SPIRITUAL ENERGY AND EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING – Rod Walker, Pucón, Chile
Facilitating outdoor experiences from mountaineering, ecological awareness and activism to walking meditation, has intrigued me by raising an underlying question: Beyond individual circumstances, what causes them to have such transformative, inspiring outcomes with such consistency? Where does the ‘magic’ come from?
There’s an energy at work, so reliable and constant and so ubiquitous as to be universal in its operation. By that I mean both in the sense of being everywhere, but also in the sense of overarching and influencing thought-patterns at all levels of experience. At the same time this energy is unfailingly inclusive and life-supporting – a manifestion of love in its wider sense – so that it merits the name spiritual. The word ‘spiritual’ has roots in the Latin word for breath – the vital, reciprocal interaction we maintain with the ambient life-support system we call nature, that keeps us alive. This is the case in many different languages. Essential to life, breathing is intrinsic to experience, and therefore to learning by experience.
I’d like to begin by reading a Greenpeace ad from the 1980’s. It’s not too accurate, but short and gives a clear and provocative image.
PLANET EARTH IS 4,600 MILLION YEARS OLD. If we condense this inconceivable time-span into an understandable concept, we can liken the Earth to a person of 46 years of age. (like me) Nothing is known about the first 7 years of this person’s life, and whilst only scattered information exists about the middle span, we know that only at the age of 42 did the Earth begin to flower. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles did not appear until two years ago, when the planet was 44. Mammals developed only around 8 months ago. In the middle of last week, human-like apes evolved into ape-like humans, and the last ice age enveloped the Earth only last weekend. Modern humans have been around for four hours. During the last hour we discovered agriculture. The Industrial Revolution began one minute ago. During those sixty seconds of biological time, humans have made a rubbish tip of Paradise. We have caused the extinction of many hundreds of animal species, ransacked the planet for fuel, and now stand like brutish infants, gloating over this meteoric rise to ascendancy ... on the brink of the final mass extinction, and of effectively destroying this oasis of life in the solar system.
Why is this important? First because it shows that as a species we are more than merely human, the product of an imensely long evolutionary process. Secondly, because our next step in that process is now urgent. At this moment, our collective future – the survival of civilization as we know it and possibly our species - depends on our widening our vision beyond today’s myopic materialistic mentality. ‘Business as usual’ used to be a particularly Western problem, but globalization has changed that. All around the world, materialist mentality has rendered our relationship with the earth dysfunctional. Environmental education fails to have effect, because the ‘business as usual’ system has co-opted it. It has speciously reduced the good intentions of many people to ‘feel-good’ ways of doing little of real significance – in order to keep an unsustainable multi-national commercial system expanding. However much we recycle, use renewable energy and transitional and vegetarian lifestyles - all clearly very positive in local ways – we are still light-years away from doing enough to stop the downward trend. It will only be enough when we change our hearts – collective mindset – world view – paradigm. Only such deep change will produce the ‘juice’ to stop today’s paralysis. Once that happens, conservation practices based on generosity will come naturally. I hope it may occur without learning experientially through generalized catastrophe.
How can we make this change of heart? I see the answer in developing new habits of personal spiritual practice. This has nothing to do with religion, nor is it as vague as it may sound. It means maintaining permanent contact with the real – inner - world of nature through ongoing daily practice of inner connection - not necessarily with rural living or even physical activity, but with the interrelated natural principles that support our life. Such awareness implies establishing new habits of thought.
One starting point for such personal practice is breathing. Breathing is our natural connection with the universe – not just in our own back yard, where the more obvious priorites lie, but on a global scale as well, where wider loyalties are harder to see because of distance.
Outdoor and indoor, urban and rural, both are essentially the same. Learning from nature takes place everywhere, for nature IS everywhere, and especially, let’s remember, inside us. Our existence depends on nature. So please don’t be put off by the mountains, and think, ‘Oh, that’s not my line of work’. Illlogical though it sounds we ARE the water and the mountains. So I hope you may see resonance and similiarity instead of differences. The story, while subjective and personal, aims to share reflections that are wider than the events outlined. To give a greater logic, I have recounted my process more or less chronologically.
SLIDES 1–5 - QUESTIONS
1. FIRE – TITLE – SPIRITUAL ENERGY IN EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
2. FIRE – A CIRCULAR EXPLORATION, BEGINNING WITH THE BASIC QUESTIONS
3. 1.- DOES SPIRITUAL ENERGY EXIST? 2.- IF SO, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? – With so many conceptions of spiritual energy and
its role in diverse belief systems, particularly religious, difficulty in attempting to define its nature and origin is
inevitable ... And at the same time, serves to show how real it is.
4. SUNSET – Finding it, on the other hand, can easily occur in a sudden simple ‘happening’, at any unexpected moment, with
all the immediacy of the ‘here and now’.
5. SUNSET – IS THERE ANY WAY TO BRING SPIRITUAL ENERGY TO CONSCIOUS AWARENESS, PERHAPS EVEN TRANSMIT, RADIATE IT, AND HELP
OTHERS DO THE SAME?
Moments relaxing, focusing on breathing, being ...
The relevance of breathing to all that lives and learns by living gives spirituality an all-inclusiveness that
distinguishes it from the religious. Seemingly as mysterious as religious visions of the divine, how can spirituality be
approached? Let’s begin by simply breathing.
Relax the body, concentrate on breathing, clear the mind, connect with the present. This connection – ‘presence’ - is a
gateway to intuitive perception, a corner-stone of many traditions of spiritual practice. Eckhart Tolle explains presence
as a source of higher intelligence that holds the power of unlimited potential.
Spiritual energy is essentially an energy of connection. Like breathing, connection is a reciprocity, between the
individual and the source of life. As such it is inherently life-sustaining.
Connection often manifests as intuition, the “inner knowing” that makes some experience especially significant or
uplifting. Examples of such significant connection can be internal, with inner balance; inter-personal, between people
bonding; chthonic, with earth vibrations; or transcendental, when resonance occurs at higher frequencies.
6-14 - INTUITIONS
6. LOCHAN - Glenmore Lodge, 1950’s: when instructing rock climbing on 3-day expeditions - contrary to the conventional
view - many students found being in nature far more attractive – and healing - than adventuring.
awareness, or perhaps even transmit or radiate it … and help other people do the same?
7. FOSSIL BLUFF, MIDWINTER – trying to understand interrelationships of huge anomalies – eg, this was only 48 years ago,
an age when theories of continental drifty were still considered ‘madness’ by some scientists.
8. GUSTAV CHANNEL - An unusual level of exposure to possible accident – and always an underlying sense of confidence in the
probability of safety – even when alone
9. ANTARCTIC PENINSULA - Shackleton and party felt accompanied by another being when crossing South Georgia’s central
mountain range – by what or whom? What can explain such feelings?
10. TENT IN SNOW – In a year on a 4-person field base, I very often traveled alone, and often felt the presence ‘unseen
guides’ that range beyond the limits of normal logic. They seem to work to uphold life, keep it safe – eg, when ‘lost’ in
remote places (like homing in the Sound, 10 miles out in complete white out.
11. SLEDGE NEAR CAPE LONGING - The seemingly extraordinary or even impossible can be transformed into an ordinary event
that simply happened. 20 hours running through crevasses, only 10 of them in real daylight, and then … apparently against
all odds, you have arrived, and hold a cup of hot sweet tea. It’s over.
12. RUNNERS - Running brings a powerful connectiion with spirit. In 1989 I ran a <3 hour marathon at the age of 50 – then
a solo more-than-double marathon in the Maipo valley. Both the experiences and the motivation for doing them had a flavour
of freedom – of traveing beyond the normal boundaries of time and distance.
13. LOOKING OUT FROM ENNERDALE – Why do ‘peak’ experiences have that name? Why do we seek the heights to feel
transcendence? Why are the effects so long lasting and transformative? Early conditioning made me think of challenges met
and ‘overcome’. Now I see unity – so useful in daily work and relationships.
14. SAN JOSE VOLCANO – Once I spent 5 days in the high Andes without a stove – a good way of seeing how important water is.
My daily life became the cycle of water freezing, thawing with the sun.Two days there was no sun. I felt myself becoming
15. EUROPEAN VISION (UK) – The traditional triangular objective of outdoor education, stated as developing awarenes of, and
respect for, self – others and the environment. I always added a surrounding circle to indicate the wider world of nature,
simply because it gives us all our life, and therefore our experience … and makes me feel less ‘separate’.
16. COLIN MORTLOCK KAYAKING - good example of spiritual intuition (the ‘bottomless keel’) trapped in materialistic language
(dualistic lists of ‘virtues’ and ‘vices’). Overall the books show a clear progression in spiritual insight. (Oxford
contemporaries climbing, ‘gorge walking’ on different continents, now comparing notes. (Kendal 2009)
17. LAGUNILLAS - The Bothy – our outdoor education center, a very simple hut on a steep mountainside. You could feel the
good energy building up in it by human beings as the years passed by. First-time visitors often remarked, ‘What a friendly
18. ANDES PROGRAM – For 5 years a new experience design developed spontaneously every year – peace studies, leadership,
community service, personal exploration, and a symposium for educators. It was becoming clear the relevance of the outdoor
experience is universal.
19. The 15-day prototype ‘ANDES EXPERIMENT’ generated the mystique and momentum for what followed.- a 15-year program that
still continues to inspire young people18. ANDES PROGRAM – For 5 years a new experience design developed spontaneously
every year – peace studies, leadership, community service, personal exploration, and a symposium for educators. It was
becoming clear the relevance of the outdoor experience is universal.
20. GROUP IN TENSE DISCUSSION – Once in the UK I was asked, as the silent member of a team of four, to moderate a tense
evaluation of our residential experience. As I sat there, absorbing without comment, I saw how powerful silence is in
defusing calming. Where does that power come from? Not from me …
21. INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE, LAGUNILLAS 1989 – World Director Roger Peel attended the first program – only no program,
until the students made one. In the process, the silence of non-intervention by adults was crucial. A school director said,
I wouldn’t dare use silences that long in such important company..
22. STUDENT CIRCLE – Finishing a powerful 5-day inter-school experience by the ocean, the question was, What kind of final
reflection would do it justice? Answer – a ‘Quaker circle’ - silence receiving spontaneous contributions in a non-replying
space. All took part. The process affirmed the profundity of the learning.
23. THE PLOMO AND THE INCA ‘SEED CHILD’ – To accompany students to the place, nearly 18.000 ft up, where a 9-year-old child
lost consciousness – though not necessarily life? – 500 years ago, was to enter a new dimension of wondering. The 15-day
course was too demanding for many from sea level.
24. MARMOLEJO – The 6000 Forum (6,000m height of Marmolejo, 20,000ft) was a 15-day, 100-mile high mountain pilgrimage for
educators, a ‘forum on the move’ exploring the energy of these long-inhabited Andes mountains and our ways of relating to
them on 3 continents..
25. LAGUNA NEGRA - Don Pedro Andrade’s mountain wisdom taught the efficiency and safety of simplicity to people who inhabit
complicated worlds. We often discussed, ‘Which world is more real?’
26. BIVOUAC MORNING - Every course on the Andes program was a life-enhancing experience for everyone taking part. Here is
the view of one of them.
27. SKIS AND PIUQUENCILLO – The uncertainty that urban living tries so hard to avoid was one of our two major teachers. The
other was the earth. So the mountain experience challenged everything habitual.
28. HELEN KELLER STUDENTS – Another great teacher was the experience of caring for blind students, only to realise how much
they had to give, with their acuity and sense of fun.
29. The magic came more from intangible sources rather tangible, concrete, active ones. While the latter were present, and
necessary, they needed complementing by being opened towards more subtle perceptions of experience. In this, the role of
ongoing reflection was key.
The background photo recalls the incident of Rafael, a totally sightless boy who attended the very first course of all. On
reaching a summit after nearly 3 hours of walking, he turned his head in all directions and exclaimed, “How beautiful!”
30. CAÑI LAKE – In 1990 the spellbinding beauty of the Cañi gave rise to a long ‘brainstorming’ camp in the forest, and an
education and ecotourism venture in sustainability began for local people.
31. TV CAMERAMAN ON CAÑI SUMMIT – This completely spontaneous description of reaching gives a clear idea of spiritual
connection that goes far beyond the logic of the everyday, to touch directly the intuition of unity.
32. ASHOKA – Outdoor education energised a rural social innovation that was recognized by the international Ashoka
Association of Social Entrepreneurs in 1997.
33. KURRUF - Kurruf’s inspired leap over his team, shouting instructions on the ropes course achieved the ‘impossible’.
Then it dawned on me, he has real-life warriors among his archetypes.
34. MAPUCHE ELDER - Indigenous understanding is vastly more inclusive, more consciously attuned to the cosmos. Two
concrete everyday examples are ritual before meetings, requesting permission before entering the mountains.
35. PEWENCHE WORSHIP - The piñon (seed of the araucaria) has sustained Pewenche life, culture and spirituality for
centuries. When food prepared from piñones is served, more than food is being shared. When Pewenche youths participate in
ouitdoor courses, inevitably at times they become the educators – a challenge in humility for facilitators..
36. INDIGENOUS TRIANGLE: HUMANS – MOTHER EARTH – MOUNTAIN SUMMITS - the ‘separateness’ of the individual being is lost,
absorbed in a cosmic dialogue
37. HOUSE BUILDING, ARGENTINA – The doors of many indigenous homes face the rising sun, so integrating the building into
natural cycles, and providing an ambience of luminosity at dawn and evening.
38.ARAUCARIA SUNSET – In 1999 we went to Argentina, and started TocaTierra courses for educators – known as ‘environmental
education with magic’ courses.
39. BOOK COVERS – An Education Ministry invitation to write a teachers `manual in 1996 highlighted the need for reading
materials, leading to translating books and starting the Tocatierra website.
40. VOLCANO AT EVENING – Ways of touching earth – being present, here and now, at sunset time.
41. CIRCLE SITTING – By sitting in community comfortably connected with the earth
42. MEDITATING – Or alone, seeking a state of meditation connecting sky and earth
43. PERSON ALONE WITH LAKE – In such simplicity lies the untold wealth of wanting nothing. Everything is present, and the
moment has the enormity of sufficiency itself.
44. BAREFOOT WALKING – The act of barefoot walking, now almost unknown in modern urban living, provides connection with
valuable information about the earth and ourselves – as well as being a source of maintaining the health of both.
45. KAYAKING IN RAIN – Water is as essential a part of us – and our identity – as it is of earth’s. Connecting with it
affirms that identity with earth.
46. VOLCANO AT DUSK – Walking in the dark of night is another activity that urban living makes less available. So our sense
of separateness increases – as night on average forms half of every day.
47 – 52 -. COUNCIL OF ALL BEINGS – This is a group ritual process that affirms our identity with earth through role-playing
the reality of non-human beings, spirits and beings of nature. Students comment on the experience. For more details see
53. KAYAKS IN SEAWEED – The diversity of nature has a way of producing moments of intuitively understanding the vastness of
its complete interconnectedness.
54. GIRLS LAUGHING – A `powerful sense of spiritual connection in sheer, liberating fun - Indian teenagers having a
riotous, hilarious time with a human knot.
55. DEW ON LEAVES – Complete ‘presence’ in the here and now – what many masters call ‘mindfulness’, is a doorway to
spiritual progress that is becoming better understood in the West, thanks to writers like Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now,
A New Earth).
56. ‘OM’ SYMBOL – OM symbolizes the unity and infinity of the divine. Manifesting that divinity in action every day is what
many spiritual teachers say humans are here for. Nature provides us with invaluable pointers in this direction.
57. GROUP WITH LAMA – The unity and infinity of vital, or spiritual, energy – is what powers healing methods such as Reiki
(literally ‘universal energy’). One way of understanding it is as solar energy, which powers all life processes on earth
from water, atmosphere to photosynthesis. It’s accessible to all. Master healer Ngawang liked to say you don’t need to
search for it. To do so would be like a fish seraching for water – it’s all around.
58. LAMA IN GOMPA – Lama begins a Reiki program. With a little training in simple meditative practice, anyone can channel
universal energy and bring healing to another person. There is no ‘mumbo jumbo’ – it simply works.
59. NEWSFRONT ARTICLE – One thing that fascinated me was the possibility of ‘distance healing’. I asked whether it works
with more than one person at a time (ie, with a group). Answer – yes. This makes it a useful working tool in facilitating
positive experiences. Again, it works – there’s nothing very special about it.
60. LAMA AND GROUP OUTDOORS – Rather similar to Mapuche practice, a teaching begins by ‘receiving’ or assessing the energy
of a group, and ‘calibrating’ the teaching according to the level perceived. It’s quite common for students to comment on
feeling unusually calm when this is happening.
61. CALM WATER – A similar, more widely known, phenomenon, occurs in nature, as we resonate to the ambient frequencies of
places and moments.
62. ORB AT KATALAPI – Digital technology now makes some natural light phenomena clearly visible. (Some are caused by dust
or water droplets.) In this remarkable shot, a brilliant orb is ascends rapidly above the man. Orbs tend to form round
children, people meditating, and in places of strong spiritual energy.
63. ORB AT CUTRACO – Here the ‘texture’ of the orb is visible. The man is examining a humming-bird’s nest.
64. ORBS AT SAWMILL HUT – In this fireside discussion there were orbs all around, particularly near the man, a powerful
shamanic teacher from Canada.
65. ORB IN KATHMANDU – The gentleman on the right always seemed to have one following him around. It looks as if the lady
66. FIVE UNIVERSAL SPIRITUAL VALUES – It is noticeable how easily these values can be seen as ‘natural’, in the sense of
being manifested in Nature. Their antonyms also give food for thought.
67. SPIRITUAL ENERGY – CHARACTERISTICS – inclusive, positive, life-supporting – elevates awareness beyond the ego-mind –
adds (and explains) transcendence in everyday experience – connects the ‘individual’ with totality and unity – enables true
creativity to occur. It also becomes accessible by conscious breathing, and with practice, its benefits can be transmitted
to other people …all of which makes it an invaluable facilitation ‘tool’. Note that connection requires practice.
Well-established neural pathways are hard to modify. One must notice them, desire change and practice with insistence -
enough to complement dualistic thought patterns with more holistic ones.
68. SPIRITUAL ENERGY - SYMPTOMS – Synchronic ‘coincidences’ of varied nature – creativity, intuitive inner ‘knowings’ –
equanimity, and tendency to smile – ‘hearing’ other people’s thoughts – acting without knowing or remembering why –
propensity to manifest generosity and love
69. NON-LOCAL QUANTUM CONSCIOUSNESS – With so many variables of spiritual energy and its role in belief systems,
particularly religious, conceptual confusion is inevitable. However, modern quantum science is beginning to uncover solid
evidence of a unified and over-arching awareness – NON-LOCAL OR QUANTUM CONSCIOUSNESS.
70 – DR. AMIT GOSWAMI – See his extraordinary presentation film, ‘The Quantum Activist’
71. FINAL SLIDE – Thank you!