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One of the things that makes NWL canoe trips unique is time spent as a group, listening to one another, and sharing our thoughts and stories. Affectionately known by our participants as ‘circles’, these intentional gatherings – often under the stars, in an old growth forest or along a rivers edge – are considered ‘highlights’ of the experience by participants and guides alike.
Unlike those wonderful, spontaneous, and animated conversations around a campfire that inevitably erupt when groups have a common purpose and shared experiences, ‘circles’ are intentionally designed and skillfully facilitated by our trip leaders.
Of course, we gather intentionally at other times to teach, make decisions together, check in with each other, and resolve conflict (often in the format of a ‘community meeting’) but ‘circles’ allow us to understand each other better, deepen the experience and ultimately work more effectively as a group.
Decades before Brené Brown brought teachings of authenticity, connection and courage to mainstream consciousness in her book The Gift of Vulnerability, we had identified the power of sharing our stories, speaking from the heart, and owning our truth as tools to build trust, community and inspire personal growth on trail. We learned that the more authentic we are in our connections with others, the more depth and compassion there is in our relationships with others and ultimately, with ourselves.
A canoe trip naturally has all the elements to challenge and empower individuals on many levels. It requires skill, hard work, resilience, adaptation, and a heightened awareness of the world around you. Whenever we answer ‘the call to adventure’ and embark on an expedition like this with a new group of people, we become vulnerable (both physically and emotionally). Tapping into that vulnerability and unpacking it can transform it into courage, strength, and connection.
As we began to cultivate this concept and bring it to the forefront of an NWL experience, we realized that young people are primed and ready to explore their authentic selves and have a great capacity to take emotional risks and be vulnerable—particularly in an environment outside the ‘familiar’ bubble of home. There is this magic that happens when we are separated from the ‘known’, immersed in the natural world, and surrounded by peers and mentors on a similar ‘unknown’ path.
Whether we are working with sections of tweens crossing the bridge to adolescence or teens on the cusp of becoming adults, we skillfully facilitate age appropriate ‘circles’ to deepen our experiences together. These opportunities to be seen by one another, cultivate compassion and trust, and to feel unconditional membership in a community are a fundamental part of the NWL experience. This is the gift vulnerability gives when we answer ‘the call to adventure’ as participants, and when we lead with mindful intention as mentors. It is the gift of finding heart and meaning in the adventure.