College students and young adults from across the United States traveled to the wilderness of Montana to participate in an outdoor workshop in September. This is a story from a participant, sharing what he learned from his experience in nature.
With thirty pounds of stuffed packs laying around us, we gathered near the trailhead to discuss the logistics of our upcoming journey.
“Who would like to volunteer to lead the trail today?” Our leader spoke up. A moment of silence followed.
I felt the pressure of the demanding position, but I wanted to challenge myself to break out of my shyness.
Our adventure program included five days and four nights of hiking. At the beginning of each day we took on responsibilities for specific roles and I had just volunteered for my first position: trail lead. Trail lead had three main tasks: reading a map to keep the group on the right path, controlling the pace and organizing the rest periods. Such tasks were important to get everyone to the destination on time to set up a camp and have a meal before sundown.
Our journey upwards was peaceful without very many encounters with other hikers. We climbed up and down the trails surrounded by beautiful evergreens and refreshing creeks. Although we encountered barren hills, spiked with burnt trees, and even as swirls of ashes troubled our eyes and nose, such struggles were rewarded with the wondrous scenery of the lake shining under the sun.
Even with all the peace and beauty of nature that surrounded us, I often struggled from the discomfort that came with the responsibilities of my role. Stemming from my shyness, I continuously faced a weakness that I knew all too well — my fear of making mistakes.
I was unfamiliar with the tasks of my assigned role, including how to read a map. As a result, I found myself doing the bare minimum. Although I was able to avoid making big mistakes, I soon became consumed by a sense of defeat that followed my escape from the challenge.
Such an experience was difficult for me personally. However, looking back, I now realize that such a challenge was precisely the gift that nature offered, presenting me with the opportunity to identify and observe my weaknesses.
In my daily life, surrounded by flashy technology, busy schedules, and social interactions, it is easy for me to ignore the flaws in my character that hold me back. Making excuses was easy in such an environment filled with distractions.
“I can forget about it for now.”
“I have more important things to do.”
This constant delay in solving my problems led to negative emotions that I avoided by watching TV-shows and playing video games.
But, such tricks don’t work in nature.
When I was having a difficult time confronting my weaknesses, I couldn’t rely on a YouTube video and my favorite snack to distract myself. Instead, I had no choice but to face myself. The purity and simplicity of nature were such that I had to face my flaws and that helped me to set a sincere determination to overcome them. I came away on that day with a deeper understanding of myself.
Nature can be a perfect place to evaluate ourselves clearly because it pushes us to reveal our weaknesses and limitations.
The physical hardship from relentless hours of hiking in hunger, cold wind and burning sunlight will bring discomfort; this reveals to us our true limitations in our interactions with ourselves and others.
And with the lack of distractions and excuses, nature can provide us with the great opportunity to have a more effective attitude in solving our problems, motivating us to change.
When I was complacent in my daily routine and stuck in my negative emotions, a week-long hike in the wilderness became an opportunity for self-evaluation to identify problems and offer solutions to the problems that kept me stuck. The time in nature filled with challenges and a peaceful environment became a great school for learning and spiritual growth.