I’ve completed two Wednesdays of my six-week series at both LearningQUEST, an informal, membership-based continuing education program for “adults of all ages” here in Huntsville, Alabama. My topic is Nature’s Wisdom — Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. Approximately 40 members signed up for the series. Attendance has average 25-30.
Most, like me, are retired or semi-retired. All live in the Tennessee River region of north-central Alabama. All of us share a deep passion for Nature. Participants engage eagerly and actively in discussions. The hour flies past. I’m learning a great deal. I especially draw benefit from gauging reactions to my rather novel philosophy regarding our human relationship to Nature. And to my firm belief that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either indelibly written in, or is compellingly inspired by Nature.
At the 11th Annual Kansas Natural Resources Conference in early February, I relished and drew comfort from how natural resources professionals resonated with the message. This amazing group of northern Alabama natural resources lay people buoy my hope that this message has clarity and can be embraced by the general citizenry. I am eager to continue exploring the topic with them. Here are the early gatherers preparing for this past Wednesday’s discussion:
I meet with them at 9:30 AM; I hold forth with the second group at 12:30 PM the same day at THRIVE Assisted Living southeast of Huntsville. Nearly a generation older, the THRIVE residents embrace me as Dad to their beloved events and activities coordinator (daughter Katy), and as an invited and welcome speaker. I entered this venue with a high level of anxiety, unsure of what to expect from a disparate gathering that included some who reside in the THRIVE memory care unit. Could I hold their interest, stimulate their thinking, and inspire them with my tales and lessons from Nature?
The first week, I began with the same set of notes I followed that morning at LearningQUEST, but soon abandoned the structure and relative rigidity. The morning attendees allowed and encouraged me to choose the path and direct the conversation. At THRIVE, I quickly adopted an approach that sensed the flow and direction of their interest, and I then followed the current. We exchanged stories, embraced shared memories and values, and skipped among the avenues that wove among my core messages, yet did not stay captive to my intended outcome.
The second week, I came prepared with relevant readings from Robert Service’s Yukon adventures — entertaining, poignant, and germane to my Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading topic. One of the women, a noted orchid grower here in Huntsville, brought along an exquisite photograph of one of her award-winning specimens. Sadly, she left her orchid collection behind upon entering residential care, yet she expressed joy that she will soon have an orchid or two at THRIVE.
Katy tells me that each day after the Wednesday session, the residents inquire when I’ll return. If the weather permits, next week we will spend a little time on the patio, inhaling fresh air and talking about the forest that stands just 100 feet away. One resident in particular requested that we focus on Alabama Nature. She somehow is concerned that my bias is somewhere other than here in the South. I will bring along some readings and references that extol the beauty, magic, wonder, and awe of Alabama’s natural world.
I asked Katy the evening after this second session how it went. She replied that they loved it. I no longer feel trepidation about continuing the series. Like the slender willow, I chose to bow with the breeze, conforming to its demand, bending and yielding. Rigidity serves little purpose in living, learning, serving and leading. The tree that does not bend… breaks. Nature’s ways inform and inspire.
Back to LearningQUEST. I spoke with them about the first-day challenge I faced at THRIVE. They understood and now seem eager to learn more about my meetings there. All of us at LearningQUEST are within sight of the THRIVE residents’ stage of life. I quoted Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Nature never breaks her own laws.” My point was that all of us are aging; there is no Curious Case of Benjamin Button in Nature. We share a bit of anxiety about what comes next. The THRIVE interactions provide a kind of preview. Next week I will share my experience from THRIVE week two.
As we finished the second session, one questions addressed the extent to which fear (“I am afraid of the woods — the unknowns; getting lost; snakes; etc.”) plays a role in our ability to learn from Nature. Week three we will explore that idea. I responded without elaboration off the cuff, saying something like, “Unless we have been lost, how will we ever know and appreciate being found? If we have never been disoriented, how can we embrace the joy of knowing where we are?” I will introduce, with subsequent thought my concept of pleasurable terror, a theme I have employed as a vehicle for enhanced learning and inspiration in both my books.
I have also committed to probe with them the question of what is wild and where do we find it… how do we know it?
I am enjoying both lecture series, each one special and jointly complementary. I am learning. I am lifted. And I’m generating a lot of fuel for future writing and speaking.
May Nature Inspire all that you do!