The Scout Method and approach to Spiritual Development, “Exploring the Invisible”.
“A Scout, as you know, is generally a soldier who is chosen for his cleverness and pluck to go out in front of an army in war to find out where the enemy are, and report to the commander all about them.
“But besides war Scouts, there are also peace Scouts… They understand living out in jungles, and they can find their way anywhere, are able to read meaning from the smallest signs and foot-tracks, they know how to look after their health when far away from any doctors, are strong and plucky, and ready to face any danger, and always keen to help each other.” (Baden-Powell – Scouting for Boys).
Exploration involves going somewhere new
If Baden-Powell was writing this he might at this point include a yarn, perhaps the story of Abraham or Buddha who left their homelands to go to places far away. The key characteristic of exploration is the newness of the place, and the relative scarcity of information available. But notice that it is usually the newness of the place for the explorer themselves, rather than territory, that is completely unknown. In exploring, the young people experience something new and different that can bring them “somewhere new” and challenge their lives.
Exploration requires personal commitment
Exploration requires significant commitment to the project. No one can explore for me: the explorer is uniquely the one who undertakes the journey. This is perhaps how spiritual development in Scouting is distinguished from religious indoctrination. It requires that the person himself or herself engages with what is presented, with their experiences and with the beliefs of others. To say that we ourselves must explore is not, as we have already seen, to go it alone, but to ensure that we are fully present in the process.
Exploration needs an engagement with its discoveries and experiences
For a given discovery or reflected experience to lead to knowledge and to growth, it is necessary for it not to be endured passively but lived through concretely, actively and voluntarily. It should involve the intellect and also the inner self. It must be an opportunity for reflection and personal renewal.
Exploration has an effect on the explorer
The explorer is often changed by the journey: sometime they gain a new understanding of themselves; sometimes they commit to defending and protecting the environment they have found and the people they have met. Exploring the invisible will also change us.
Someone once described going on pilgrimage as a kind of spiritual bungee-jumping. The experience of many others who have engaged with the spiritual journey bears witness to its ability to transform us and our character. An essential requirement for the spiritual journey is that we are prepared to allow ourselves to be changed.
Exploration requires appropriate training
While it is true that an infant explores its world and comes slowly to understand it without any specific training, this is not an approach we would recommend for exploration of the physical environment. We do not go to sea until we can sail. We do not try to climb a mountain until we have learned the basic climbing skills. It should be no surprise then to find that there are some skills than can help in exploring the invisible.
We can think of some of the most important skills in terms of the ability to encounter. Whether that is to encounter ourselves, others, the natural world or indeed God or a spiritual reality that is more than these. To encounter is to allow ourselves to be addressed by that which is before us. Just as Kim, the model of the Scout, learned to “notice small details and remember them” (Scouting for Boys p15) so the explorer of the invisible is able to look carefully and listen attentively so that nothing is lost. The idea of friendship can be useful here. Just as friends notice things about each other and are able to listen to what the other is really saying, so the explorer of the invisible is able to form friendships with themselves, others, the natural world and with God or a spiritual reality.
Explorers make use of maps and guides
Before setting out explorers carefully research their field. They seek out the experiences and knowledge of those who have been to that place or similar places before them. These might be recorded as maps or as guide books. No matter how detailed they may be, they are never fully comprehensive. There is always some question to be asked for which the answer cannot be found in a guide book, but the guide should still be consulted to find our way around and of things of special interest to look out for. Religions can be seen as representing the accumulated wisdom of previous “explorers of the invisible”. They offer some maps and guides such as spiritual and sacred texts, the accounts of the lives and experiences of those who have meaningfully explored the invisible. For this reason, religions enable Scouts to enter into the “culture” of their religious tradition, help them to better enhance the experience of exploration.
Some religious traditions also speak of giving “food for the journey”, and it can be useful to see some religious practices (such as prayers and meditation), rituals and symbols, body language, as part of the equipment and provisions that we carry with us for our exploration of the invisible.
Exploration can be a life-long project
The most famous explorers can seem to be addicted to exploration. Exploring is what they do and the spirit of adventure an important part of who they are. Even into old age they are still actively searching for new adventures. Sometimes the new adventures are the relationships of marriage and family but they still call on the same spirit of wonder and enquiry into these new experiences and challenges. If Scouting is to be successful it must also leave its members with an enduring spirit of adventure and a desire to be active in seeking out new opportunities for personal growth and development, including their spiritual and religious development. Indeed, the adult who leaves Scouts will continue to grow and change through the rest of their lives, and many of the challenges of later life are more spiritual in their character. A sound approach to spiritual and religious development in Scouting can therefore well prepare Scouts for their adult life.