In April 2019, I attended a 10-day silent meditation course to learn a meditation technique called Vipassana. I was first introduced to Vipassana during my 200-hour yoga teacher training. I was so intrigued, I applied to a course and was accepted. I didn’t do any further research on the technique as I understood it from the beginning to be experiential, so no amount of reading or Googling would teach me or answer any questions on what I would experience. Everyone is unique, each person’s experience is different and I wanted mine to be my own.
The technique is universal and secular. It is merely exploring the mind matter phenomenon. It is simple, yet oftentimes difficult. It takes some time to sharpen the mind, to focus it in a way so that we are not constantly running thoughts of memories of the past or worries about the future. Like exercise, we are training the mind to stay in the moment, the only place we are right now and we do this by first paying attention to our breath as it is. In essence, by exploring the body, the breath and the sensations of the body, you come to know your own truth. Breath rises and passes, sensation rises and passes. It is the law of impermanence. In understanding the truth of our body within; we can have a better understanding of the world without.
At ground level, the technique is also there to help us create equanimity in the mind. The dictionary defines equanimity as “mental calmness and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Practicing this technique can help make our reactions to pleasant or unpleasant experiences a little less severe. We learn to accept things as they are, moment to moment, which ultimately leads to less suffering.
How does this tie into a wilderness experience?
A meditation practice with awareness of sensations of the body is the first place to go for understanding the truth of all things and I strongly believe that nature is the next best place. “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” -Albert Einstein.
I guide multiple backcountry wilderness trips each summer. What makes these trips soul-soothing and spirit-regenerating? I will tell you now that it is not the perfect conditions or constant sunshine. The participants and I are outdoors and subject to the elements. There is sun, there is wind, and there is rain. The bugs are sometimes present, but sometimes the breeze is perfect enough to keep them away. Oftentimes we get a five-star campsite or sometimes it turns out to be a mud hole in the rain.
In all these circumstances, as they present themselves to us, moment to moment, we are wired through senses to feel the sensation of the warmth of the sunshine and the coolness of the rain. If we find ourselves now craving the pleasure of the warmth of the sun and avoiding the discomfort of the possibility of rain, we begin to seek out only the pleasurable experiences. This is where imbalance in the mind lies. This is where we hinge our happiness on the sun and when it rains, then what happens? Some become irritable, intolerant and unhappy. To make matters worse, our unhappiness or intolerance starts to affect others around us. This is neither healthy nor a harmonious way to live life.
What if we could change this wiring? What if we could train the mind to not react with craving to sun or aversion to rain or bugs; but to cultivate equanimity and balance, which leads to seeing things from all sides and to an understanding and acceptance of their place in this world? This is what Vipassana does.
This is also what makes spending extended time in nature a great place for self-exploration and mind rebalancing. It is the opportunity to change the wiring, to cultivate the right attitude and the right mindset and to grow as human beings. Extended time in nature is opportunity to feel the sun, the wind, the rain without trying to change it. To observe the sunrise, the sun set and then rise again, with the understanding that it is never the same light. This is equanimity and this is also the law of impermanence, recognizing that everything is in constant flow. Nature knows this, it is a testament to the seasons.
When we spend the time to observe ourselves in meditation, or spend an extended period of time immersed in nature; we will eventually find ourselves living in the present, moment to moment with the understanding that even when it’s raining, this is only temporary and soon will pass. Now we are cultivating a more balanced mind. With this thought, imagine the impact of a more balanced mind on your home life, your work life and our communities as a whole. What a wonderful gift of peace and harmony we could share with all. Meditation and nature go hand in hand. Go explore the wilderness of your mind.