The Experience is the Teacher, Part 1

30 06 2012

My favorite open-air yoga sanctuary has a sign at its entrance that says, The Experience is the Teacher. It has me thinking about why we seek out adventure, and how we learn from our experiences.

headstand on board

Try, try again. I did it!

For most of us, it is clear that great adventures lead to great expansions of consciousness and “life lessons.” Ask River House staff member Colette Ramirez-Maddock about her three weeks of whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon and she’ll tell you, “As you float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, one cannot help but realize how short our life is in the grand scheme of things and how small we really are in this Universe.” She says this reminds her, “We must pursue those things that we find joy in and give meaning to our life.” For Colette, this means making time in her daily life for friends & family, outdoor activities, and dancing.

While peak experiences certainly lead to deep awakenings, it is important to remember that smaller adventures and everyday experiences can contain similar life lessons. Belaying another person during a community climb teaches hard skills, such as tying knots, how to use hardware, and climbing techniques, while also teaching soft skills such as patience, focused attention, communication, and responsibility. Sharing your bike commute with a friend might introduce you to a new route or restaurant; laughing with them might remind you to relax and let go of some stress. The potential lessons in any given experience are endless.

Border crossing from Chiapas, Mexico to Guatemala on the Usumacinta River, an experience that taught me to let go of fear and to trust in the goodness of people.

As a facilitator of outdoor experiences, I try to remember that the experience is the teacher. Supporting participants who are navigating the challenge course requires attention to their physical safety, but it also requires me to hold my tongue, so they find their own meaning in the experience. Then, the lessons are theirs. For me, introducing people to a new activity—whether it is surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, or hiking—means opening a door to new experiences that contain the potential for lots of fun and many life lessons.

Right now a lot of people speak of “being present” in every moment, and this is certainly an important part of fully living our life experiences. In addition to our presence, reflecting upon our experiences allows us to glean the deeper lessons from them. Outdoor adventures benefit participants in so many ways, even without reflection—exercise, sharing time with friends, interaction with beautiful places—and we can find longer-lasting lessons when we look back on the experience.

Through reflection, we remember the hard part of a backpacking trip and identify the soft skills that were necessary to get through it: perseverance, a good attitude, laughter.  Maybe we identify something we could have done differently, to enhance the experience, like packing more water. We reflect on the challenge of “getting away” for a day and the joy that the adventure brought us. These reflections carry us into the next experience better prepared to have even more fun and to gain new insights.

Each day’s experiences contain seeds of insight into what it means to be human, and what we can do to live our authentic human experience. By simply being present with those experiences and reflecting upon them, we empower ourselves to be the best we can be, and to have a lot of fun in the process.

Written by Jess Land, City of Eugene River House Outdoor Program Staff

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