In 2017, on a sunny, September day in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, I found myself sitting cross-legged in a circle of my peers and professors. As a brand new Transpersonal Counseling/Wilderness Therapy student at Naropa University, I was getting my first look into Buddhist-based practices. We sat quietly beneath a grove of ponderosa pines while the birds chirped and the wind blew. Our instructors invited us to sit quietly for the next fifteen minutes, being mindful of our breath, body sensations, and the sounds around us. For the preceding fifteen minutes I’m certain I didn’t think about any of those things. I worried if I was “doing it right,” and thought about what we were having for lunch later. Little did I know, the practice of mindfulness isn’t about sitting quietly and experiencing peace, it’s about acceptance and acknowledgement of what is. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing attention to the present moment thoughts or feelings without judgement. Since the beginning my studies, I have learned various mindfulness-based techniques and have been actively integrating them into my daily life.  I have been introduced to practices such as mindful breathing, sitting, walking, eating, and even mindful somatic work. These practices have laid the foundation to a more mindful way of living, which has me noticing smaller moments throughout my day.

So, you might be wondering, how is mindfulness relevant to the outdoors industry? Let’s talk about climbing, because, well, we are in Boulder, Colorado after all. Rock climbing is so much about being present with the task at hand. Over-thinking can lead to not trusting your holds, losing efficient technique and can halt progression. Since practicing mindfulness, I have noticed that the preconceived idea of “I’m not good at this,” doesn’t creep into my head nearly as often. I have gained confidence in my ability to cultivate a calm mind and then trust my body to move up the wall.

Let’s look at the broader picture for a moment. The increasing use of technology in the outdoors is often helpful (i.e. GPS devices, Personal Locator devices, and satellite phones and cell phones), but, is it also taking us away from truly connecting with our environment? All too often we hike to our favorite waterfall or summit just to find it crowded with people taking selfies for their next Instagram post. By virtue of being human, the desire to share experiences and connect with others is natural. However, I often see people snap their picture and promptly set off for their hike back to their cars, without actually stopping to take in the views. Additionally, over-use of technology in natural areas can also be harmful for wildlife and may put people at risk for wildlife attacks. We are becoming all too familiar with headlines such as these: “Bison attacks woman who was trying to take selfie with it in Yellowstone Park,” and, “Man mauled to death by bear while taking selfie with it.” While these are extreme examples of how the need to interact with wildlife can take a turn for the worse, the larger question for me is: how is the shifting culture of technology impacting the way we relate to wilderness?

Without being present and mindful when we are in outdoor spaces, we may miss important aspects of why humans seek nature in the first place. For example, the experience of hiking along the trail, the way the sun or wind feels on our skin, or the personal gratification we receive when we reach the summit, or by simply noticing wildlife and respecting its boundaries. Through mindfulness, experiences in the great outdoors can be more fulfilling and transformative.

  • Written by Jessica Bailey. Adventurer and Guide for Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides.

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