Thursday, June 02, 2005
Over four years now since my time at Castle Rock, I still must marvel at the impact that the program and people there made on me and continue to make on me in many ways. Although far from the forests and waterfalls of western North Carolina these days, I can't help but recall how much my current values and ways of thinking reflect the experiences from that 'semester in the woods.'
During those months in the mountains, I came to cultivate a kind of contemplative and centered lifestyle unlike anytime anywhere else either before or even since. Nearly every morning, I could wake up and walk immediately outside into the wilderness where I would often scramble to a nearby waterfall and then just sit quietly to savor the raw beauty of dawn. Let not the effusive nostalgia deceive, however. My memories of Castle Rock were not all quiet and calm. In fact, if I had to characterize the experience more succinctly, I'd say it was invigorating, intense, and intimate.
Invigorating because here was a way of life and learning that I'd desperately been seeking and needing for too, too long. Finally, for the first time, I had the chance to dive into an environment in which I could contribute in a very real, felt way because of the communal orientation of the program and the ability to engage almost continuously with professors--who really in effect soon became mentors. Plus, and very dear to my heart, I could spend as much time outdoors as I desired--reading, writing, romping, resting, and coolest of all, having class discussions outside, often literally a mountaintop experience!
Intense because here was a program with professors who could always work with me, whether on the mountain-biking trail or over the dinner table. Thus, they could all the better gauge my capabilities, captivate my curiosity, and personally challenge me in ways virtually impossible in a conventional college setting. Moreover, since the academic approach was uniquely interdisciplinary, every course and every discussion were intended to interrelate and encourage one to more thoroughly engage the layered complexity/connectivity of the topics and readings. As cerebral as that might sound, it made so much more sense to harness the 'cross-pollinating potential,' if you will, of different subjects rather than keep pretending they were all fundamentally distinct or irrelevant to the others.
And intimate. Of course, I had all sorts of opportunities for solitude, studying, and such, but ultimately I came to learn that the most meaningful moments spent at Castle Rock were the goofin' off and heart-to-hearts with my newfound friends (including professors, of course!). In many ways, the hallmark of Castle Rock isn't so much the outdoor appeal or the interdisciplinary approach as it is the close-knit community formed from living and exploring together in the wild. Above all, I learned that the meaningfulness is what is made of it, collectively, cooperatively, and creatively.
I didn't leave Castle Rock with some romantic, rueful reminiscing of an experience unlike any other (though it was). Rather, I look back on the program as a pivotal opportunity to re-collect what's meaningful to oneself and playfully re-create more meaningful moments through the precious bonds with others.