Recreation and Spirituality

Paul Heintzman’s paper, Nature Based Recreation and Spirituality details the very important yet complex relationship of recreation and spirituality, the importance of alone time with nature, and the positive externalities and effects of the wilderness in humans along with spiritual well-being that comes from recreating in the outdoors.

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Recreation and the Outdoors

Heintzman details spirituality as “a way of being and experiencing that comes about through awareness of a transcendent dimension and that is characterized by certain identifiable values in regard to the self, others, nature, life, and whatever one considers to be Ultimate” (Elkins et al., 1988, p. 10). He uses quantitative data to indicate how those interested wilderness and park visitors also hold the spiritual dimension of their visit as equally important. In terms of Lake Champlain, Paul’s data would suggest that runners, bikers, kayakers and hikers recreate in order to stay in shape and also to enjoy the outdoors and the spiritual connection that is felt while in nature.

Importance of alone time with nature

“Experiencing structured and unstructured time alone during residential camp experiences positively influence youth spirituality by providing opportunities for reflection. The solo wilderness experiences offers peace, tranquility, silence, absence of disturbances by others and time required for reflection and being alone with one’s thoughts that rarely occurred in everyday life. In a study on hiking alone, the solitude inherent in solo hiking allowed some participants to get close to nature, relax, experience peace and calm, and thereby, become spiritually revitalized. A balance of solitude and group experiences goes together. For example, Heintzman (2007a) found that the variety of social settings on a wilderness trip along with times to be alone in solitude were viewed as important to spiritual well-being.”

Positive externalities and effects of wilderness in humans

“In addition, the women experienced feelings associated with spirituality such as connectedness, heightened senses, inner calm, joy, inner peace, inner happiness, and elatedness. Positive feelings were a theme identified by Sweatman and Heintzman (2004) in their study of youth camp experience and spirituality. Positive feelings experienced at camp about oneself and about camp, such as happiness, love and peace, enhanced participant’s emotional well-being, which was closely related to their spirituality. Peacefulness, including peace with oneself and the world, was the theme that described the immediate impact of participation in a men’s wilderness canoe retreat.(82)”(Paul Heitzman)

Outside of wilderness, recreation

“Some studies suggest that these spiritual experiences influence daily life activies. Fox (1999) stating that the participants in her study returned home with feelings of “elation, inner happiness, inner strength, inner peace, clarity, pride in self, and an enhanced connection to spirituality, nature and self ” (p. 459). Nevertheless, Stringer and McAvoy concluded that experiences appeared to have some impact on participants’ lives because most participants were able to describe their experiences approximately one month later.”(Paul Heitzman)

Spiritual Well-being

“Internal aspects of spiritual well-being include: (a) sense of life purpose and ultimate meaning; (b) oneness with nature and beauty and a sense of connectedness with others; (c) deep concern for a commitment to something greater than self; (d) a sense of wholeness in life; (e) strong spiritual beliefs, principles, ethics and values; and (f) love, joy, peace, hope, and fulfillment. External characteristics include interactions with others characterized by trust, honesty, integrity, altruism, compassion, and service as well as regular communion or a personal relationship with a higher power or larger reality that transcends observable physical reality.(83) provided the opportunity to leave the stresses of everyday life to have an experience of spiritual rejuvenation in the wilderness environment.”(Paul Heitzman)


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