I have just returned from my annual family trip to Mount Desert Island in Maine, the home of the majestic Acadia National Park. My husband, kids and I have been camping here since 2008. Here’s a post from 2018 – The Mountains Are Calling where I share some wisdom gained from hiking with my children. Several years later, once again immersed in nature (photo above is from my campsite), the wisdom of the trails are both simple and profound. This week I will share the mindful teachings of Acadia’s trails. I hope both the photos and words shared inspire you to get outside anywhere you are, take a walk (as brief as it may be), and allow this experience between you and nature to reveal the wisdom of your heart. Sometimes it is just a whisper of reassurance, encouragement, or inspiration. Perhaps it is a moment of reprieve, relief, relaxation, or a re-energizing. Maybe it is an awakening of the senses – feeling the life that is you and your surroundings. You will not know until you step outside and open to nature’s teachings. Today is the day to wake up to your life!
I love this photo of my son. It reflects the openness to what nature has to offer. It’s as if he is hugging the Earth. Present. Open. Allowing. This is what we practice in insight meditation. We practice being in the present moment, opening to the experience, allowing it to be just as it is. This practice can lead to wisdom – often what is already within but covered up, dormant or cast aside. To practice this, please listen to this 5 minute meditation. Or simply pause and Be. Here. Now.
Body Awareness – Presence Meditation (5 minutes)
I love this quote by Thoreau because it reflects exactly why I find hiking in Acadia so transformative. This picture is at the beginning of my longest hike, one that would bring me over large tree roots and rocks. I had to use my entire body at times to balance, to climb, to descend with care and patience. Each step mattered. You must pay attention to where your foot lands and how the Earth accepts it. Each breath mattered as it guides you when to rest, when to push onward.
At all times, I had to listen to my body and to nature. I had to see clearly the trail markers, my limitations, my inner edge as well as nature’s edge. As I wandered mile after mile, so did my mind at times. And the trail was my anchor, bringing me back into the present moment, helping me to let go of the unnecessary chatter. All that mattered was the next step, the next breath, the next push of exertion.
Hiking in Acadia is a deeply mindful experience where the world around and within gets quiet. All there is left is you and nature. Nothing else matters! Nothing else can matter because you are far into the woods and up the mountain. This is where the “essential facts of life” are revealed.
You, too, can get a slice of such mindfulness by finding a quiet place outdoors where no one is around. It can even be in your backyard. Turn off your phone. Give yourself an allotted time for no distractions. Sit or walk and notice what it feels like to let go of the busyness we are so accustomed to and simply be in the moment. Say to yourself, “This is all that matters right now.” Take a deep breath in and out. Notice. Listen. Allow.
One of the many teachings the trails of Acadia shared with me was PATIENCE! In this climb up to the South Bubble and then down (quite steep!), one needed to go slow. The hike was tiring, so at times I wondered how much longer until the top or to the car. If I rushed, I could have seriously injured myself. If I did not pause and allow other hikers to pass by, I would have tired myself out more quickly. Rest was necessary to a safe hike. Being patient with the trail and all its challenges allowed me to enjoy this magnificent view. It also brought me safely back to my car .
Patience has never been my strong suit. That has greatly changed over the past few years as my meditation practice has developed. To be patient, as the trail to Bubble Mountain revealed, is to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. In other words, allowing ourselves to slow down, to rest, to wait, even when we feel pulled to go fast, to hurry up and get there (wherever this “there” is) can feel unpleasant. For many of us patience can feel downright uncomfortable both physically and mentally. Becoming comfortable with this discomfort of patience allows us to practice the unfamiliar. Over time, patience becomes a part of how we can move through the world. Jon Kabat-Zinn shares, “Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.”
The theme this week seems to be to slow down. “Our lives are constantly tumbling into the future,” writes Tara Brach, “and the only way back to here and now is to stop doing and just be.” This is the essence of patience according to the trails of Acadia. In order to hike a strenuous path, one must cease tumbling forward by being with that one step, then the next step, then the next until all the one steps bring you to a place of reconnecting with your aliveness.
Taking the next few minutes to slow down what you are doing, or to even pause, can help you reconnect with your aliveness. Try it out or use the 5 minute meditation above. Bringing the practice of patience into your daily life may be challenging at first, but give it a try and see what happens when you let that “thing” unfold in its own time.
May this poem by David Whyte give you pause to listen to the “deep foundations of your own heart.” This is nature calling us forth! Will you heed the invitation and follow the path in front of you?
JUST BEYOND YOURSELF
Every year I eagerly await my trip to Mount Desert Island. I have always called it my Zen place because it is where I had the time to listen within myself free of distraction (mostly). As my life grew more hectic, I saw it as a time to “escape” life, to live in a magical land. So much of Acadia looks like fairy land. I was forced to unplug because cell service is abysmal, camping forced simplicity in living style, and the scenery is so nourishing.
This year was different. The island and the trails kindly reminded me that while resting is necessary and communing with nature is rejuvenating, there is never an “escape” from life. Wherever you go, there you are. What I had hoped to escape from came along for the trip. There was no shaking it, only facing it.
At first, one might think this is an unfortunate experience. Not so! In fact, this truth was uplifting. It means that the rest and nourishment I received while camping and hiking can be experienced wherever I am. So when I feel pulled by the desire to flee my life, to just take a break from the stress or the struggle, I can simply sit just like the Buddha and rest. I can turn toward the beauty of my immediate surroundings and allow it to rejuvenate my body, care for my heart, and calm my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I love vacations. It is a deliberate time to really slow down. What would happen if we were to bring this rest time and nourishment into our everyday lives? It only needs to be a few minutes, anywhere, anytime. Where you go, there you are. Wherever you are, you can rest and nourish. Eventually, you will lose the escape plan and enjoy the day’s adventure.
David Wagoner’s poem “Lost” reflects the essence of my experience hiking the trails of Acadia National Park, sitting by the fire at my campsite, pausing alongside the road as I drove around Mount Desert Island. Can you stand still and allow yourself to be found?
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
I recently learned about the “Touch Tree” from Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. It is a term used by survivalists. When one is lost in the woods, it is advised to stay in one spot; however, one still needs to move around to find food and water. So, survivalists suggest one finds a Touch Tree, a tree to return to, a home base.
I found this so intriguing because it reminded me of the anchor in meditation – the breath, the body, sound, a mantra, etc. In meditation we have an anchor to support our return to the present moment when our mind wanders off into the future, the past, the story, the judgment, etc. The anchor is our home base.
Doyle’s use of the Touch Tree is to remind us that as we cultivate love, trust and compassion for ourselves, we find our inner touch tree. We do not have to search outside of ourselves to be found or to find our way. We can return to our selves when we feel lost. In the wise words of bell hooks, “The one person who will never leave us, whom we will never lose, is ourselves.”
Here is a brief practice to fertilize your inner touch tree:
- Find a comfortable posture and take a deep breath in & out.
- Feel the strength of your body sitting tall.
- Feel your arms as branches, your mid-section as the trunk, your legs & feet as roots.
- Allow your chin to rise toward the sun. Place your hands on your heart, feel the rise and fall of the chest.
- You are your own touch tree. Notice what sensations, thoughts, emotions arise as you pay attention to your inner refuge.
- Sit like this for as long as you need. As the mind wanders off, notice kindly, and return to your body, your breath, your touch tree.
- You can return to your inner touch tree anywhere, anytime. You can never lose yourself!