Last summer, Jeff Owen, a social science teacher at Torrey Pines High School and the head of the school’s PALs organization (an acronym for Peer Assistant Listeners) read 2002 grad and Encinitas resident Sebastian Slovin’s book “Ashes in the Ocean.”
“His narrative had a profound effect on us,” says Owen of the book which delves into the death of Slovin’s father, Vernon, from suicide and the impact it had on him. “As a local author and alum of Torrey Pines, we knew his message would have a special connection with our community.”
As a result, Slovin was invited to speak as part of the school’s recent Yellow Ribbon Week, focused on suicide awareness and prevention. For both the students he spoke to and Slovin himself, it was an emotional moment.
“It was really incredible to have the opportunity and pretty surreal,” says Slovin. “When I was writing the book, I framed it as if I was speaking to the high school version of myself, so I felt like there was no audience I would have rather had the opportunity to come and speak to. It felt very fitting.”
The high school version of Slovin struggled with the 1990 loss of his father. As a teenager, he dealt with feelings of isolation while grappling with the gravity and weight of the loss while still trying to be a normal high school kid and despite success as a former professional bodyboarder.
“When I lost my father, I spent a lot of years not talking about it, avoiding it and feeling ashamed,” says Slovin. “A lot of those years were during my time at Torrey Pines. I wound up sharing a lot of the lessons I’ve learned during that process. I began with coming from a place of gratefulness for the opportunity to be there and speak with them about something I feel so passionate about.”
In the years since, Slovin has been a suicide prevention advocate, making it his life mission to share the lessons he’s learned through his grief. Along the way he’s released two books, the aforementioned memoir “Ashes in the Ocean” and the children’s book “The Adventures of Enu: The Tale of the Giant Whale ” and has held speaking engagements around the region.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into it,” notes Slovin of his experience talking to the students at Torrey Pines at two assemblies that amounted to about 1,500 students each. “For both assemblies, I was completely blown away at the level of attention and engagement. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and were appreciative. Some were even sharing personal stories and it felt incredible. It was pretty mind blowing and emotional.”
Owen agrees with that sentiment. “Sebastian’s speech was incredibly impactful,” he notes, adding Sebastian’s lessons permeated beyond the assembly. “To help facilitate the discussion, he also provided the faculty and staff with guided discussion questions to allow the students to engage his message when they returned to their classrooms.”
The foundation of Slovin’s mission is Nature Unplugged, the wellness initiative he runs with his wife, Sonya, that focuses on helping people have healthy relationships with nature and offers coaching, workshops, and curriculum. The two also host a podcast of the same name, with episodes centered on discussions around mindfulness and interviews with thought leaders. A recent installment featured a chat with Dr. Mark Kalina of Pacific Pearl La Jolla about integrative health and medicine, and the importance of psychology and spirituality in his work.
“It’s all been a very organic growth,” says Slovin of both Nature Unplugged and his quest to raise awareness for suicide prevention. “I’m excited to do more of these types of talks like at Torrey Pines,” says Slovin. “It was really meaningful for me.”
For more on Slovin and his quest, search for Nature Unplugged on any Podcast service, visit their page on Instagram @NatureUnplugged or visit their home on the web: www.natureunplugged.com. His books “Ashes in the Ocean” and “The Adventures of Enu: The Tale of the Giant Whale” are available on Amazon.com