A few months back, Jen Raymond from Outward Bound Philadelphia contacted our school in search of institutions that would be possible partners as they work to push their program into the eastern part of the state. When I caught word that we would have the opportunity to take part in a 7-day educators course that would be canoeing down the Delaware Water Gap, I was immediately in. I didn’t need any more detail because I knew that this would be an outstanding experience that I would not soon forget. From the high-ropes course to the random rope swing to the community building to the experience of being completely present, my already high expectations of what the experience might hold were far and away exceeded.
I consider myself an outdoor savvy person and have been on my fair share of extended outdoor expeditions in the past. I didn’t give the challenge of being outdoors a second-thought. I acknowledge that there are many who have had significantly fewer experiences in the outdoors and may not think that this is an experience that they would be able to handle. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a novice or an expert in the outdoors, the educator’s course is an experience from which you can benefit.
Here is a list of reasons that you should consider taking the 7-days out of your busy life to experience Outward Bound:
Pushing Your Limits and Embracing New Experiences
No matter what level of experience that you bring to this course, you will find challenge throughout the 7 days. If you are green in the ways of the outdoors, you will find the challenge in the experience of staying outdoors in a tent. For one of the participants, it was the first time that they had slept outside. On the second morning, this person was asked: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how did you sleep?” She responded: “about a 3, but the previous night was like a 1 so it’s getting better.” My point in this is that things get better. Any challenge met with an upbeat and positive attitude can be conquered.
Each individual on the course undoubtedly faced a sense of challenge. My challenge came when I woke up one morning and decided that I would take part in an informal yoga session led by one of the educators who was a certified instructor. Although I had done yoga before, I was not expecting the pain and difficulty that came with contorting my body in ways that I never thought possible. I looked around the circle trying to find someone who was struggling with this exercise as much as I was so that I could feel a little better about it. I found that person as I watched another one of the male educators breaking a sweat on a cool morning. He later described the experience as his back being “rung out like a paint dried towel.” I can certainly commiserate with his sentiment. Although this challenge was not initially planned to be a part of the course, I was seeking new experiences from which I could find a challenge. One must come to the course with an open-mind and a willingness to embrace the the challenge that each day provides.
For some this requires seeking out those challenges on your own and a willingness to immerse oneself in new experiences. I was fortunate to have alongside of me others who were actively searching for those experiences. After the third night in the tent, we swept it aside and decided that we would be staying under the stars for the following nights. I’m still uncertain whether this decision was made because of my loud snoring that was recorded and later posted with the subject header reading: “wild animal sounds caught on tape” or because of the experience it would provide. Either way, I’m glad that we did it. The first night we slept out on a beach. Staring up at the sky, I realized that I had not recently taken the time to look up at the stars and just appreciate the wonder that they provide. I was awakened by the sound of honking geese as they splashed into the water. I peered out and watched as the morning fog rose off of the river realizing that this is the type of beauty that one cannot experience while laying in the comforts of one’s own bed. On the next night, we slept in our canoes as they buoyed on the water. The space was tight, but the experience was well worth any discomfort. There is a sense of calm that one gets as the boat gently sways on the water. For those who have never experienced it, no words can do service to the feeling it provides. On the final night, we slept around the fire. No person will ever be able to explain the re-energizing effects that the simple glow of a flame can have. It has a way of uplifting the spirits, awakening the soul, and building a sense of togetherness for all who surround it.
Connecting to a Community
While the course provides varying levels of challenge for each of the individuals that set out to be a part. You can take solace in the fact that a community is there to support you as an individual. I was extremely lucky to have the support of 9 other educators and 2 expert course instructor found in Jen Raymond and Kim Glodek. Although it is impossible to not form some sense of community when you set out to spend 7 days with a group of people who are tasked with navigating their way down a river while sharing food rations and sleeping spaces, Outward Bound has developed a powerful system of building those bonds in both an intentional and meaningful way.
Outward Bound has found power in the use of circles as a way to bring people together. These circles are built around the foundation and importance of reflective practice to facilitate the building of empathy among the individuals within the group. When we begin to empathize with others, we take a step closer to them and create a stronger bond. This practice is one that is not only useful when you’re out on the trail, but is important as we move through our daily lives.
After each of the more challenging experiences, we circled up and shared our personal struggles and successes while completing the challenge. Each of us brought our own truth to the challenge and therefore had to face down our own struggles and had our own successes. It was very powerful and thought provoking to momentarily step into the shoes of others and see the experience through their eyes. Often, it reminded me of my early years when I too was new to many of the outdoor experiences. Other times, the challenges were more unique to the individual and led to another type of perspective taking. In either situation, we were brought closer as a group as we realized the educators in the group as people with their own sets of challenges and strengths.
Before dinner, the circles took on a different light. In a close circle, we would all ask: “Hey cooks! What’s for dinner?” Those who were tasked with cooking for the day would respond with the menu— which I might note was quite generous compared to many of the other outdoor experiences I have had. We would all carry on in a chant surrounding the line: “Mmm…Delicious.” and followed it with a dance where the circle swayed and jigged from side to side. We would then pause and listen to an inspiring quote followed by a moment of silence to reflect upon the journey that we had made that day.
Once dinner was served, the light of day faded and the sun dipped over the rolling hills, we sat in a circle often right next to the flowing river. A quote or story was shared by the selected leaders of the day. On the first evening, I was a little taken back while a story in the form of a poem was shared that was literally about a warm pile of shit. There’s nothing quite like the power of a poem about shit to grab the listener’s attention. I was pleasantly surprised when a deep meaning was derived from the poem— sometimes it is better to embrace the warm pile of shit that you’re in right now than to go looking for something else. After each reading of a quote, story or poem, we shared how the passage resonated with our own truth or the truth that we faced throughout the day. From there, a question of the day was posed. The questions ranged from the not-so-serious “What condiment would you like to have dispensed from your belly-button?” to the more meaningful “If you could only take one picture back from the trip, what would it be of?” From these questions, we got to learn more about one another both in our ability to be goofy and our ability to be serious and thoughtful.
The last circle of the evening came to be my most favorite and valued time of the day: “the appreciation circle.” In this circle, each of us were appreciated for something that we had done throughout the week. The leader of the day started and the words of appreciation were passed from one person to another until it got back to the leader. In this manner, every person in the circle was appreciated for the unique gifts that they brought to the group. This is one of those practices that we should observe on a more frequent basis. We should take more time to stop and appreciate those that bring their unique gifts and talents to our lives. I was nearly brought to tears when the Jenn, one of the Outward Bound leaders, shared words of appreciation directed towards me. There are some people born on this Earth that have been blessed with a high level of emotional intelligence. I have no doubt that she is one of them.
Through these circles I learned a lot about others and because of natural reflective practice of the circles, I learned a lot about myself. In an intentionally designed manner, these circles along with the experiences built a community of people who although they may have only known each other for a week were deeply connected.
This is Part I of a two part series. Stop back next week in order to read about the many other reasons that you should experience the Outward Bound Educators Program including Building Community Part II, Building Character, Walking in Your Students Shoes, Being Present and Being Mindful. Students Shoes, Being Present and Being Mindful.