Meaningful Action

Small child kayaking campoutdoor yoga camp girlsIt’s a comment we hear a lot around here… from perceptive visitors taking a tour while camp is in session, from counselors marveling at simple moments of their day, and certainly from campers as they reflect on how camp feels to them. “Everyone seems so happy,” or “These are some happy girls,” or “Rockbrook makes me happy!” I think I’ve seen it on a t-shirt too; “Camp is my Happy Place.” And it really is true. There’s something special about life at camp that makes everyone here remarkably happy, especially when compared with the outside world. If you have been scanning our daily photo galleries then you have a sense of it. Camp life has a general feeling of well-being, joyful engagement, and belonging.

But here’s the thing— this feeling isn’t dependent on the activities we’re enjoying. It’s not like we’re happy only when kayaking, weaving, riding a horse, hiking through the woods, or playing tetherball. Sure, we are happy when we are doing exciting things like riding through the trees on a zipline, and we are happy when we savor the day’s surprise muffin flavor, but the happiness of camp extends to other times that might, from a different perspective, be described as “work,” or even as “boring.” Camp girls are happy at times “just hanging out,” sweeping their cabin, taking their turn wiping their dining hall table, or simply walking down the line after hearing the bell for lunch.

In other words, the happiness we experience at camp is not the same as the fun. …or even pleasure or satisfaction. Obviously, camp is great fun, regularly punctuated by pleasure, and satisfying in lots of ways. These are the moments we write home about— getting a bullseye in archery, throwing a pot on the wheel, going back for thirds of Rick’s homemade guacamole and chicken flautas. Everyday there are activities and special events designed to be fun and carefully planned to be satisfying and enjoyable (a trip to sliding rock, a drumming workshop, a wet and wild creek hike, or simply singing together during morning assembly, for example). These moments are entertaining and great, and they certainly contribute to the happiness of camp, but they do not alone make camp a happy place. There must be something more going on. If not the fun, what is it about camp life that encourages such happiness?

Girl Shooter with TargetSilly Rafting Camp GirlsAn idea from Aristotle might be helpful, namely that happiness stems from “meaningful action.” The notion is that happiness is not a momentary, fleeting fulfillment of desires (like escape from boredom, for example), but is instead a way of being where one’s actions are meaningful.  What makes our actions “meaningful” becomes the question, but perhaps the secret to camp happiness it that it somehow lends meaning to our actions. What we do at camp means something to us as individuals.

OK, but when camp girls make a friendship bracelet, shoot riflery, or go whitewater rafting, how does it mean something to them? What’s special about camp that makes ordinary actions more “meaningful?” I’m not sure, but as one counselor who I was discussing this with put it, “It’s all about community.” She said what we do at camp means something because we do so much together, and we care for each other.

I love that idea because it suggests the importance of relationships, of beginning with kindness toward each other and fostering an environment where everyone is trusted, respected and loved. Do that, and we create a special place where we’re happy. In this way, I imagine all of our community values— care, cooperation, compassion, generosity —likewise contribute to our happiness by making whatever we’re doing more meaningful. So, being helpful in the dining hall, for example, is meaningful and makes us happy because it deepens our relationship with the other girls in our cabin. Sensing real encouragement and support from the people around you makes whatever you’re doing more meaningful.

There are probably other answers to this question about how camp life includes inherently meaningful action, and how it fosters such happiness, but I think our sense of community here is a powerful force linking the two. If so, we might use the idea prescriptively in the outside world and suggest that instead of adding more toys or more “fun” experiences, we can become happier by joining and supporting a camp-like community where our actions are meaningful.  It’s one of the lessons of camp: build positive relationships with the people around you, make your actions meaningful through those relationships, and you’re bound to be happier. Now that’s something to take home!

Camp Rafting Girls

Letting Go

“Letting go” is a phrase that seems particularly apt when you consider life at camp, even more so at an overnight camp like Rockbrook. In so many ways, the campers let go of the familiar while they’re here. Think about it. They find themselves sleeping in rustic, 90-year-old wooden cabins with eight or so other people. When they look up in their bed, they more than likely can spot a spider or two. Instead of the whir of an air-conditioning system as they fall asleep, the sounds of crickets and other nocturnal forest creatures linger in the background. Even what they eat— homemade hummus, grilled barbecue tempeh, corn tamales, and strawberry white chocolate muffins, for example —is foreign to many of the girls. All of their familiar screens— TVs, computers, smart phones, and tablets —gone! And of course, most of the activities at camp offer new experiences, from shooting a real gun, climbing a real rock, and using a vintage floor loom, to diving into the freezing cold water of our lake. With so many new things, it’s impossible to cling to what you already know.

Girls Aiming Archery bow and arrowThere’s more. Camp girls, simply by virtue of being away from home, also let go of their parents in certain ways. Free from the prescriptions, intervention, and inspections of mom and dad, this means making all kinds of decisions on their own. It might mean deciding to adjust certain habits of personal hygiene (brushing hair or taking a shower less often for example) because more important (i.e., more fun) things are happening like a ga-ga ball game before lunch or great conversation before bed. Being at Rockbrook, girls don’t depend on their parents to fill their free time, to dictate what always comes next, or to solve every problem. Of course, there are excellent counselors here, wonderful people to guide this freedom, but camp gives girls the opportunity to experiment with things and gain more confidence after seeing how their decisions turn out… good and bad.

Camp Yoga KidsAsking the campers themselves about how they feel at camp, I’ve heard the older girls say camp is their “happy place” where they can let go of their worries.  Different from the competitive atmosphere of school and the insecurities it can breed, the Rockbrook community is defined by compassion, kindness and generosity. Camp is a place of encouragement where, instead of being left out, ignored, or put down in some way, girls feel supported, respected, and affirmed. In this kind of community, girls don’t worry about how they look, whether or not they’re “good” at a particular activity, or if they’re “cool” enough to be included. All those worries fade away at camp when the point of things has nothing to do with evaluation and everything to do with simply having fun.

Letting go of worries like this also empowers a girl to let go of her polished persona, that “face” she believes others want her to be. Joining a camp community like Rockbrook, knowing she’s truly a part of it, trusting the people around her and caring for them in the way they care about her, inspires her true personality, spirit and character to shine through. It can be a remarkable transformation for a person. By being so supportive, camp opens up a space for a girls’ authentic self to emerge and grow.

So after letting go of all these things at Rockbrook, what’s left? Simple stuff: Authenticity, Nature, Friendship, Joy, Creativity, and Community… a life that feels really good. That is camp.

Zip Line Camp Kids

Smiling Faces

Smiling Camp FriendsSmiling Teen CamperAnother remarkable thing about life at camp, something that distinguishes it from ordinary events at home and school, is that when you walk around and see camp girls interacting with each other and their counselors, you are very likely to see someone smiling. It often includes laughing too, but incredibly, there are smiles while doing crafts, grins jumping to avoid the gaga ball, smiles at the lake, atop a horse, while on belay climbing, even while just walking down the cabin line on the way to lunch. Our online photo gallery provides a glimpse of this, and while it’s not everyone at every minute, it’s almost unsettling how regularly you encounter a smiling face during your day at Rockbrook. Recently a mother and her daughter touring camp noticed it as well. The daughter said, “Everyone here is so nice and friendly,” referring to the smiling greetings she got throughout the tour.

The best way to understand this phenomenon, of course, is to attribute the smiles to how the girls are feeling at camp, to how relaxed and happy they are here. All of the fun things we do at camp contribute to this happiness, as does the fantastic food, and beautiful, wooded mountain setting, but I suspect this feeling of camp life is more essentially derived from our spirited community than from what have or what we do. Put differently, it’s our relationships with the caring group of people around us, based upon respect for one another, that inspires this deep feeling of comfort and happiness. It’s the people who make smiling the language of Rockbrook. Knowing you belong to this community of kind, “sweet” people, “nice and friendly” folks, is a powerful force. Feeling it, you can’t help but smile. I’d say we’re all fortunate to feel it, and smile, everyday at camp.

Teen Girl kayaking celebrationToday was a big day for adventure trips, with rock climbing, canoeing, zip lining, day hiking and kayaking all pulling campers out of their regularly scheduled activities. We announce these trips during meals, sometimes at dinner to sign up a trip leaving early the next morning, and sometimes at breakfast for shorter trips, like to our zip line course for example. The kayakers were particularly excited about their trip because it was an all day paddle down the lower section of the Green River, near Saluda, NC. This section of the Green is perfect for beginners because its class I and II rapids offer plenty of opportunities to practice ferrying and catching eddies while not being too difficult. Instructors Jamie, Marjorie Ann, Leland and Andria led 9 campers down the river.  A highlight of the day was stopping to play at the “Surf Rapid,” a spot where a standing wave is formed in the river allowing boaters to scoot in, pointing up stream, and be held in place. Surfing in the mountains of North Carolina! Now after tackling the Green, these girls are excited to paddle more challenging rivers. Stay tuned, because next week, we’ve got plans!

Kayaking surfing whitewater wave

Tenisha’s Spirit Fire Speech

During the Spirit Fire that closed our recent Second Session, Tenisha was one of the first-year counselors who spoke about her experience on the staff at camp. She described her feelings as someone new to Rockbrook, and how the character of our camp community has affected her. We thought it was wonderful, and wanted to share it.

Nisha Morrison

“Sitting at home and thinking about what I would do this summer, I knew I wanted to do something different, something new and extraordinary. I wanted something where I would make memories that I could reminisce about later, something that would teach me lifelong lessons, something that would teach me how to be a better person, but most of all I wanted something that had a positive environment where I could be happy.

After watching the camp videos over and over on the website, I knew I would find all those things at RBC. Seeing all the smiles and laughter, all the costumes and events cemented my decision to apply. When I spoke to Sophie on the phone I knew I made the right choice. Listening to her enthusiasm about camp, my first thought was she’s not real. There’s no way someone could be that excited about anything, but my second thought was that I have to see what sparked so much happiness and excitement.

From the moment I entered camp I was greeted with genuine welcome from the Directors and counselors I had never met before. Within the first week I had friends and by the third I knew I had found life long friendships. I remember one day I was walking down senior line being greeted by smiling faces and it wasn’t until I reached the end that I realized my cheeks were aching from smiling so much. I was genuinely happy. I realized that even though I reached the end of the senior line, I didn’t want to reach the end of my time at Rockbrook.

Rockbrook: where girls learn to grow. When I came here, I had no idea I would be one of those girls. With the help of the the Directors, my co-counselors, and other counselors who came to be close friends, I found that I grew into a Rockbrook girl who stops every chance she gets to take in nature and appreciate her, who laughs and smiles everyday because she’s surrounded by kindhearted people who care, who wakes up with a spider by her head and doesn’t panic but catches it and releases it outside, a girl who became a sponge wanting to soak up every song, every fact about the camp activities and traditions.

And most of all, thanks to Rockbrook, I became a girl who found her very own spirit fire that she had no idea she carried. It burns brighter than ever now. So thank you Rockbrook!”

Thank you, Nisha!

Celebrating the Small (And Wonderful)

Dolly (Dolly Mama) Herron
Camp Mom

Bear Hug?The dictionary defines the word “celebrate” in this way: “To observe (a day or event) with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing.” In life we celebrate birthdays, holidays, weddings, the freedom of our country…the list goes on and on. These celebrations typically hold a special place in our hearts, and on our calendars.

It is no different here at camp. There may be no better place on earth to mark the transition to being one year older. The entire camp celebrates your birth with the fervor and enthusiasm for which Rockbrook girls are known. There are banners, cakes, and singing. You are queen for the day. On the Fourth of July, campers wake up to horses galloping up the line and riders shouting, “The British are coming!” Red, white, and blue are the colors of the day, and that is abundantly clear in the creative attire of the entire camp. When the sun goes down, the music comes on and fireworks rain down on the mountain. Girls of all ages dance and weave intricate designs in the air with neon glow-sticks. It is hard to tell what is more beautiful: the fireworks, or the pure and utter joy of the dancing.

Inchworm InvestigationThe momentous occasions that are celebrated in life are certainly celebrated here, but what makes our time at camp extraordinary is the celebration of the ordinary. Away from the often harried and hurried demands of school and “real life,” we are able to slow down and live in the moment. We begin to notice the little things that make life interesting and beautiful. And we stop. And we celebrate them.

Maybe it is an inchworm that made it safely down the thin thread that it spun, from the top of the tree to the green grass below. Some days it is the muffin break and sinking our teeth into the newest, most delicious flavor yet. The constant sound of water rushing down the mountain is reason to be grateful, especially when it sings a lullaby at bedtime. The slant of light in the early evening blankets the camp in gold. And we celebrate.

An America FanCelebrating FriendshipOne day was spontaneously proclaimed “flower day.” As each hour ticked by, more and more people adorned themselves with flowers. We were head-to-toe bouquets of color. Why? To celebrate flowers.

One camper decided that chocolate chip cookies deserved a place in the limelight. She came to breakfast in her cookie costume, and she wore it proudly.

At dinner one evening, it become apparent that banana pudding would be served for dessert. People started singing, chanting, and pontificating the glories of banana pudding.

Countless times a day, one friend will see another, throw her arms around that friend, and love her out loud. It’s not because they haven’t seen each other for a long time. It isn’t because the friend did something extraordinary. It is simply friendship, and that is worth celebrating.

The funny thing about gratitude is that it multiplies exponentially when you acknowledge it. The more you honor the many gifts that are offered up to you daily, the more you have to honor.

Twilight Over the Mountains

Thorough Happiness

Today we closed the First Session of the summer, and from all accounts— from campers, their parents, and staff members alike —it was an amazing few weeks. We heard rave reviews, and received so many complements about how well camp turned out, both exciting the returning campers and pleasing the new campers and their families. The flip-side of this success, however, is that many of the campers were a little teary when their parents arrived to take them home. It’s just hard to say goodbye to these great people, to the freedom of this place, to the life we enjoy at camp. Even as we know Rockbrook will always welcome everyone back, ending a camp session is tough… For all of us.

Girl holding an inch wormThe emotion of this day reminded me again about how deeply meaningful camp is for everyone here. Far beyond the fun, in ways so much more important than the entertainment, camp matters. During the session, parents see in the photo gallery the zany activity of life at Rockbrook, all the songs, activities, and dressing up that goes on, for example, and they can tell their girls are having the time of their lives being kids in this magical place. But it’s on closing day, when they see evidence of the love and support their girls receive in our close community, when they see the tear-filled eyes and the lengthy goodbye hugs, that they understand a little bit how this time at Rockbrook means so much. It’s enough to tug on the emotions of parents and staff members as well, and the next thing you know, we’re all crying while saying goodbye. In these tears, there’s such thorough happiness!

So thank you for sharing your children with us. They truly helped make this session wonderful.

P.S. I’ve been meaning to share an article by Todd Kestin published last August in the Huffington Post entitled, “What’s Needed to Prepare Your Child for the Future? The Answer May Surprise You…”  Here’s the link. You’d be correct to guess the answer is “camp.” He writes, “I believe if kids spent their summers in camp, they’d be better prepared for later decisions like […] how to make the best life for who they are.”  It’s a short tribute to the power of camp to transform children and make a real difference in their lives (gaining confidence and independence, taking responsibility for decisions, and learning to value meaningful relationships). Go check it out. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

10 Traits of Beautiful People

Beautiful people have a way of moving about the world- there is just something about them. We all stop and take notice. Beauty transcends hair, clothes, or posture. In fact, it has entirely nothing to do with physical appearance. When we meet a truly beautiful person, we recognize them right away and they inspire us to become the best version of ourselves.

Read on as we put our finger on exactly what makes a beautiful person beautiful.

1. They Are A Bright Spot.
Beautiful people leave you feeling refreshed. A beautiful person understands how to energize, support, encourage, and love the people around them. You can count on a beautiful person to laugh at your jokes, answer your calls, ask engaging questions, notice your haircut, and provide inspiring advice.

Beauty Tips2. They Listen.
Often times, we listen to others as a stepping stone on which to place our own story or experience. As others speak, we cognitively calculate our next words. A beautiful person truly listens for the sake of understanding. A beautiful person approaches conversations as an opportunity to strengthen her connections and relationships. She turns off her own mental chatter and wraps herself up in the moment.

3. Their Lips Turn Up.
Beautiful people smile, simple as that. Throughout the day, a beautiful person’s lips are busy smiling, laughing, and singing the praises of the world.

4. They Bring Out The Good.
Beautiful people take refuge in the happiness of others. They posses a desire to help others experience joy. You can count on a beautiful person to be your biggest cheerleader.

Traits5. They Compliment.
A beautiful person takes the time to highlight the beauty in others.  They seamlessly elevate people’s sense of self-worth simply by complimenting the world as they see fit. They don’t worry about being too over-the-top.

6. They Notice The Little Things.
A beautiful person fills her day with beautiful moments. She doesn’t limit herself by only celebrating the “big” moments in life- promotions, holidays, proposals. She rejoices everyday- green lights, blue skies, funny jokes.

Happy Life7. They Understand The Spotlight.
And when to share it. A beautiful person can read a crowd. She knows when to take the lead and she understands when to pull back. Sharing credit and praise makes a beautiful person feel fulfilled.

8. They Understand That A Hard Life Is An Interesting Life.
She knows that life is full of speed bumps and set backs. A beautiful person doesn’t shy away from dissenters. She realizes instead that life will throw you a punch now and then to keep you on your toes. A beautiful person understands that a life that lacks troubles and stresses is a life that lacks color and excitement.

9. They Are True To Themselves.
We spend most of the day speaking to ourselves. Our inner dialogue guides our day, it directs our actions. A beautiful person takes ownership of her inner voice and directs in a way that feeds her soul. Beautiful people have fine-tuned their self-critique to a brief experience with the intent to improve. Other than that, beautiful people treat themselves kindly. After a quick analysis, they let missteps and mistakes go and engage in gentle and encouraging self-talk.

Beauty in the world10. They Understand Beauty.
A beautiful person looks beyond the size of her jeans, the hue of her lips, and the length of her hair. Beauty, as understood by beautiful people, is not something you see, it’s something you feel.  A life spent engaged in meaningful, uplifting activities trumps a life spent in front of the mirror.

Heartfelt Euphoria

Counselor and Camper happy togetherGirls happy at summer campLately, it’s been tour season at Rockbrook, with families, often 2 or 3 at a time, visiting to learn more about camp. Over the last week, I’d say we’ve had more days than not with tours scheduled. This is great because we are always pleased to show off a little of what makes Rockbrook special, and to hear what prospective families find remarkable. For example, tour groups are often surprised that “everyone is so friendly around here.” It’s true, walking around camp creates a chorus of greetings, waves and smiling faces, no matter what time of day. Also though, a parent today commented that everyone at Rockbrook seems so “genuinely happy” and this got me thinking again about why this is the case. Everyone knows that camp is a happy, fun-filled place where girls can spend their days enjoying activities, being with friends, and playing outside in a beautiful setting. But I don’t think happiness at camp can be traced simply to these kinds of outward characteristics, to the activities, the camp facility, the quality of the food, or even the experience of the directors, though certainly all of these are important ingredients. Also, the kind of happiness we’re talking about here, the kind that brings out the best in kids, can be elusive elsewhere. Outside the haven of Rockbrook, even when every material need is met (and sometimes luxuriously met), the pure joy we find at camp can be missing. And that’s what stands out; there’s a heartfelt delight (even euphoria!) at camp very different from the mere pleasures and comforts of ordinary life.

Waterfall Camp KidsSo what’s the secret?  What is it that happens at camp that might be implemented or encouraged at home and school to make our kids more “genuinely happy?”  While not the whole story, I think Rockbrook succeeds in this way because it is foremost a community of caring people who appreciate and respect one another. The girls here know that they belong. They know that wherever they go in camp— to their cabin, to an activity area, to a picnic or an assembly on the hill —and no matter who is there joining them (an old friend or a new face, camper or staff member), they will be enthusiastically welcomed, sincerely encouraged, and fully supported. The deep happiness felt at camp blossoms from the positive relationships formed among everyone who is a member of our community. Free from competition and criticism, the way we interact here is uplifting and in important ways liberating. We talk about the power of community a lot, and this is yet another of its rewards.

Rock Climbing camp kidMuch like you and me, children need to feel liked. They need to feel that they are appreciated and that they are essentially good. This makes them keenly aware of how others, other children (their peers) and adults (parents, teachers, and camp counselors, for example) respond to them. It’s when these responses are affirmative and approving, as opposed to grumpy, demeaning or even just spiritless, that the magic happens. Put most simply, a child will begin to find genuine happiness when she feels those around her are likewise genuinely happy to see her, to be with her, and to love who she really is. Perhaps surprisingly, this kind of happiness derives not from what we do or what we have, but from who we’re with. If they are caring and kind, “sweet” and reassuring, enthusiastic and encouraging, we will find happiness. This kind of collective spirit, so beautifully embodied by Rockbrook, is a powerful force.

And it’s something that builds upon itself in a community.  Beginning with our staff and then with our campers, caring inspires care, kindness calls forth further kindness, and happiness leads to the happiness of others. We can already see that the girls this session are helping each other in this way. As they grow closer, support and encourage each other, as they become more comfortable with each other, and as they feel genuinely appreciated, the fun of camp intensifies. It’s no wonder that the girls love it here.

How do you show you’re happy when your kids are around?