Unplug: Lessons From Nature

Unplug: Lessons From Nature

Nature is one of the greatest classrooms life has to offer. College students from across the United States would learn many lessons in just a short week of their summer in the wilderness of Montana. Although a challenge to literally unplug from their normal daily routine, they would discover new perspectives on leadership, finding happiness and purpose, and nurturing a relationship with God while forging strong relationships with each other.

One 19-year-old woman from Seattle, Washington shared her story on connecting with God through nature and her growth as a person and leader:

I personally feel that being in Creation is one of the best ways that I can more closely connect with God, so I really appreciate this time that I had in Montana.

In the mountains, we were without our phones and other man-made distractions. We were forced to use the natural things around us, to watch over and care for others, and ask for help if we needed. Even just after five days, I experienced that we literally had to live for the sake of others in order to survive. It is only natural that we worried for others and also depended on others.

“When out in nature, I also saw that it does not take much for us to live happily in this physical world.”

Pumping water at a lake with the backpacking team.

When out in nature, I also saw that it does not take much for us to live happily in this physical world. Even in the woods, God had provided us with everything we need to live. Besides the food that we brought with us (or could have gotten from hunting and fishing if necessary), we had streams for water, flat and grassy lands for comfortable shelter, trees to hang food away from bears, wood to build warm fires, and all of nature’s beauty to enjoy. As we hiked during the day and rested during the nights, we also had one another to interact with and learn from.

They say that people learn a lot about one another and bond closely when we live together in the mountains, and I think that is very true! It was very refreshing to talk to my brothers and sisters not just about how they are doing, but also have conversations on a more deeper level. It was very inspiring to see others talk seriously about their faith and have a great interest in conversations about God and His principles and ultimate dream.

“People learn a lot about one another and bond closely when we live together in the mountains.”

In one discussion that we had during a break in hiking, everyone shared their own philosophy or way of leadership. Many said that it is to lead by example, to live for the sake of others, etc., but I was very inspired by one person when he said that ultimately, what he does, no matter what it is, should somehow connect to God’s dream. This makes even the most trivial actions very important. This, of course, is important for personal growth, but to connect this directly to leadership. This is not something I have really thought about. When it comes to leadership, I more naturally think about helping others and moving their hearts rather than improving myself, but it makes perfect sense that bettering myself and lining up my values to my faith in God will make me a better vessel for Him to work through, and ultimately, a better leader.

“A leader has to make difficult decisions to make everyone’s experience the best possible.”

Leading the team for the day

During this adventure workshop, I had the opportunity to be the trail captain for a day, and the team medic on another day. Both roles had me experience some challenges. A leader has to take into account many different factors depending on the situation, and oversee everyone’s personal situation and try to understand them. In the mountains, some of these factors included safety, injuries, hiking pace, water resources, the location of the campsite, etc. It was also difficult to try to satisfy everyone’s needs. Everyone came to Montana for a different reason. Some wanted to have the greatest physical challenge (like climb the highest possible peak), have solitude time, and experiences like that. A leader has to make difficult decisions to make everyone’s experience the best possible.

This area is special because people can fully experience God’s natural world and learn from Him.

The overall experience was amazing. I feel that I was able to gain some strength from this challenge for the coming year. I am going into my second year of college, and I want to make this a much better year than the last.

Facing Your True Self in Nature

Facing Your True Self in Nature

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 can.”

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.

Backpacking through burnt trees.

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.

College students hiking on the Continental Divide trail.

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.