“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” – John Dewey
I set off to adventure and experience learning in the outdoors on Sunday, March 24th. The bus ride showed a dramatic change of scenery from the inner city of Sydney to the luscious green outskirts to which could be considered a beautiful escape from civilization and all things industrial. The scene went from grey to green and I felt myself become entranced and mesmerized by the beauty that was just outside my window. It was refreshing to have a break from overpopulated city life. Humans have been living in nature the majority of our existence and just recently confined to man-made environments such as cubicles as opposed to being out and about like hunters and gathers. For all of our existence we have been so connected to nature. “Contact with green spaces is therefore like going back home, and fills us with the same sense of safety and belonging. We crave nature in the same way that a child needs a mother, and derive the same feeling of comfort from it (Steve).” John Dewey stated, “Nature is the mother and the habitat of man, even if sometimes a stepmother and an unfriendly home (Roth).” As I stepped off the bus, the first thing I noticed was the immense amount of green, it is sad but I had forgotten what this looks like. I had become accustomed to industrial, tall buildings and city streets. I was happiest about the fresh air. At home, I was always worried about holding my breath to avoid the gusts of smoke coming from various smokers as I made my way about. There was no need to worry here.
We broke up into our groups and met our leader for the day. Our leader made it clear that she was not our tour guide and handed out maps. She told us that we would be responsible to find our way throughout the Royal National Park and stay on course.
We started the trek and made our way through trees and amazing views. Our first picture spot was by a creek overlooking a forest. I got lost in the view as my senses became overwhelmed with the beauty before me. We walked along cliffs and beaches overlooking the ocean with its wondrous, unending blue horizon. We stopped to have lunch at Marley beach. A couple of us climbed the rocks all the way out to the edge of the ocean to sit under shade and feel ocean mist. It was a delightful lunch!
Then we arrived at a spot called “Cheesecake Rock”, a white rock shaped like the perfect slice of cheesecake high above the ocean. We were asked to do a “solo” in which we sat for 5 minutes and attempted to shut off all thoughts and stresses from the outside world and our daily lives. I sat on the white rock overlooking the waves as they crashed on a cliff far below. In those 5 minutes I transformed my thinking from daily tasks to the big picture of what I wanted my life to be. I realized how shallow my breathing was and how bad my posture was. I sat up and took a deep breath. I became attuned to my body and my senses heightened. As my lungs filled up with the cleanest air I had breathed in a while, my eyes opened wider and a bigger smile became plastered on my face. I always knew I loved the outdoors, but my love was deepened in this moment. At the end of my 5 minutes, I was so at peace. Nature has a calming and mind-quieting effect. The beauty and majesty of nature allows for a state of meditation, “slowing down the normal ‘thought-chatter’ which runs chaotically through our minds. This creates an inner stillness and energy fills us, generating a glow of being and intensifying our perceptions (Steve).” The unending ocean made me realize the presence of this immense world and all the possibilities of what I could do with my life. It made me want to take advantage of each moment in my life and be truly mentally present, not just physically, wherever I am because moments pass and add up to a completed lifetime. It was an epiphany, “awakening” moment for me. Nature provides episodes called “awakening experiences”, these are “moments when our vision of our surroundings becomes more and we feel a sense of connection to them, and towards other people. The world may somehow seem harmonious and meaningful, as a strong feeling of well-being fills us (Steve).” This describes the peace I felt at the end of my solo and I can say I have experienced the power of ecotherapy.
In recent years, the power of nature has been recognized by scientists as an effective healing therapy, just as effective against depression as medication and traditional therapy (Steve). This is called “ecotherapy.” It not only heals the mind, but has the power to transform us, just as I transformed my whole outlook on life in those 5 minutes.“The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling (Roth).”
John Dewey believed that education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. He revolutionized the way education was defined into a different paradigm of cycles through experience. He thought all was subject to change and that education should teach habits of learning that will continue throughout life via experiences. These habits included awareness and interdependence. He believed learning was a process of living, the deepest form of freedom, and that it should not be used to create human capital, but to create opportunities to find significance in life. He said, “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living (Roth).”
I ventured off the beaten path to see some of the best views. It was amazing what you would miss out on if you just continue mindlessly on a trail. There is much more to see in life than what is just mapped out for us. I realized that this is a metaphor for life and doing what you truly want to do to make yourself happy and find your passion. The world may have expectations of you, but regardless, what you desire for yourself is of the highest importance, you chose your own path in life. As John Dewey said, “To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness (Roth).”
After a quick sip of water from a waterfall by the beach, it was a short walk back to the bus. I had a lovely time at Royal National Park. I feel like being in the outdoors was so refreshing and gave me the ability to tolerate the dreary grey portrait of the city. I long for the green of nature and what other discoveries I can make about myself and the life I want to live, as when I am in nature I feel the most aware and connected to my own thoughts. I think this awareness makes me more capable of the challenges of the future and confident in my ability to accomplish what I set out to do and live a happy life. Experiences can become a part of you. The element of nature is embedded in my being. Nature is my therapy.