After each experience at F&W we spend time reflecting on our mission and asking how successfully we have been at its implementation. As I invite you back for another summer with us in 2013, I wanted to share with you a bit of my reflections on the SAM Camp community and how we are doing with the part of our mission involving “Life of the Spirit”.
In past reports I’ve done my best to describe the ways in which different aspects of SAM help campers to grow and develop. Skits, Asanas, nature connection and trips all are very much a part of what SAM camp provides and would be the likely answer if someone asked a camper “What happens at SAM?” Though they’d be correct in their answer, they likely would feel like this was not a complete description of what REALLY happens. In this report, I’d like to write more about ‘Life of the Spirit’, or LOS, and how we create an environment where this can grow. Put simply, LOS at SAM Camp is about campers feeling safe enough to love. I have heard alumni throughout the years say “oh, that place changed my life” or parents comment “it’s unexplainable how much my kids love that place” and I doubt strongly that it’s simply because of great times they had playing an all-camp game, a skill they walked away with, or even an awesome sunrise from a New England peak. The greatest impact on their lives is woven through all they do and experience through the LOS at camp.
Campers and parents often refer back to life at SAM Camp when they are in a pinch and unsure how to handle a challenge; they ask their child, “How you would do it at SAM Camp?” It might seem crazy that they would refer back to a place known for silly songs and dressing in costumes, for advice. I can tell you it’s not the sound of counselors shouting the rules, or clichéd posters on our walls. Instead, it is because of the safe space fellow SAM campers and staff create for being our best selves.
Since there are too many scenarios in a summer to teach about during trainings, we largely try to teach a single adage; if you are coming from a place of love you are likely making the right choice. Staff feeling unsafe, afraid, disrespected or the many forms of tired at least have one fall back plan. Similarly this value trickles down from staff to campers. Operating from a place of love is not only hard to keep in mind, but also is super scary. Vulnerability and fearlessly loving ourselves and those around us are not easy things to practice. Recently, a popular TED Talk featuring Brene Brown, affirmed my belief that those capable of love and feeling loved must first feel they deserve it. I know that personally at 12 years old, more things about me felt wrong than deserving, so it is wonderful to be a part of a place that works so hard to impress how deserving our campers and staff are.
I will humbly say there are times when decisions don’t come from this loving sentiment, and are rooted in competition or fear. In a large part, the community of SAM camp forcefully challenges people’s self-deprecation and fear of others exploiting their faults. From the time each camper arrives, they are embraced and genuinely encouraged to be themselves. Campers are quickly swept up in a playful energy that says, “who you are is great with us”.
In the cabin and on the trail, campers find that what they say and do is valued and appreciated. Early on in the session the campers are given opportunity to own their struggles and imperfections through an Identity Night exercise. When campers take this opportunity to share with the group or at some point in the session, I hear again and again that letting peers know their fears, faults, self-judgments and having them accepted is singly the most meaningful experience of trust-building throughout the summer. Campers may wake up the next day unsure if peers are going to use what they shared against them or talk behind their back, and instead find hugs, love and acceptance because the community knows more about who they really are. This provides a great first step or simply a solid reinforcement toward campers feeling like they deserve to be loved. Campers made this clear in 2012 as they repeatedly encouraged to each other to be “unapologetically themselves”
Many talk of spirituality as being able to connect to, trust in, operate from and feel love throughout. My experience would lead me to say that once we’ve operated from this place of love, we find it inspires so much happiness that we look for ways to continue it in all areas of our life. This is often the hardest part for campers; leaving camp and carrying it with them. It is a seed planted however and we access it many times throughout the rest of our year and lives. Life of the Spirit is strong at SAM and incredible to be a part of. SAMmers go on to receive love from and give love to many things in their lives, and all remember their summers of being immersed in it at SAM Camp.