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Potential in Experiential Education

ecological stewardship for generations

November 23, 2010 by Sarah Keenan

A vision for the Comprehensive Land Management Project is seeing our natural surroundings as a tool for experiential education. Sarah Keenan, a regional coordinator for Katimavik, has been bringing youth to Yasodhara Ashram over the last year to experience karma yoga and hands-on learning.

It’s been a year since I first came to the ashram. I participated in the Young Adult Program last October, staying for three weeks as a karma yogi and then attended a 7-Day Yoga Retreat. Since then, I have returned several times. I took part in a Life Seals workshop in May, which was an incredible opportunity to see myself even more clearly and to push forward in the process of creating change in my inner life.  Equally moving were the number of occasions I brought groups of youth I work with to visit the ashram.

I am currently working as the coordinator for Katimavik in the Kootenay region. Katimavik is a program that offers Canadian youth, 17-21 years old, the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development of communities across Canada by participating in volunteer work. The link between volunteer work and karma yoga is so tangible, and many of the youth I brought here carried the ideals of karma yoga home with them into their Katimavik work placement. Even a single day of sharing the spiritual practices of this community brought about change in their attitudes. So many of them came away with renewed motivation and commitment to their work.

An experiential educator for youth

It also opened them up to share their personal thoughts and feelings with other members of their group. In addition to volunteer work, Katimavik places value on group living; joining together, a dozen youth from all corners of the country live in one home. The hope is that they will learn and grow from the challenges and rewards of building a functioning community. This is another tangible example of a similarity I have noticed between the ashram’s practices and my work with Katimavik.

Currently on a break between projects, I have returned to the ashram. This time, I am here alone again, able to focus on myself as opposed to managing a group experience. In my first few days back, I kept asking myself why I’d come. I only had a week to be here, which my mind turned into an excuse not to dig very deep as my time was limited. I also put a lot on hold at home in order to come. For 48 hours, I asked myself over and over: What for? Why have I come here? I could offer myself no explanation other than I’d felt drawn to be here, to maintain my connection to this community.

Then, on my third day, our hatha class was focused on stillness. In child’s pose, I surrendered to being here for the week, despite being unable to define a clear intention for my practice. An hour later, I was given my karma yoga task for the morning — transcribing an interview about the ashram’s new venture to create a land ethic. This is an opportunity for the ashram community to think about protecting and preserving the lands and all the biodiversity the community is embedded within. Intertwined in this undertaking is talk of a move towards educational programming that will aim to teach people about the integration of spirituality and environmental stewardship.

Katimavik youth in the Kootenays

In addition to transcribing the interview, I was encouraged to write this article, to think about my own personal evolution over the last year, and to think about how I see my work with Katimavik potentially fitting into the new educational programming. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized what had happened. As soon as I let go of trying to define why I’d come and accepted that I wasn’t going to run away, Divine Mother opened up a door and showed me how she was at work in my life.

As an experiential educator for youth, it is exciting to hear about and envisage this new educational venture. Katimavik encourages youth to acquire an understanding of the ecological challenges in the area they are located while getting involved in initiatives that promote environmental stewardship. Having already seen what participating in a day of karma yoga does to enhance the Katimavik experience, I can only imagine how incredible it would be to extend that learning opportunity and bring a group of youth here to learn about environmental sustainability.

There is so much potential at the ashram for showing people how to live with minimal impact on the land and to educate them to embrace their responsibility for our planet. The setting, biodiversity, and food production/preservation make it an excellent teaching model. When you factor in the spiritual foundation that sustains all of that, it becomes an even more unique and powerful means of reaching people.

The land as a tool for inspiring, engaging and educating our future generations

For me personally, the greatest thing I take away from my work with Katimavik is hope. I am privileged to work with youth who show me that change is possible and that they are motivated to be a part of it. I think our best prospect for bringing about the much needed shift in the consciousness of the world is education, ideally experiential education. If people see that the natural world has value and intrinsic right by living within a community that honors that kind of healthy environment, then we can have hope they will take that forth into their lives.

I sit here now, finishing this article, surrounded by flower gardens and apple trees. Two wild turkeys are pecking at the grass on my right and butterflies are dancing around a squirrel perched on the rock to my left. I will be going home tomorrow morning, back to the life I temporarily put on hold to be here. Only now, there is no question in my mind as to why I came. I came because staying connected to Yasodhara Ashram is what feeds me spiritually, and because something much bigger than me has called me to this place.

1 Comment »

  1. Sarah:

    I was inspired reading your words and once again grateful to be able to live here at the Ashram. Seeing the Ashram through your eyes brings home to me the great value of the teachings here and the power of opening to a process that is present to all of us if we wait and listen.

    Hari Om
    Swami Jyotihananda

    Comment by Swami Jyotihananda — November 23, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

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