If you were in the UK last weekend – August Bank Holiday – you will likely have experienced the amazingly hot and beautiful sunny weather.
The good weather certainly brings people out and they all aim for hotspots like the seaside, or areas of interest.
Usually I avoid the long queues of traffic, the hoards of people on the streets, the full car parks and very busy restaurants where it’s impossible to get a table. But on this occasion, I found myself in the heart of the bank holiday events on a camping site on the glorious coast of Northumberland.
It was difficult to do my daily mindfulness or yoga practices, so I set an intention to be mindful at all times all weekend and use that as my practice.
Camping tends to be a mindful experience. I have a small 3-man tent. It’s impossible to stand up in it and you need good weather to be able to cook or even sit in a chair, as this needs to be done outside. So, the weekend weather was perfect as we were able to spend most of the time outdoors.
The campsite was very busy so we camped on the edge of the site under a tree next to a stream. This was mindfulness lesson one.
Walking through the campsite each morning and evening to use the facilities made me aware of a huge sense of community amongst fellow campers. People had set up in a variety of tents, some very big and elaborate, others medium sized (mine was the smallest on the site by far). Others had motor homes or caravans. They had set up their pitches with campfires, cooking areas and were relaxing and chatting to their neighbours. Early morning and late evening a silence fell upon the campsite. It was almost eerie. It certainly surprised me.
I had an expectation that the site would be noisy late into the evening and early morning, and was a bit anxious about this. But I was wrong. For those of you who have visited Samye Ling you will have noticed this silence that falls upon the whole place as darkness falls and early morning before breakfast. Hard to believe, but this campsite had the very same feel of silence, peace and calm as darkness fell until around 9am. People were following the flow of nature and allowing the rhythm of the day and night to dictate their sleeping patterns. They were being mindful without realising it.
Mindfulness Lesson One – notice how our expectations are completely different from reality. The stories we tell ourselves can cause us anxiety and stress.
Mindfulness lesson number two came by sleeping immersed in nature.
The stream we camped alongside was rich with fish and birds. We could see the fish rising, making small rings in the water on the surface. The stream had various sounds as it cascaded heavily across rocks and flowed, almost to a stillness in small pools. The mindful moment posted on social media last Saturday was a film of this stream. During the day ducks made their way up the stream and the water sparkled in the sunshine. By night it was so dark we couldn’t even see the stream but it’s sound made up for it as it flowed, gurgled, swished and swirled in the silence of the darkness.
There was a tree hanging over the tent. As the sky darkened, little pin pricks of the light of stars appeared through the gaps in the leaves, creating a magical tapestry of shade and light.
As I snuggled into my sleeping bag I lay there doing a body scan. I was aware of the space around me and the big dark sky above me. The sky contained as many constellations and stars as I have ever seen with the milky way hanging right above us. I had a real sense of the ground supporting my body in a way that I never do indoors. The sounds of the stream were a support for my mind, as I did a settling, grounding, resting practice laying down. Finally, I slept a deep sleep to be awoken only by half a dozen wood pigeons calling in the tree above me. No humans, no industrial noise, just nature supporting my body, lulling me to sleep and waking me up.
Mindfulness Lesson Two –I noticed how being immersed in nature made me more mindful of what I could see and hear. By allowing myself to just let go I was able to rest in nature and let nature dictate my sleep – resulting in feeling more rested and generally relaxed.
It was inevitable that we had to go to the very busy small town nearby to get food – everyone else had the same idea!
I don’t like crowds or busy places at the best of times and the thought of going to the only, tiny, supermarket for miles to buy food was filling me with a sense of dread. The whole process began with a fear of not finding anywhere to park, battling my way through the streets and shops and then having to queue for ages in the supermarket. This time I brought a formal practice into my daily practice to prepare me for the task. Resting in the Midst from the Insight level 3 Training, is one of my favourite and most used practices. I began the practice as I drank my morning tea and again when I got into my car. By dropping my mind into my body and deepening my breath I set an intention to just rest in my centre, whatever was happening around me.
As predicted, it was difficult to find a parking space, but I held onto my practice and with patience one magically appeared. It was like everything slowed down. The supermarket was indeed busy, but I tried to relax as I found the items I needed and did a standing practice as I queued to pay. When I returned to the tent I found I was still calm and centred and wondered why I was bothered about going to the shops in the first place.
Mindfulness Lesson Three – By intentionally resting in the midst of all the activities and not letting my mind wander or irritation to set in, I was able to keep calm and relaxed during a potentially challenging time.
Lesson four occurred in the contrast between detail in wide open spaces and the richness of noticing everything going on around me. Northumberland has big landscapes, big wide beaches and big open skies and I felt a sense of being drawn outwards to the horizons. And yet, there was beauty in the detail in the gap between me and the horizon – I just had to pay attention to find it. I saw a curlew eating shellfish on the shore in the sunset. There were wild swans landing in the sea in the far distance. Wild flowers were abundant with butterflies and bees. The beauty and colours in nature were awesome and they completely held my attention. My mind completely rested as I was absorbed by the richness and beauty of nature.
As we walked for miles on the seemingly infinite beaches with the bands of colour of blue sea and sky and golden beach, the detail of a stranded jellyfish and gulls flying by stood out. I noticed a growing sense of wanting to care for this beautiful planet we live on. There and then I made the intention to attend Engaged Mindfulness weekend in November with Kristine and Fay, where we will meditate with the earth and contemplate the environment. I hope to see you there.
Lesson five was simply the importance of bringing mindfulness into daily life. By slowing down and being mindful, I was able to remain calm and relaxed with a sense of equanimity wherever I was, whatever I was doing. I noticed the richness of just being. I lost any sense of time and space. The four days was so rich in experience that it could easily have been ten of my usually days in my busy lifestyle. When I am busy I miss the detail and the abundance of what is around me as I rush from place to place and task to task.
It brought to mind the poem – the Summer Day by Mary Oliver – which Kristine posted in her words of wonder blog just over a year ago. It talks about paying attention in our lives and ends “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Well, lesson five is about reinforcing a new intention to be mindful. To pay attention and rest in the midst of my one wild and precious life. How about you?
This weeks challenge is to bring your practice to daily life. To pay attention to the detail as you go about your day and see if you can reach a sense of equanimity with whatever is going on.
Please do let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below or writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you a great week ahead.
Jacky will be co-teaching Level 1 – Being Present with Alan Hughes at Samye Ling 13 – 15 March 2020 and on the Level 2 – Responding with Compassion with Heather Regan-Addis at Samye Ling starting 5-7 June 2020.
We’d love to see you there. If you can’t make it, how about taking the Level 1 course online.
Come Practice With Us.