by Michelle Kelly
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” - Henry David Thoreau
Paddling the length of a wild river on a wilderness fishing trip above the Arctic Circle in the Yukon, sleeping under stars and rainbows can be a once-in a lifetime adventure teaching profound lessons that inspire wonder for the beauty of nature awakening a deep desire to preserve it. But perhaps a canoe trip in the Yukon isn’t necessary for everyone in order to learn those same lessons. Maybe, If we learn how to live our daily lives deliberately with the same “mindfulness in the present moment” required by the ubiquitous challenges of an extreme wilderness adventure fully aware of the challenges and adventures presented in our own daily lives– we can learn the same lessons … (except we wouldn’t get to use all that cool outdoor gear!)
It’s plain to see that on a Yukon wilderness adventure, every moment is most certainly important, critical in fact – and every action has a clear purpose – as every misstep can potentially result in a very severe consequence – even death. A balance between thinking and doing is imperative. Such a trip is wrought with danger, and is all about paying attention, and being mindful thinking and doing in the moment and when we’re paying attention, and our thoughts and actions are in balance and purposeful … we are filled with a feeling of being truly alive, and of really living.
Feeling so alive, truly present and connected with the natural world around us –with our spirits full and radiating songs reflecting those stars and rainbows lights the way to outdoor adventure, wonder and a world of limitless possibility.
In comparison, our day to day lives can seem small and inconsequential – uninspiring and almost mechanical – as if we are living our lives just “going through the motions”... dully, disconnected – and instead too often reflecting these unsettling words of Henry David Thoreau, instead: “Most of us spend our days living lives of quiet desperation.”
Although we all can choose to challenge ourselves with a grand wilderness adventure, most people won’t ever fish the rivers of the Yukon by canoe. Even for most of those that do, it’s a once in a life-time thing – all too soon returning back to the day to day “routine” of everyday life.
“Most men lead lives of quite desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” - Henry David Thoreau
I wonder how many people today even find the time to stop even for just one moment to notice if they are feeling like they are disconnected, just going through the motions or whether they feel connected to the natural world - their spirits “reflecting stars and rainbows”?
But we can never really be disconnected from nature. Our true “human nature” is, afterall - Nature! In fact, we are all made of the same material stuff as giant redwood trees, snow leopards and bread mold – flowing rivers of stardust and full spectrum light energy streaming from the sun. Throughout our day to day lives, however, we just don’t often think of ourselves as connected to nature, or being nature for that matter, and are not paying attention long enough to feel connected. I would argue that we’re never disconnected from nature, but we are, in essence disconnected from our own true nature, instead. Perhaps “nature deficit disorder” is really a symptom stemming from the deeper “dis-ease” and imbalance we suffer from living our daily lives disconnected from our inner nature – disconnected from ourselves.
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.’ - Henry David Thoreau
By taking time to venture inside oneself –present and aware as if on a wilderness adventure in the Yukon, we can come to see more clearly how every moment of our ordinary modern daily life is wrought with dangerous challenges and full of exciting possibilities – if we are aware and mindful – and in the moment right where we happen to be at the time.
“Mindfulness” is a natural balance between thinking and doing... when you are not completely lost in an activity, nor completely lost in thought. And when the mind is not immediately judging or blinded by any rigid way of thinking. Mindfulness is when anything that passes before the attention is felt, accepted and welcomed. You simply observe whatever is happening, without taking sides or forming attachments to any singular mindset. And you take the time to feel your connection to the signals and sensations the world around you is sending – to feel what you are sensing, as you feel it. When you are connected to your feelings, you are connected to yourself – to your own true Nature. And, when you are mindful without attachment to things as they are in the moment your mind is open to new thoughts, new ideas, new possibilities and new ways of thinking – and being.
“It is usually the imagination that is wounded first, rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.” -Henry David Thoreau
A state of mindfulness frees us from life’s entanglements. In a dangerous situation, you can see/think more clearly to make effective critical decisions quickly and automatically. But, in our modern day-to-day experience, the conscious mind is always struggling to keep up with an endless flow of information and changes in the external world. To make its job easier, the mind creates a series of generalizations and assumptions about ourselves and the world so we don’t need as much thinking.
Although we certainly need generalizations in order to make sense of the world, these assumptions can also work to prevent us from seeing the truth of ourselves.
For example: How many of us are in the habit of making identity statements about ourselves? We say things like “I am X” or “I’m not Y” (where X and Y are qualities that we identify with emotionally – like I am: confident, smart, popular, stylish, outrageous, too fat, stuipid, fearful, etc.)
The truth is that we are, each of us -much more than any singular emotion or behavior. Even though we might think: I’m this - or - I’m that kind of person, isn’t it true we are each capable of doing something that reflects the exact opposite – or even doing something that reflects a completely different emotion at any moment? In the wilderness, we don’t have time for such generalizations. One might arugure that’s part of what taking off from work for a month and heading off to the woods or an adventure to the Yukon is all about!
Practicing mindfulness is the process of becoming aware of the assumptions we’ve made about our world and ourselves. Being mindful is transcending (being more than) any apparent or passing limitation.
If like Henry David Thoreau…. we wish our children to “live deliberately….” perhaps teaching them how to explore and experience their inner nature with mindfulness, is even a more relevant, direct, and sustainable route than going to live in the woods, or on an epic wilderness adventure.
Mindfulness can be learned.
Mindfulness can be practiced in every moment of one’s life.
There is a growing body of research in the fields of both psychology and neurobiology showing that mindfulness helps prevent the arising of unpleasant states of mind such as stress and depression, and it also helps us to live with freedom, dignity, and with respect for ourselves and others, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – Jon Kabat Zin and mindfulness also helps us live in connection to and reverence for the natural world, Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity, World Wildlife Fund UK, Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser. Learning, teaching and practicing mindfulness is a way we can begin to close the gulf between what needs to be done and what is currently being done to meet our present environmental challenges and address living our own best life… the life we dream… every day – from the inside out. From stardust we naturally reflect and radiate full spectrum rainbows and stewardship. Basic physics tells us the possibilities of illumination are limitless - if we’re not too busy being distracted and pay attention.