Awake in the Wild – A Newbie Attends a Meditation Retreat.
I am lying on my belly in the forest, rested on elbows. I stare intently at small patch of earth. Above, silhouetted, serrated tops of pine rock and sway against a sky that shifts from gunmetal clouds to azure. A cool, consistent breeze whispers through the forest as blackbirds, robins, whiskey jacks and chickadees cackle throated melodies. The forest is alive! Within that dirt that my face rests just inches above, I find ants. Not just one kind but several different species. I watch the ants do what ants do, and I notice a tiny translucent spider blasting from here to there at an incredible pace. I observe it stop on a piece of leaf litter and outstretch its forelegs, like a runner after a morning jaunt. From there, my eyes track to a spot about an inch square where I see three distinct colors of soil and flecks of rock that shimmer as the light reflects across minute angular surfaces.
It occurred to me at that moment how intricate the environment is. There I lay, involved in it – not passing through on a backcountry mission, not striding with purpose, not merely a visitor, but a participant – an active member in the flow of life. If this much activity and life exists in a tiny patch of earth, then how insignificant must I be in the grand scheme of life’s flow! How small are my problems, actually? How inconsequential are the things that keep me awake at night?
So how did I come to find myself nose to the forest floor with a group of people doing the same thing? Two weeks earlier a good friend asked if I’d like to join him on a one-day mindfulness and meditation retreat in Bragg Creek, Alberta called Awake in the Wild. The truth is, I’m not a signer-upper. Typically, I substitute formal teaching with stumbling in the dark, learning things the hard way – my ego feels safer this way. However, in an attempt to embrace what life has put in my path, I agreed and thank goodness I did.
Awake in the Wild is a non-profit organization started by author, nature guide and mindfulness meditation teacher Mark Coleman. The organization seeks to connect individuals to mindfulness in nature to tap into feelings of peace, joy, wonder, love and wellbeing through various retreats in nature (awakeinthewild.com).
Our instructor, Amarin Dawn is a soft-spoken lover of nature and a local resident of Bragg Creek. Her quiet demeanor camouflages her depth of knowledge, experience and steadiness of approach to guiding people to mindfulness in wild places. She’s a hiking guide, a yoga instructor, and also one hell of a cook. Her Café The Heart of Bragg Creek specializes in plant-based cuisine that even a meat eater like myself can get into. Furthermore, Amarin and her partner Dave have established a non-profit named Experience Journeys that works to create accessible experiences that heighten awareness and nurture compassion for the web of life on earth.
As a facilitator, Amarin sliced through my group’s hang-ups like a scalpel. If you can imagine five burly firemen meandering through the forest meditating, drinking tea and sharing deep feelings with confidence, you’ll have sense of her ability to provide a safe setting that I am assured anyone can embrace.
So what did I take away from the Awake in the Wild meditation retreat? The list is extensive, but here are some highlights. Firstly, mindfulness and meditation are not exclusive to formal settings. For a kid who grew up enthralled and consumed by wild places this is a relief. With the right tools in your toolbox meditation can involve a meander through the woods, savoring each sip from your thermos, closing your eyes and listening to the birds sing, or even staring at the ground with all your attention. Secondly, we are part of this world – we aren’t just observers, we are members of the team and sometimes it takes the risk of slowing down for a moment and applying concentrated focus to the small things to show us that. Thirdly, even a passionate hunter can enjoy vegan food. Get out there and dive into the infinite – and what excuses do we have with this luxurious, wild backyard that we have?
To learn more about Amarin Dawn visit experiencejourneys.ca. To find out more about Awake in the Wild and the various opportunities to take part in a retreat of your own, visit awakeinthewild.com
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