I am standing in the red earth of the Windhorse Relations corral in Utah, eye to eye with a magnificent wild mustang named First Star. He and I have never met before. In fact, I’ve never spent any significant time whatsoever with any horses, of any kind, let alone wild ones.
Yet, in a few moments, First Star and I will be engaged in a dance of communication that goes back to ancient times, the ageless connection between man and horse. By using nothing else than my body, my thoughts, and my intention, I will be guiding this beautiful animal to move around the corral – no equipment, no saddle, nothing except honesty and trust.
It will be just one of many profoundly transformative moments that I will have on this incredible weekend curated by the Nomadic School of Wonder, that will help fuel my sense of meaning and purpose in life in unprecedented ways.
At the end of it, I will be cracked wide open with a new sense of possibility, optimism and curiosity shining through me, and join the ranks of the many others who have found transformation through the work of this small but remarkable group of individuals.
The unique work they do has now expanded to include creating experiences for high-performing teams from companies like Google. I had to find out more about the work they did, and I had the privilege of interviewing the warm and engaging founder Barbara Groth to learn more.
Barbara Groth has spent thirty years pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the fields of emerging technologies, human experience design, storytelling and social impact. As founder, CEO & creative director of Big Buddha Baba Productions in Los Angeles, Barbara designed experiences for the likes of Walt Disney Imagineering, Pixar, Google, X, Vulcan Productions, Museum of Science & Industry, LACMA, Bruce Mau Design, A Hundred Years and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Until recently, Barbara was SVP of Creative for the immersive art experience known as Meow Wolf, where she continues to consult on creative projects.
In 2015, Barbara founded the Nomadic School of Wonder, “adventures in awe” rooted in nature, art, community, and play. Each Nomadic School of Wonder experience is site specific and explores a theme through the senses. Barbara leads a traveling troupe of artists, experience designers and adventurers to bring these experiences to life including week-long adventures, weekend retreats, day long field trips, wondermaker playshops and at home wonder adventure kits for individuals, groups, and organizations.
I asked her how the idea for the Nomadic School came to be. “The Nomadic School of Wonder was born out of being with people who were dying. I had the great privilege of accompanying loved ones in their last days and moments on the planet. I noticed that life took on a technicolor vibrancy when in the presence of people who had a limited time left. I wondered how could we live in this state of being before we faced our last days on the planet? In a daydream one afternoon, I wrote down the words “school of wonder” and instantly felt like that was the answer. That’s what I want to put my creative energies into and offer to others.”
Out of this daydream has come something quite unique. “We travel to small towns throughout the world, meet in forests, on mountain tops, in the ocean, on ice and under the stars to commune with nature, create art, make friends, move, and play. I joke that it’s Waldorf for grownups — rewilding and re-kindergartening to put us back in touch with our more natural, essential selves.”
I asked how she articulated the purpose of the School. “Our reason for being is quite simple — to reawaken people to the wonder and magic that is ever present and all around us. And in turn, to open people up to a more expanded sense of what’s possible — within themselves, between each other and in relation to the natural world. Nature is our classroom, and our teachers are master artists, wild horses, a ball of clay or an ancient redwood tree.”
The sheer diversity of the experiences is quite staggering. “We had our first gathering in October 2015 for Dia de Los Muertos in Galisteo, New Mexico. Our theme was “Death & Rebirth.” Rather than explore the concept of death through talks and lectures, we invited people into a direct, sensory exploration of death. With the guidance from our friend Dr. Alex Jadad, a palliative care physician, and his wife Martha Lucia Garcia, we invited people to “experience” their own death by stepping into a pine box coffin and spending a few minutes with the lid shut, meditating on their own death. Afterwards, we shared a contemplative dinner outside under the Milky Way followed by a collective ritual to release whatever may be holding us back from living more fully. We learned the more we embrace our death, the more we can fully live our lives.”
I asked her about why she decided to expand the offering from individuals to include companies and teams. “We launched NSOW in 2015 and purposely shied away from working with companies/teams in the early years. We wanted to give our little mystery school time to reveal what it wanted to become without imposing a specific agenda on it or attempt to scale it too quickly. So, when we finally started offering adventures in awe and wonder retreats to companies and teams, we knew what made it special, weird, unique and unlike anything people have experienced elsewhere. We also knew to leave a little room for spontaneity so magic can show up. It always does. We make space for the unexpected and embrace the mystery.”
She continued, “Our experiences for teams are focused on getting people out of their heads and into the intelligence of their bodies. We spend far too much time trying to think our way through a challenge. Instead, we invite them into getting lost in a state of wonder, help open them up to expanded ways of seeing and being. From there, the creativity flows effortlessly. The world is filled with an abundance of guidance and wisdom, if only we take the time to pause, really look and listen.”