Yesterday we had an outdoor half day of mindfulness in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area in town with our local Be Here Now sangha (spiritual community). It was a beautiful, bright Sunday. The trees were thick with fragrance, the sky was full of blues and the energy of joy and gratitude was in abundance. We met at the trailhead at noon, there were 8 of us and 1 fuzzy dog friend. We took a 25 minute leisurely stroll to a nice secluded spot by the river and in order to start cultivating the collective energy of mindfulness we walked in silence. When we walk in silence we have the opportunity to connect with our surroundings, our steps and our breath. Before we started on the trail I invited everyone to choose one area in particular to focus our energy of mindfulness on as we hiked – some examples I gave were to connect with our feet, notice colors or sounds, stay with our breathing or feel how are body moves. There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness that it can be helpful to connect deeply with one aspect at a time so as not to get overwhelmed or too dispersed.
For my mindfulness exercise I chose to practice connecting with the surrounding trees as I walked. I took notice of their textured, reddened bark and their long, deep green needles. I looked deeply and saw how their towering beauty gifted me an expanding perspective, gently ladling me out of my own container and into the wider flow of life like a stream emptying into the ocean.
When we got to the river we sat down on the rocky beach and after we went around the circle and offered a personal gratitude in relation to the food we had each brought we started our lunch in silence. After about 10 minutes a bell was sounded and we transitioned into talking. Blending silence, which is the communication we cultivate with ourselves, with socializing, which is the communication we cultivate with others, is an important part of any group day of practice or retreat. Silence and non-silence go together, they lean on one another like day and night.
After we finished lunch and spent some time chatting we walked to a nearby shaded grassy area up from the river bank where we sat in meditation for 20 minutes followed by a stretching circle where we went around and each offered a movement to share with the group. Bringing fluidity to the body is important, when we sit still for too long we become stiff and tense. Our bodies like to move and it makes them happier and more at ease. We then spent an hour in an open sharing circle where topics about accepting and not putting expectations onto others, creating our own happiness and connecting with community circulated around like a soft breeze. Sharing our human experiences and listening deeply to those of others is a powerful community builder and tool for transformation. When we can connect with the fact that we are both the same and different from one another we begin to walk on the middle path of practice.
At around 3:00pm we ended our afternoon with our regular sangha closing circle of joining hands and sharing about things or people we are grateful for and putting loved ones or ourselves into the circle for healing. It was a nice, simple afternoon filled with sunshine, rest, and practicing to Be Here Now joyfully together.
When we can slow down, breathe deeply, and wake up to ourselves in this moment and how we are relating to life’s ebb and flow our experience becomes like a flower, fresh and beautiful. Taking the time to practice mindfulness whether it’s a week long retreat, a few hours or a few minutes nourishes our capacity to take good care of ourselves which in turn takes good care of our ripples outwards.