Everyday, somewhere out there, an Outward Bound course is happening. And for ten precious days, mine was too.
The cook-of-the-day fills each person’s bowl, and soon a fresh vegetable stir fry steams from our cupped bowls-in-hands. We stare towards the central pot as if it were campfire flames dancing in our eyes. From the cockpit, beam, and bow of this 30-foot sailboat, we dream our dreams by the flicker of stars and blazes of wind.
Despite the small discomforts – maybe even because of them – I’m happier than I’ve been in months. The morning swims are chilly, but I love the sensation of my bare feet on Sally Drew’s oak-grained decking. Puzzle pieces of myself that have gone missing over the years return. Expansive skies blot out the noise of the world, as well as the vices I don’t remember to miss. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t benefit from a good ol’ nature-soaked reset. New inspirations. Now, more than ever. On this Outward Bound course, I sleep deeper, I laugh harder, I want to learn and play and be freely messy again. Most importantly, I get to just BE.
Outward Bound courses are hard to explain. Which can make my job as a fundraiser – fulfilling scholarship funds for two out of every three students – quite challenging. Imagine a campaign that reads: “Every human deserves the right to access this thing – that will probably change your life somehow – regardless of financial capacity! Give big today!” Hundreds of quotes, stories, photos, and data analyses later, and I’m staring at my work-from-home ceiling in even more bewilderment. Thankfully, Outward Bound offers its employees a change of scenery, a chance to be a student on a course. A first-hand experience must help one eloquently define it for all of our funders, prospective families, community supporters, and partners – right?
Outward Bound has had a reputation for being… not exactly what it is. It is an incredibly well-recognized organization, but accompanied by rather inaccurate rumors of who we serve and why. All too often, the terms “troubled” or “intervention” arise. Are YOU sometimes troubled by the state of the world? Would YOU like the dazzling milky way to intervene between you and your work weeks, the news and social media traps on our phones, the stagnation and desensitization that all humans are susceptible to? Outward Bound courses are especially for us adults who think we’re “doing fine” and that everything is “good enough,” and there’s always “too much to do.”
Something I did not foresee about my course was how quickly and deeply our crew’s relationships would flourish. Every night, someone read aloud from “The Old Man and the Sea,” as the rest of us drifted to sleep. Under full sails, we shared about our lives as if they were messages in a bottle – combinations of our past, present, future, and collective selves. We were rooted to our morning swims, navigation briefings, cooking in the cockpit (even making lunch under way in high seas), and anchoring as if they were the only routines that have ever existed to humankind. Now, I miss these shipmates as deeply as my landlocked, water-loving self misses the ocean. You could’ve put us all together on the moon or in a coffee shop line, and we’d have never known (although I like to think that we would have). And anyone else could have been on that small boat with me, doling out coffee and cream as the sun lit up the mangrove islands. Now I walk through the world wondering about all the other people out there, the things that make them feel alive. I see them with more compassion, more patience, more joy.
Perhaps to my colleagues, my answer will be disappointing. My course experience widened my scope of Outward Bound – why it’s needed and what it accomplishes – rather than paring it down into our next quippy email subject, grant proposal, or fundraising event’s tagline. But the important part is that new students keep taking those first steps into the field, and staying open to whatever follows. The important part is that something changes for each of us out there, and we’ll spend days, weeks, years of our lives defining and redefining it. What I can say with certainty about Outward Bound is: for any person, any course, at any time, the experience will be wholly unique to each individual, in ways that only they know and feel, and attempt to describe.
What I experienced at Outward Bound was how I see things differently when the accumulated rigors of reality pause for a moment. There we were together on Sailboat Earth, finding reasons to dance in the cockpit, tell a story, and smile towards the horizon. Right now, somewhere, there’s an Outward Bound course happening. And once you go on one, it never really ends. And then what happens to you and me, our environment, our interconnected world? It becomes indisputably, irrevocably better.
Ditch the tablet. Unplug the phone. Tap into the power of the natural world. You might be surprised at what you’ll find in the silence between footsteps underneath a dark, star speckled, night sky.
Adult wilderness expeditions recapture the art of being a beginner and immerse you in places without Wi-Fi. Come re-discover your strength and energy with us! We have a Joshua Tree course (an absolute favorite location) in March that we’d love you to join.