A Journey into Passionate Curiosity

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

The best journeys answer the questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask. When I set out on an 11 day “walk in curiosity” with a merry band of 13 travellers across the ancient lands of Dartmoor, what intrigued me most was how a like minded community could come together to open up to life in new ways and find a greater appreciation for nature's gifts? Yet soon very different questions began to arise.

The adventure started in a car park in Ivybridge, South Devon, fresh eyed and fresh faced. It did not take long to wave  a last goodbye to tarmac and step into the wide open expanses of the moor, entering a timeless world of white heather, wild ponies, yellow gorse and skylark song.

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We carried all that we needed to cook, eat, sleep and learn. There were no campsites, no showers, no itineraries, no destination. We would eat when we were hungry, wash in streams when dirty and sleep where we found sheltered spots. The mission was to explore new ways of connecting with the land, with ourselves and with each other through immersion in the simplicity of nature and living in community.

Using the walk as our structure, we created a nomadic classroom. Each person was invited to bring their own curiosity and interests. Many of these we explored while walking – such as foraging, bird language and cultural identity – drawing on personal experience and a mobile library. This was combined with two formal study sessions each day, exploring themes such as authentic listening, dance, song, storytelling, dreaming, bushcraft and mindfulness.   

What I thought was a journey, I soon found to be a revolution in learning. It broke down all my boxed-in concepts of education dictated by institutions, hierarchies and professors. We are all teachers and we are all students. It was a diverse group of different ages and backgrounds,  yet each person shared hugely enriching skills, experience and talents. 

This was not about box ticking and achievement. It was about making a contribution, stepping out of your comfort zone and experimenting in a safe, trusting, non-judgemental space. Finding our own truths were valued over finding universal ones. We were striving for presence rather than perfection. 

The result was empowering. It was up to us to make the most out of our explorations. We all shared accountability to co-create our school and our syllabus. We mentored each other, supporting individual and group lines of enquiry. 

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The wilderness was our classroom. We were sleeping wild in ancient oak woodlands, wandering through river valleys carpeted in bluebells, climbing granite tors and making fires in ancient bronze age settlements. Being held by nature helped me to listen in deeper ways – to natural rhythms, to my feet, to the emotional needs of others, to the dawn chorus, and to both the human and the non-human world.

The journey finished boarding a train at Exeter with a sense of exhaustion, achievement and a dodgy stomach. Yet the greatest spark was perhaps one of passionate curiosity - a line of questioning I did not know how to ask beforehand. 

I had not appreciated how much curiosity was a practice, something that can be developed and grown. It was a delight to explore a natural mystery for days on end, such as a particular bird's song, the growth patterns of ivy around trees or the topography of the moors, and be content to ask more and more questions rather than being satisfied with the first answer. I started looking with new eyes and tried to bring the humble quality of a beginners mind to all the explorations. 

I feel like I have attended a retreat, wilderness school and Schumacher college in one fell swoop. And all this for our meagre living expenses of less than £5 each a day, much of which went on grains, veg and nuts! It just shows what can be co-created by thirteen special souls and will inspire me, and maybe others too, to experiment with different intentional learning spaces, such as an evening in the woods or weekend in the wilds.     

Socrates said that “education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”. Overloaded with information, our vessels our sinking to the seabed. The fire of passionate curiosity brought alive by a like minded community can truly light up the voyage of discovery.

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Andy Raingold