Outdoor Mindfulness – In nature, through movement and stillness, with awareness.
Mountain retreats during the summer are a great way to enjoy being in the mountains, have fun exercising and doing something which has lasting health and well-being benefits. Combining the exhilaration of hiking with the stillness of meditation and the grounding of yoga, you will journey not only through the wonderful Monterosa in the Italian Alps but also explore internally your mind and body. Teachings on mindfulness are given each day mostly while in nature walking the forest trails and hiking the rugged terrain above the tree line. We will have a daily schedule of early morning yoga followed by a sitting meditation. After breakfast we hike / walk during the day with mindfulness teachings along the way. On return the afternoons end with a light restorative yoga practice and a shorter meditation sitting. Our evenings are spent enjoying local quality Italian food and the social company of others.
Whose it for?
Ideally suited to people of all ages who want to learn more about mindfulness in an active outdoor setting. You will be active, enjoy walking and perhaps yoga and have a willingness to learn more about yourself and others through outdoor activities. You may have an existing daily practice although this is not essential; the week is suitable for those who already practice and those who want to learn and are curious about how a meditation and mindfulness can foster well-being in all respects, mind, body and spirit.
What you get out of it.
- Extend your appreciation of nature and foster connections to its energy.
- Experience the exhilaration and vitality of exercising in the outdoors.
- Learn new meditation practices and renew your approaches to sitting.
- Engage in mindfulness activities and share with others your experiences.
- Explore how mindfulness can support you in being centred and grounded.
- Energise yourself and learn ways of maintaining your energy and focus in everyday life.
- Enjoy being part of a group of like-minded people and grow in one’s capacity for awareness, tolerance, compassion, resilience, clarity, insight and well-being.
A bit of background.
We take a holistic view of well-being, one which embraces the philosophy of an integrated person where the mind, body and spirit are inextricably intertwined. The context is, ‘growing in our capacities’ for awareness, compassion, insight and wisdom. The environment is outdoors, in nature where the elements of the natural world are prevalent. The activities are walking, hiking, yoga, mindful movement, stillness and meditation through which we explore ourselves and our relationship with self and others. The spiritual self, as well as the mind and body, is essential to our personal and professional growth. Seeking a soothing of the integrated self is a natural phenomenon, one which humans have done consciously and often without knowing it for thousands of years, there’s a primordial drive to sooth and recuperate. We acknowledge this and view seeking quietness, stillness and being grounded and centred as natural instincts. As William Bloom describes in his ground-breaking teachings that meditation is a natural behaviour;
‘In this time alone, quietly in peaceful solitude, they develop a deeper, subtler awareness of …everything…nature, themselves, all that is, the mystery, the wonder, the field of consciousness…’, Bloom page 2, 2017.
The separated self is something we encounter with in our society today, the view that we must be independent is fundamentally at odds with how we live our lives within connected interdependent societies. Presently we do not live as independent beings and this view, where it prevails, sees society’s struggling with psychological ill health. The approaches we believe in and underpin Outdoor Mindfulness retreats, move towards re-connecting the person with the natural energies which exist on the earth and within the universe. We seek to relate with the five essential elements of Earth, Water, Air, Wood and Metal. The Earth we find through the mountain terrain, hills and land; Water as in the rivers, streams, land and plant moisture, rain and snow; Air found in our breath, in the space outside of our body, through the wind and air currents in our atmosphere; Wood as explored through the plant life, forests and moorland and Metal as an element of the rocks and stone found in the earths geography. Whilst moving through the natural landscape we notice the elements as they are represented to us and purposefully move towards them connecting with their energies and vibrations and what they symbolise.
‘While our contemporary way of living separates us more and more from nature (which only exacerbates our mistaken belief that we are independent from the natural world), the truth is that our minds and bodies area as intertwined with the moon and stars as they are with the air we breathe and the water we drink.’ Coleman, page 61, 2006.
Physical activity, however gentle or strenuous, triggers many activating and soothing biological processes in our bodies all of which help to change the energy which drives us. By engaging in physical activity which, by definition, involves movement we activate bodily functions and stimulate the mind. We will be doing daily yoga, walking / hiking and mindful movement activities where there is plenty of opportunities to push the physical body to levels of your preference. The physiology underpinning movement and exercise is where an integrated approach to well-being becomes clearly evident, the release of hormones through movement impact our psychological states and influence our emotions.
Mindful movement is moving with purpose in the present moment, this remains foremost whilst a focus on one’s destination sits quietly in the background. The faculty of awareness, of mindfulness, is brought into effect during gentle exercises, yoga, walking, hiking, and indeed any form of movement however great or minor. Using all our senses to witness the sensations of the body, whilst also observing the rhythms of the mind and emotions - perfect training for entering ‘flow’ states.
‘Although we might think of emotions as non-physical, in fact they ripple throughout our body. For this reason, staying as close as possible to the raw sensations of the body becomes particularly important when we are dealing with high emotion.’ Russell, page 52, 2015.
What does it mean to be still? What are the benefits? When the body is still what movement is in the mind? There are many questions about sitting meditation aimed at seeking answers, our intellectual mind kicks in and is consumed in the pursuit of knowledge. When it comes to questions such as these about meditation and stillness the most pertinent answers are always those that arise from our own experience of sitting, and not from the intellect.
Trust the process, developing the capacity to be still and things will become clear. We enter the process through the body, its physical stillness is a precursor to the stilling of the mind and emotions. Our experience of sitting though shows us that the mind is anything but still. The contrast of the stillness of the body is the movement, the busyness of the mind. We move to the breath and here we notice movement, the body movements to facilitate the breath, the flow of air which is the breath. In seeking stillness our busy mind is illuminated and while this can sometimes be uncomfortable, it is a transition we must make to becoming more open and less judgemental. In the presence of body stillness, we feel the rhythms of the way of the mind and emotions.
‘Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still.’ Achaan Chah, 2008.
Experiencing with awareness the nature of thoughts, that they arise, exist and pass, is hugely liberating. The realisation and acceptance that we are not our thoughts, that they shape our lives but do not need to shape our identity, is often a breakthrough. The stillness of mind arises from not interfering with it, not engaging with it; instead we observe, notice and witness, that which we observe, and our reactions to that which we observe. A preeminent, pioneering teacher, Rob Nairn, which I had the privilege to learn from often reminded us that mindfulness is awareness and is, ‘Noticing what is happening when it is happening without preference.’
On Outdoor Mindfulness retreats we start from where we are, how and where we find ourselves, and explore our inner world through our relationship with nature. Developing our awareness of body, we walk and hike through the mountains and on the yoga-mat renewing our powers of noticing the body, the ways it moves and how our minds react and respond.
‘We are all like waves rising and falling on the surface of the ocean, and when the wave looks deep within, it finds the ocean. When we do not hold on to the past, cherish the future or take hold of the present, we see imperturbability.’ Titmus, page 168, 2000.
If you enjoyed reading this piece you may like:
William Bloom, How to Teach and Lead Meditation, Spirit Companions Trust, 2017 (v8).
Mark Coleman, Awake in The Wild, New World Library, 2006.
Dr Tamara Russell, Mindfulness in Motion, Watkins Publishing, 2015.
Achaan Chah, A Still Forest Pool, Quest Books, 2008.
Christopher Titmus, An Awakened Life, Shambhala, 2000.
John Arnold, April 2018 copyright.