Wake up to the Wild (the Wildly Good!)

By Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.

As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide.  It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.

The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet.  Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them.  When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance.  We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.

We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle.  As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity.  Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence.  In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day.  Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out.  We’ve forgotten how to simply live.

SMC The Land O'Hern - Print7Photo by Karen O’Hern

We all possess a basic goodness.  It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute.  It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good.  When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society.  Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.

From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease.  I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do.  I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life.  I feel kind of  “off” and I know I’m not alone.  We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”  The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy.  It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside.  Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room.  Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are?  This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.

We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild.  Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face.  I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is.  It really is that simple.  Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.

Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in.  Bring a family member or friend.  Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.  To learn more and to register, please click here and here.

Interview: Waking Up to the Wild with Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31-August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12-14

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Like trees in the forest or fish in the sea, we have an innate ability to live in greater harmony with our environment. While trying to navigate our busy, high-tech world, we can develop habits of mind that leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. Delving deeply into the practice of mindfulness/awareness in nature, we turn our attention toward the subtle interplay of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sense perceptions and rediscover how we can open to our fundamental interconnection to all things. Rather than always needing to change where we work, live, or who we love, we can change our relationship to these aspects of our lives in a way that brings us greater happiness and contentment.

Later this summer, psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor Kay Peterson will be leading two nourishing retreats–one hiking and the other walking (lower impact)– here in the powerful natural environment of Shambhala Mountain Center.  Recently, Kay took some time to discuss the importance of tapping into the natural world, and how doing so can benefit our daily lives.

Enjoy this interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat, please click here.

Waking Up to the Wild on Shambhala Mountain

by Kay Peterson

hikers stopped in the woods

While leading a mindful hiking retreat through the mountains last weekend, I was reminded of a line from the J. R. R. Tolkien poem in The Lord of the Rings —“Not all those who wander are lost.” As we paused in a meadow for an intentional “aimless wandering” practice, we gleefully explored our surroundings and noticed the details—the blue-eyed grasses beginning to bloom and the lady bugs swinging on the tall grass. How liberating it feels to stop and just look up at the sky without worrying what other people might think.

Of course, Tolkien was also referring to the powers of perception. Sometimes we forget that things are not always as they first seem and rarely remain as they first appear. For me, there is no more powerful way to remind myself of this than by wandering in nature. In the course of a summer day at Shambhala Mountain Center, I can wake up to the birdsong signaling the promise of a warm, sunny day. As that day unfolds, I watch the clouds build over the mountains in the west. I feel the weather change and I brace myself for a storm. Then by late afternoon, anticipation lets go to showers so sweet that the fresh scent of wet sage lingering in the valley reminds me that the earth’s thirst has been once again quenched.hikers approach mountain ridge

Nature gently highlights the opportunities I miss when I’m quick to judge a person or situation based on first appearances or familiar assumptions. Like that supposedly sunny day, I can unintentionally make my world very small with limited possibilities.

When I woke up that day, I immediately felt the excitement and anticipation of the hike I planned to take to the top of the mountain overlooking the continental divide. As I followed each switch back up the mountain, I marveled at the diversity of vegetation and relished the vast span of open space that I could call home, if only for a short time. As I clamored up the last section of rocks toward the vista I could feel my heart beat with eagerness. I looked up and there it was—the grandeur of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains spilling out across the horizon as far as the eye could see. It stopped my mind and a sense of stillness and calm washed over me. Suddenly, my eye caught a small patch of lighter green on the distant mountainside and my mind locked on. I could feel myself search for explanations,”Must have been a clear cut from the seventies or so. What a shame. This pristine forest marred by consumption.” I turned and looked over my shoulder toward the dark clouds building and started to plan my journey back down to shelter.

Tori gate and Hiker

Emotions are a natural part of being human, but they can also capture and blind us. In a flash, I can go from feeling a sense of awe at a spectacular vista to remembering something I need to do and worrying about the future. One moment I’m enjoying the dynamic mountain sky and the next I’m worrying that I’ll get soaked in a rainstorm. The good news is that this bigger, sacred world remains all the while just waiting for me to stop, see and appreciate that all that I need is already there.

Stupa amid clouds

The name of Tolkien’s famous poem is “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter.” In our fast-paced and high-tech world, we’ve learned to pay attention to the sound bytes, the flashy buttons, the clever speech and all too often miss the deeper message. Not that one is better than the other—I learn a lot from my urban life as well—but I can easily get swept into a virtual world that leaves me feeling like something’s missing. Then I know it’s time to refresh my connection to the natural world, slow down, rest in the simplicity of the moment and gain some perspective on my life and place in the universe by laying on my back looking up at the vast, starry sky.

As I look out over the continental divide from my favorite vista at Shambhala Mountain Center, I realize that I too can relax into the natural flow of the Rocky Mountain streams meandering toward the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. I giggle like I did the very first time I saw this view. With this kind of awareness, I can continue my journey into the unknown with confidence, curiosity and maybe even a little sense of humor.

Kay Peterson will lead two retreats at Shambhala Mountain Center this summer. Waking-up to the Wild: Hiking as Meditation June 28-30 and Waking-up to the Wild: Mindful Hiking on August 1-4

 

 Photos by Doug Hamilton