Lessons learned beyond four walls
I walk through the tall blades of green grass and breathe the fresh air. The sun is setting, casting colourful pink and orange light across the sky. My feet are grounded as my hair blows in the slight breeze. As I’m engaged with the natural atmosphere of the Grass Roots Family Farm, near Ferintosh, Alberta, it feels as though the chaos of my life has dissolved.
Being involved in the Spirit of the Land program has allowed me to experience a type of learning that is unique and vastly different from the rest of my courses. This may seem unconventional. However, that is why I’ve never taken a more valuable course.
The Spirit of the Land program sees students visit several local farms to learn about organic and permacultural practices; that is, working with the land, rather than against it. I’ve come to realize that the more peaceful moments we spend in nature, the more we feel connected to ourselves, our communities, and the beauty of the world.
While many of my peers have expressed their skepticism over the course content, which is based on reconciling our relationships with ecology and our community, I think the value and importance of this program cannot be fully understood unless one experiences it for themselves.
Through conversations with elders in the Indigenous community, I have learned that as university students, we have become less appreciative of the natural world and more disconnected in our relationships. Our friendships take place largely over social media platforms and much of our entertainment comes from Netflix, video games, and YouTube.
We don’t need to force ourselves to completely divorce from today’s culture. I’ve visited many beautiful farms and met people with perspectives that I find challenging. We find common ground when we acknowledge that we’re all in the same ecosystem. I am guilty of being disconnected and ignorant, however, these experiences have shown me that we need to learn more about our interconnectedness.
I’ve begun to understand the importance of taking moments to pause, reflect, and acknowledge myself, while spending time outside. These revelations aren’t new, however. The benefits of connecting with the outdoors and nature are well documented.
As students, we are often so caught up in stress, life, and work, that we don’t take moments to pause and appreciate the world around us.
Spending time outside is good for our health. As the Huffington Post reports, fresh air can help boost your immune system, increase happiness, decrease stress, and act as an energizer.
National Geographic reports that a 15-minute walk through the woods causes “measurable changes in physiology”, according to Japanese researchers led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University.
The same article quotes David Strayer saying that “at the end of the day, we come out in nature not because the science says it does something to us, but because of how it makes us feel.”
I believe that is the root of everything – while scientific evidence can display the physical benefits, it is within ourselves to discover the rewarding feelings that come with spending time in the natural world.
The course has exposed my classmates and I to a kind of intelligence that can only be found in nature. Vivienne Simon, former director of the Centre for Psychology and Social Change at Harvard University and long term activist of sustainable living, said that she is “mindful of an intelligence that permeates everything, that is at the core of every cell that has existed since the birth of the universe.”