Does climbing to the summit guarantees a life-changing experience?
An experience definitely could be the most physically challenging but may not necessarily lead to a life-changing experience according to a study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.
Personally, I could testify to the research finding. I’ve climbed both tropical and snowy mountains and sailed through heavy weather. During my Basic Mountaineering Course in India, we spent 2 weeks in snowy mountains and had to tough it out in challenging conditions.
My time in Scotland pushed the bar higher. Trudging through ankle deep snow in the Cairngorms in a white-out condition, there is a voice within me to keep my prayers going in my heart.
Yet, as much as those were some of the memorable moments in my outdoor career, I wouldn’t say they changed my life.
Instead, it’s the time spent soloing in the Isle of Rum and sitting on an abandoned island in the Western Isles changed my whole worldview of outdoor education.
Oops, did I say ‘sitting’?
Yes, I did!
That was the moment when I was fully absorbed and consciously experiencing and reflecting on life. It got me to realise that there was so much more to outdoor education than what I already know. And the moment embedded deep within me the commitment that I needed to do more if I am a true outdoor educator.
So does that mean that we can just drop those mountain expeditions that we have been preparing all our lives?
Does that mean we should just do the softer outdoor activities?
Not necessarily so too.
Here are my thoughts on that article and outdoor education with respect to achieving a life-changing experience:
1. Outdoor education is still relevant to providing one with an experience
2. Need to match the difficulty level of the activity experienced to the person’s ability
3. Most importantly, time and space to think and reflect on the experience need to be provided for. In other words, one needs the opportunity to make sense and meaning out of the experience.
So, it is similarly valuable in getting students to take care of the school garden as compared to climbing a mountain.
I still recall the when I finally reached the summit of Gunung Tahan (Gunung – mountain and Tahan – endure). The 4 days trek up through the thick primary tropical rainforest was gruelling. But when I sat at the summit, capturing the beautiful rolling hills around and clouds sprinkled around, I get to see how life has its ups and downs.
Till today, I can’t paint that image up on Gunung Tahan nor the cliffs at the Isle of Rum, but both moments have been captured clearly in my stairwell of life changing experience.
Similarly, my recent project of starting Irsyad Gardening Club was also a life changing experience. Yes, I.almost gave up when we realised that the calculations and measurements of the greenhouse were off. But I vividly remember standing, looking and consciously told myself to push it on.
Subsequently, being present in my thoughts and actions when the voice inside tells me to quit at certain points when the going gets so tough. Looking at the students enjoying themselves changed it all.
So there we have it, my humble account of how life-changing experiences do not necessarily require you to climb a mountain.
It’s what you do and think about the experience that matters.
As an educator, I am also aware that outdoor education is not the only pedagogical approaches. Bottom line, one must attain an experience and reflect on it.
In my instructing context, it is to find that teachable moment. I totally agree with Emma Young from the British Psychological Society Research Digest, that to be in that moment one must be present and aware of one’s actions and thoughts.
That might then lead to a life changing experience.