Sunday, September 4, 2011

Passion: The Sublime Elixir

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

~Henry David Thoreau

When Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE) graduates express their experience in one final word, or when they write their comments on post academy surveys, the word “passion” never fails to make the collective list. It is noted that GLADE staff and presenters often are animated and extremely enthusiastic about what they are doing. It is true that our staff clearly has an affinity for nature, and that it has impacted their individual lives in profound ways. Actually, we naturally select for passion traits in staff, in presenters, and even in our GLADE participants.

Passion sublimes in far more than a smile and accompanying gestures of excitement. When released in the proper, timely manner in nature, it lingers in the air like a splendid perfume, luring those even at the very outskirts of its aesthetic range. It leaves an indelible mark on the lives of those who risk breathing it in deeply and incorporating its essence into their own being. Passion connects those experiencing it with all things living and growing, communicating meaning and purpose to everyday experiences.

As committed agents of positive change, we long to reproduce the elixir. But what is it, and once found, how do we cultivate it? From where does it arise within the group setting, and how can conservation educators assure that it can be replicated in all outdoor learning experiences?

The conditions which precede knowledge of self are intellectual curiosity and emotional uncertainty. As youth search for direction they often head down paths that tragically result in dead ends due to our society’s emphasis on temporary and material gain, and its wanton disregard for virtue. Families, schools, and faith communities strive to provide youth with effective examples of proper living, but rarely do they espouse proper stewardship for nature or take action to care for biotic communities. The lure of a material world permeates society to the point that well-meaning adults working with young people too often advise them to take a path that will result in a lucrative material career, ignoring the leanings of the heart, which nearly always navigate in a truer direction.

Our guidance systems are flawed partially because they do not acknowledge the role of nature in our wellbeing, and they do not consider the negative impact of today’s squandering habits on future generations. When all is said and done, our grandchildren’s quality of life is directly proportional to the quality of our care for the Earth today. If for no other reason, we owe it to them to passionately act in every way we possibly can to conserve what is left of our natural world.

At the convergence of intellectual stimulation and emotion gratitude lies passion. It does not make itself known until the intellect has been challenged at the limits of its capacity, and the emotions have responded to the power of the mind to discover new and different ways of perceiving. Often, prior to the passion experience, true awareness of entities like nature and life have been obscured by a cloudy vision and/or self-imposed limitations. Passion demands that we find the sweet spot in the ocean of life, where our intellect is fully engaged and our emotional gratitude intersects with it. The outcome is a tremendous wave of positive energy. We must rise to the crest of that wave, be swept away by it, sense its power, balance upon its lip, and ride it with all the energy we can muster. For when the wave breaks upon the shoreline, all is changed. Hope is renewed, new possibilities surface, and a desire to catch the next wave rises up from within to become an overwhelming goal for our lives.

As demonstrated in the above paragraph, natural metaphors can play a very important role in the transfer of information, as well as in the youth transformation aspect at GLADE. It is always the aim of the staff to sense the building momentum spontaneously and use metaphor to transport creative and critical thinking to a higher level. Seizing that moment and riding the wave that underlies it is often the key to a truly exceptional environmental experience.

Metaphorical quotes and comments incorporating ecology and philosophy serve to facilitate personal growth and development within the participants at a moment’s notice. Native American teachings, Taoist passages, the writings of the Transcendentalists, and other nature-inspired writings are excellent sources from which to draw. Quotes and readings memorized and used by staffers at appropriate moments provide fertile soil for the stirring of the passion waters within the young naturalists, and they contribute significantly to the synergy desired.

Even with the use of simple natural metaphors such as “sink your roots deeply” or “soar”, a life tool is introduced to the young people that can assist them in fully comprehending many of the complexities inherent both in natural biological systems and in their own personal lives. The insights gained from natural metaphor then can be fused into their developing value systems, giving them strength, insight, character, courage, and an incredibly respectful view of nature as teacher. Metaphor serves to forever link the individual to the natural world and opens a new world of possibilities within the engaged mind. To connect the natural sciences to the arts or the humanities - to the stillness of sunsets or the sparkling of fireflies-- or to the inner soul or spirit of the individual, brings wellness to the explorer. At the end of the GLADE adventure, passion is waiting to wash gently over the receptive youth.

Passion does not seek to change the individual, but to complete the individual. In lives once dominated by the trappings of a shallow world, the passion that arises from complete immersion in nature mirrors the first blossoms of spring poking through a blanket of snow. As a result, the joy, the hope, and the unbridled sense of empowerment that emanates from within effortlessly unearths the individual’s missing piece….releasing their unique, hidden song from within…..., bringing clarity of vision and purpose to life.

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