Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Importance of Nature Based Ritual

Recently we returned from a weeklong backpacking retreat within Capitol Reef National Park in central Utah. The experience was physically grueling yet emotionally and spiritually rewarding. Along the 25 mile round trip, I was faced with inner thoughts of doubt, concerns about logistics and group dynamics, and the sheer physical feat of having to lug a backpack the distance of 440 football field lengths. If that wasn’t enough, add in the need to prance around prickly pear, find a trail that was barely visible at times over sand banks and washes, and traverse up a 700′ crack in a sheer bluff. Why then, do I feel so restored after this experience?


The answer lies not so much in the physical characteristics of the hike, but in the ritual of the events that took place. Ritual is defined by wikipedia as the sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. While in nature, the “sequestered place” refers to everywhere around us- the sky is literally the limit. Within this seemingly endless boundary, repeated acts are performed to ensure we have drinkable water, shelter from sun, food to eat and the all important place to sleep. Although I did not quite realize it at the time, every act of survival while in the backcountry can be defined as ritualistic, as it involves the repetition of known gestures while hiking and setting up camp.

For several years we have been taking youth into nature on field trips and overnight backpacking expeditions, and it feels like I am just beginning to grasp why these trips seem to resonate so well. During the hike, while setting up camp, when filtering water and preparing meals, the students are actively participating in a ritual event without being told they “need” to. When partaking in the basic acts of survival, ritual is a part of life and is honored for the place it takes in the day to day. Not only that, but the boundless natural world is constantly reflecting how ritual takes place in every moment: tadpoles gathered along cool banks as metamorphoses sets in, hawks soaring effortlessly on thermals rising from sandstone ridges, bats swinging out from crevices at dusk to seek food in the twilight.

While surrounded by nature, ritual is stripped from anthropomorphic pedagogy and baptised in the glow of sun that cannot be stifled by AC, in the currents of wind that are felt through the thin fabric of tent walls, and in the feeling of hands on smooth sandstone carved by millions of years of the flow of water. When ritual is understood on a natural level, the real challenge is to bring it back to the world of society and continue with due diligence the work of participating with reverence and intention, even when “survival” becomes the act of getting good grades and a decent paycheck.

Keep up the ritual!


One Nation Under Screens

It’s no secret technology has completely altered the world in just a few years. Look at the way children grow up. Just a generation ago, kids used to play outside for hours. They rode bikes to their friends’ houses and didn’t come home until after dark. They interacted with their buddies in nature, used their imaginations, played contact sports and ran around. To be sure, that reality hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it has certainly evolved.


Image Credit: mytoenailcameoff

A recent Kaiser Foundation study found that children use entertainment technology 7.5 hours per day. In addition, 75% of kids have TV’s in their bedrooms and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day. These statistics don’t show the full picture, however. It’s not just television screens. Children tend to be going online at younger and younger ages. A report  released by educational non-profits, Sesame Workshop and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, revealed that 50% of US children between the ages of 6-9 are online daily.

In recent years, considerable emphasis has been placed upon the idea that novel new forms of technology will solve educational problems. Though amazing advances have come from our increasingly interconnected society, a nation of kids glued to their screens is not the ideal solution. What’s needed is a balance between the advantages of copious amounts of information as a desirable tool, and a harmonious integration between nature and the people surrounding us.

Author and child advocacy expert, Richard Louv has spoken out about this issue, going so far as to create a growing body of research on the need for direct exposure to nature in order to better raise physically and mentally healthy adults. His book, Last Child in the Woods, attempts to curb disturbing childhood trends, such as increased obesity, depression, and attention deficit disorders. Louv is just one of many thought-leaders challenging the status quo when it comes to the new reality of the wired generation. Screenagers, a compelling new documentary by filmmaker Delaney Ruston, explores this issue. In her movie, Ruston examines how powerful digital influences, such as social media, internet addiction, video games, and social media can be pervasive in shaping the impressionable minds of teenagers.

What’s most needed in our discussions of this emerging issue is a dispassionate sense of perspective, however. Every age brings its own unique set of improvements, coupled with concerns and challenges. We are fortunate to live in times of immense technological discovery and wonder. The trick is to find the necessary balance between utilizing our great new tools for unprecedented advances while curtailing their adverse effects. The first and necessary step in this process is to create awareness. By recognizing the new state of things we can begin to make positive steps towards living in greater harmony with our screens, the people around us, and the natural world.

Tagged ,