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Episode 2

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Other Superpowers!

Episode 2

Mindfulness is a key component to a student or family member’s journey of overall healing. When we calm ourselves down and sit still, there’s a chance for the unconscious to actually show itself and speak. Mindfulness practices are about developing the capacity to listen more and receive more of what is unconscious and integrate it into our conscious lives.

The premise of meditation is learning to have a healthy mind, and research shows that this happens. Neuroscientific studies have documented anatomical and physiological changes in the brain and cell structure as a result of meditation, including studies on neuroplasticity, showing restoration of gray matter and the healing of the brain.

Mediation gives one the capacity to respond to situations in a way that lines up with one’s values. As one develops mental strength, he or she may be better able to resist an addiction craving down the road. Ultimately, this non-reactivity and awareness are what lead people to live fulfilled lives.



Norman Elizondo

Norman Elizondo

Family Wellness Counselor

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.

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.


Most people’s thoughts are 80% negative, so there’s this negative tape that’s playing all the time, and if we don’t know we’re doing it, we’re actually bringing ourselves down. We’re making ourselves more anxious. We’re making things more complicated than they need to be, and that’s all thinking, so if we don’t know that we’re doing that, we have a lot of struggle.

Emotional regulation is a superpower, so the one thing that we have to get really clear is that we are not teaching people how to control their emotions or suppress their emotions. We’re teaching people to notice them and then to have the capacity to actually feel them without freaking out or shutting down.

Instead of planning whatever it is you want to say, you actually listen enough so you could reflect back on something they tell you, that is a serious mindfulness practice.


Emily Fernandes

Emily Fernandes

Executive Director & Co-Founder

On a wilderness trip in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1995, Emily discovered she could combine two of her passions: working with youth and being outdoors. Since then, she has worked for Aspen Achievement Academy, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Connecticut Wilderness School. She was part of the founding team at Open Sky.

Emily worked as the lead therapist for adolescent girls for her first 5 years at Open Sky. Her areas of clinical expertise include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, self-harm, disordered eating, and adoption and attachment issues. Her clinical approach is informed by cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, and attachment theories. Relationship building through letter writing is a major focus of her work with students and families.

As a founder and owner of Open Sky, as well as the Clinical and Executive Director, Emily brings a breadth of knowledge with her background as a therapist, field guide, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director, Emily is known for her direct, caring leadership style, her ability to inspire excellence in others, and her team oriented approach. The student treatment plan is her compass for her decision-making regarding Open Sky’s students, families, and employees.

Emily loves reading, writing, yoga, mountain biking, telemark skiing, rock climbing, spending time with friends and family, and cooking with foods from the local farmers’ market.


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