A Window into Mindfulness
Fri, 04/19/2019 - 19:37
Big news! This past week at the Alpengirl office in Manhattan, MT, we installed windows! One glorious pane in each office room, just in time to let in the sunshine that has finally decided to grace us with its presence after a long, cold, grey winter.
Along with the windows and changing weather, the atmosphere in the camp office is changing in other ways as well. We are entering the part of the spring that Camp Director Alissa Farley calls the “rushing river:” a feeling of momentum is growing as we near the beginning of the summer camp season, and we would be powerless to stop summer from coming, even if we wanted to (which we don’t).
In a few short months, all the campers registered for this summer’s adventures will be meeting each other, and under the guidance of a team of stellar female guides, small groups will be taking off for weeks of adventure in some of the most spectacular wild places in the west.
There is a lot to be excited about as we consider the knowledge, lasting friendships, skills, confidence and delight that these girls will gain during their time at Alpengirl. But there is also the smaller, more immediate presence of blue sky outside a window, with spring clouds growing and disappearing, and our local nesting hawk cruising by. The sights, sounds and smells that come in through this new office feature help me press pause in this season of anticipation, planning, and momentum.
Nature’s ability to help us put our minds at ease is truly remarkable. Each day we are bombarded with information, ideas, and images, and our brains work overtime to process the input generated by modern life. The stimulus overload can cause chronic stress, anxiety, and distraction, to name but a few. We find ourselves overwhelmed and overloaded, and increasingly distant from the details of the present moment.
Amazingly, even a postage-stamp-sized snapshot of the natural world can help bring you into the present moment. Small wonder houseplants are the trendiest type of interior decor these days: just the sight of a fern, cactus or succulent helps create a sense of calm, a reminder of our connection to the world around us. And if one overwatered spider plant can help reset your mind (see photo), imagine what a walk in a forest could do. Or a hike on a mountainside, or a paddle on a sunny river, or a swim in a glacial stream (talk about a sensory experience! I dare anyone to try not being in the present moment when plunging into clear, chilly water).
At Alpengirl, mindfulness in nature is both overtly and subtly incorporated into our days. Each morning at camp during the Alpenyoga routine, girls practice awareness of their bodies and surroundings. They might choose a particular tree to imitate in tree pose, or simply let the sounds of birds or rushing water help them relax in savasana.
Some of our more challenging activities help us stay in the present moment in a different way: scrambling over a fallen log on the trail, sweating in the summer sun, working together to purify water, cook our meals, and pitch our tents… there is so much to sensory information to experience during each of these moments that we can’t help but focus on the intricate natural world around us. We might shake our fists at an afternoon thunder shower, feel grateful for a shady lunch spot, or wonder at an unknown wildflower while swatting a pesky fly, all the time unknowingly practicing mindfulness in nature, and simultaneously giving ourselves a break from crowded, chaotic thoughts.
It can be a challenge to remember to hear, see, and feel the natural world as we move through our lives outside of camp, losing the sense of presence that can come from paying close attention to our surroundings, and feeling our interconnectedness. But something as simple as looking out a window (or if you still don’t have a wonderful window in your office like we do, looking out the door) can change your mindset immediately, and help you find your way back to a calmer, more serene frame of mind.