Villu’s story: although summer is a great time to hang out with friends, try to leave time for yourself as well.

Have you ever wondered why the places in student camps fill up so quickly? How do you envisage a student camp? This time we relate a story with Villu Kangur, who is an experienced participant in student camps and who now organises his own meditation camps.

What brought you to student camps?

My first contact with a camp took place 13 years ago, when I joined the Marjamaa group with my best friend. For years, I had heard great stories from my dad about his camping expeditions and it was very much on his recommendation that I joined.

I was appointed group leader four years ago, when I realised that I had developed an overwhelming longing for camp life. As I was already too senior at that time to join a camp or the ESBB (Estonian Student Building Brigades) but was not willing to give up camp altogether, this seemed like an ideal alternative. Furthermore, I had become quite close to my former group leaders and had heard a lot from them about how complicated and challenging the organisational side of the camp is. So, I accepted the challenge!

What meaning does the camp have for you?

During the first year, it was just a pastime for me. To get away from the city and spend time with other young people. But the more I participated, the more I realised how much it affected me and in how many different ways. By attending, I became braver, more open, a better communicator, I found my first love and for the first time I got to know what it feels like to be completely away from home and my support network. Each year was a challenge of its own and each time I learned something new and interesting about myself.

How many years has it been and how has your experience been so far?

As a camp member myself, I attended three different groups (I am so very old that I attended the very first, now quite legendary, Ranna Rantšo group); as a group leader, I am about to start my fourth group. 

I dare say that any young person who values the camp could try being a group leader, too. I was very surprised at how much more complicated and demanding the job of a group leader is – as a camp member you have absolutely no idea. Each activity, game and event is carefully and strategically designed to provide the young people with as stimulating and enjoyable an experience as possible. For me, the most interesting part of being a group leader is sensing and reading the feelings of the group members and the overall dynamics of the group. Too much energy? Let’s play active games. A conflict in the group? Let’s “accidentally” put those in conflict on the same team. Are any members being overly serious? Group leaders fool around and make fun of themselves.

Where did the idea to organise a different type of camp come from?

As a group leader I encourage a mentality of mutual respect in the group, not one of intimidation and hierarchy. Though I am group leader and thus have the role of a leader, I never expect the members to do as I say simply because that is how things are. If I do not respect them, I cannot expect them to respect me. And vice versa. I strive to be as honest as possible, to share my concerns and problems and to always be there for the participants. I felt that with this attitude, it was much easier for the members to open up to me and to trust me. A number of participants shared with me their concerns about anxiety, depression, etc., and having been through a lot myself, I felt I could help them. I was particularly touched by something one of the participants said: “You are the first adult who actually listens to me.” This inspired me to create a group that would from the beginning have some real-life lessons built into the programme, in order to equip young people with tools that could make their lives easier in the future. It is a shame to see how many adults lack any knowledge of how to prevent and to cope with mentally difficult situations. So, my dream is to contribute to the evolution of a generation where talking about mental health is considered normal, and where acquiring such skills is commonplace in society and taken for granted.

What exactly do you do in the camp?

Our group is broadly divided into two branches: classic camp and meditation/personal development. In meditation, we learn different meditation techniques with the aim of calming our mind, improving our concentration and conferring the ability to be in the present moment. Once we have learnt how to calm ourselves down, even in difficult situations, we begin to learn psychological techniques and “tricks” on how to know ourselves better, how to recognise negative emotions, and how to manage them without suppressing them or numbing ourselves with social media, alcohol, etc.

What is your relationship with mental health?

I have spent much of my life struggling with depression, anxiety and addictions. For many years I simply suppressed my negative thoughts, insisting that I was fine and that I was not some kind of a wimp. However, the problems got worse and worse, until eventually I experienced a profound emotional burnout, which was reflected in my complete isolation from my friends, suicidal thoughts, deteriorating physical health and an indescribably grim attitude towards the world. Things only took a turn for the better when I admitted my “weakness” to myself and decided to seek help. The main contributors were therapy and meditation, the latter of which has become a daily part of my life. I can truly say that meditation and therapy saved my life.

Can you give young people some tips on how to stay mentally healthy through the summer?

While summer is a great time to hang out with friends, try to leave some time for yourself, too. Feeling a bit anxious? Want to take your thoughts elsewhere while scrolling through Instagram? Switch off your phone for a couple of hours and just go for a walk outside. Give yourself a little challenge: walk around and see how many different sounds you can hear. One? Two? Perhaps even five different sounds? After a few minutes of listening to the sounds, see what has happened to your anxious thoughts. Where did they go? By observing yourself in this way, you may notice that thoughts move like sounds – you can neither anticipate them, control them, nor hold them in. Sometimes it can seem like the bad days last forever, but they never do. How do I know? All the worst days you have ever experienced in your life are over by now. And the same will happen with the hard days ahead. Understanding, experiencing and practising this seemingly simple idea can turn any difficult situation into a powerful lesson.

Join a camp and/or learn to meditate!

Prepared by Maris Praats, Coordinator of the Content Creation and Collaboration Team of the youth information portal Teeviit.

Published on the youth information portal Teeviit in 2022.

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