Oct 4th, 2024 | Big Pine, California | Betsy Perluss, Gretchen (Grae) Gerlach

“If there were a measure of ‘mental health’, it would involve the ability of individuals to grow into the fullness of each season – that is, the ability to fully become, or enact, the contents of each shield.”

  – Steven Foster and Meredith Little

All that we do and teach at the School of Lost Borders may come down to this simple intention: to tap into the deep memory that we are not separate from nature, that, indeed, we are no different from the land on which we live. To know this simple truth sets us upon the path to becoming “fully human.” Nevertheless, after absorbing centuries of messages that tell us we are different from nature – separated and above – such a path is not so clearly marked. As a result, we feel alienated and disconnected from ourselves, from others, and from this planet we call home.

The Four Shields model offers us a compass to help us find our way back to our origins on this living planet. This wheel of human nature was handed down to Steven and Meredith in the early days of Lost Borders and has become essential teaching for regaining our human wholeness within the wholeness of life. The wheel of life is archetypal, crossing boundaries between cultures and time; it is both simple and profound.

The Four Shields demonstrates that our lives move with the seasonal cycles and directions found in the natural world and incorporates all aspects of being: body, psyche, mind, and spirit. It begins in the summer of physical awakening, turns into the fall of our inner depths, moves into the north of our intellect, and emerges in the mysteries of spring. The Four Shields also helps us understand the maladies and symptoms that occur when the natural cycles become hindered in our lives. Thus, the Four Shield provides an excellent diagnostic tool, as well as the means for restoring movement toward wholeness. 

During this six-day experiential ceremony, we will dive deep into the Four Shields, evoking each shield through teaching, solo time on the land, council, story-telling, and mirroring. Each shield will reveal its essence and provide a doorway to the next shield. We will also look at how the Four Shields teaching is used in wilderness rites of passage and how it can be applied in other therapeutic settings, schools, and organizations. This will be a hands-on, practical program, as well as a time to deepen your practice of becoming more fully human as a being on Earth.

Program Questions Contact: Betsy Perluss at [email protected]

Maximum enrollment: 12       

Please note: the  $300 deposit is considered both a sign of commitment from participants & financial support for the School for the considerable work done to enroll a course.  For both these reasons, the deposit is non- refundable or non-transferable unless the program is cancelled.  The balance of the program fee is due at start of the course.

  • If you’d like to enroll, follow the steps listed on the School’s website.
  • Send your deposit and fill out the health and liability forms using the School’s online links listed on the program’s webpage.
  • When you’re ready, send a letter of intent to both Betsy & Grae describing what calls you to this program(best done by email—use Betsy’s at [email protected]).

TUITION: $800-$2,400

Sliding Scale: To honor the vast difference of financial resources among us, all of our program tuition is based on a sliding scale. We set forth no criteria and ask that you pay what is appropriate for your circumstances and access to financial resources. You can see recommendations on using the sliding scale here. If the low end of the sliding scale is still too much, scholarship assistance is available , please reach out to the office for more info.

Cancellations: Cancellations are hard on the participant, the School, and the guides. We respect the unpredictability of life, and we are diligent about running an organization sustainably.

-If you cancel 60 or more days prior to the start date of your program, you will receive a full refund of any tuition paid, minus any deposits.

-If you cancel 59 days or less prior to the start date of your program, and we can fill your spot, then you will receive a full refund of any tuition paid, minus any deposits.

-If we cannot fill your spot, and you cancel within 59 days of the start of your program, then we hold you accountable for paying the tuition at the lowest end of the sliding scale.

Submit enrollment form

 Please fill out and submit the enrollment form and then pay the program deposit below. Before you pay the deposit, please read deposit section below, all deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable. After your enrollment form is complete, please submit all health and liability forms.

Pay program deposit

Deposits: This deposit signifies your commitment to the program and is deducted from the tuition balance. All deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable. They cover the work of the specific course you signed up for, including all communication involved as well as the fee that guides pay to the school administration for the course accounting. 

Additional Deposit: Some programs require a second deposit to help us affirm commitments. Last minute cancellations make it hard to fill openings and incur a loss of income to the School and the guides.

Tuition Balance: Balance of tuition can be paid before or upon arrival. Simply deduct any deposits made from the amount you’ve chosen on the sliding scale.

Submit Waitlist form

This program is full; however, you may add your name to the Waitlist by clicking the Waitlist button below.

Additional course details & Materials


We will hold camp along the flowing waters and sweet mugwort at Baker Creek Campground in Big Pine, CA. Big Pine is located in in the Owens Valley, known by the Paiute as Payahuunadü, the land where water flows. We will begin at 10:00AM on Sunday, September 29th and finish by early afternoon on October 4th, 2024. We ask that you arrive before dark on Saturday, September 28th to set up your camp and to be ready to begin the following morning.

ADDITIONAL FEES: Camping Fees $65-$75. All additional fees will be collected at the time of the program.

You will be responsible for bringing your own food and equipment, though we can provide some gear if needed. We ask everyone to come prepared to live self-sufficiently. You will need to bring shelter and clothing suitable for a full range of inclement weather. 

All participants must submit the required health questionnaire and liability form.

If you have questions about the enrollment process contact us at [email protected] or call 760-938-3333.

There is no required reading for this program.

We will gather in the eastern mountains of Payahuunadü (also known as the Inyo Mountains) east of Big Pine, California. These are the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Nüümü and Newe people.

To learn more about our commitment to regenerative relationships please visit Cultural Relations.