What is it about wilderness field studies that facilitates a transformative experience? Why do students repeatedly return from such experiences rejuvenated and restored? How do wilderness field programs take some of the best of what we do at Sterling College and concentrate it? It turns out that most of the reasons have a lot to do with a deep, concentrated experience of the fundamental aspects of being human:
1. Whole, Healthy Ecosystems:
Nature is our home. Human beings evolved in the context of wild places, whole, intact ecosystems, healthy in the sense of capacity for self-renewal. Every human culture on the planet has its roots in wild nature and a people’s vitality is directly related to the degree of wildness from which they come. Spending long periods of unbroken time in whole, healthy ecosystems gives us a deep sense of place that is ancient, and a sense of vitality that is restorative.
2. Small, Close Community:
For over a million years humans and our ancestors spent the majority of our time in groups of around a dozen people. There is something inherently comfortable about co-operating in small groups. Small-scale societies tend to be egalitarian and involve high levels of participation and accountability. Relationships are close and familial. Interdependency is obvious and immediate. Such closeness allows us to hone our interpersonal communication and decision making skills in ways that are immediately and continually relevant to our experience. Although the human community is intentionally limited, the more than human community is expanded, and the boundaries between us and the rest of the natural world become increasingly fluid.
3. Simplicity and Elegance:
By intentionally limiting our external outputs (information, media, events, social engagements, divergent responsibilities, etc.) we experience more spaciousness in our lives. Our minds become quieter. The wilderness experience facilitates this necessarily. Our possessions are pared down to what we can carry on our backs: shelter, food, basic, functional clothing, a few books to help us get to know the flowers. Our obligations are narrowed to include a good nights’ sleep, a nourishing meal, a meaningful class, time to observe and describe the happenings of the natural world, good conversation about the day, an evening telling stories around the fire.
4. Clarity of Purpose:
Such spaciousness leads to an increasing sense of clarity of purpose. Our actions have immediate relevance to our experience. We break camp and spend the day walking to our next camp. We have a class session on montane forest ecology. We spend the afternoon with field guides learning the trees. We climb a peak to see the expanse of the land. We eat food to restore our bodies. We tell stories around the campfire. We sleep and dream and wake up and do it all again. Every action has clear and immediate relevance and results. Purposeful action leads to a purposeful life, and a purposeful life, it turns out, is a peaceful one.
5. Focus of Attention:
A purposeful, peaceful life allows for a level of focused attention that is precious and rare. With the removal of the distractions of the trappings of everyday life, space and quiet occur. Out of this space comes increasing clarity, and such clarity facilitates an enhanced ability to pay attention. Attention is the action of love; to love is to “attend to”. In our case, our capacity for focused attention allows us to connect more deeply with the natural world, with one another, and with ourselves.
This sense of interconnection is the culmination of the wilderness experience. It is the transformation we have been working towards. The next step is to reintegrate this sense of interconnection into the rest of our lives. This is the work of a lifetime.
Global Field Studies at Sterling College are included in the price of tuition. We’re going to repeat that since it’s important that you understand. You don’t need to pay additional money to head out into the world for 2 weeks, 4 weeks or 12 weeks when you are a full time student at Sterling. It’s covered in your cost of tuition and the credits count toward your degree.