First Adventure/Meditation Program Deemed Success by Participants and Facilitators
This is the first in a series of posts called Mindfulness in the Mountains
Lama Willa Miller, of Wonderwell Refuge climbs at Rumney
Kayak, Hike, Rock Climb with Presence
Mindfulness in the Mountains, a 3-day adventure and meditation program, co-sponsored by Mountain Spirit Institute and the Natural Dharma Fellowship’s Wonderwell Refuge of Springfield NH, just wrapped up a weekend of rock climbing, kayaking and hiking on Sunday, Oct 14th.
Says Mountain Spirit Institute founder, Randall Richards, “A pair of instructors led each activity, one focused on outdoor skills, the other focused on teaching various meditation techniques. Both instructors, however, were encouraged to offer their knowledge and background in both aspects of the program. Consequently, there was quite a bit crossover between the co-leaders. Each instructor team shared exercises in both meditation and outdoor skills.
Eleven participants, both beginners and experienced hikers and kayakers came from as far away as Florida and New York to hike, rock climb and kayak in both the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region and Rumney, NH.
Richards said of the program, “I’ve been guiding and leading mountain programs for over 28 years, and this was, by far, one of the most fulfilling and meaningful experiences I’ve had.” He added, “To hike, climb or kayak, and focus, as a group, on the quiet of the place through which we traveled, was meaningful for both instructors and participants.”
Ilene Venizelos & Randy Richards walk the granite slabs above Lake Solitude, Mt. Sunapee, NH
Wonderwell Refuge’s spiritual leader, Lama Willa Miller and Richards, and former MSI director Ken Wylie came up with the program idea shortly after the Refuge’s open house which introduced the community to the center early last spring. Miller states that “Buddhism actually has a strong wilderness tradition,” adding, “Monks, spiritual teachers and meditation practitioners have always gone to the mountaintops and into nature to get a sense of the sacred.” Lama Miller gave a video interview last spring on this blog where one can learn more about the philosophy of the program.
The participants signed up in advance for an activity but were also allowed to switch to a different sport on the second day of the weekend program, which allowed them a different focus. Rock climbing, for example, tended to bring up fear and trust. Hikers focused on meditation in motion and awareness of surroundings, while the kayakers focused on the metaphor of sky and water in meditative contemplation.
Once back at the refuge’s large meditation room in Springfield, the participants from each group came together and sat on big orange meditation cushions arranged in a circle on the large wooden floor. The old fireplace blazed, warming the room. They started with a short guided meditation, then both participants and instructors talked about their experiences of what happened for them during the day – the high and low points, and what heartfelt experiences if any, that they may have had.
Lama Miller rock climbed both days. She said of her experience, “In Buddhism, we have a meditation practice designed to help with facing one’s fear. Being forty feet up on the rock put’s it right in your face. It’s quite visceral.
Said participant, Ilene Venizelos of Enfield, NH, “I feel this experience has helped me reconnect more with myself, to the other participants, and to especially to nature.” Responded Richards, “Well, that’s good to hear!” adding, “What you’ve just said were some of our stated goals and outcomes for the program.”
You can learn more about Wonderwell at www.wonderwellrefuge.org and Mountain Spirit Institute at www.mtnspirit.org . Both are non-profit organizations which plan on offering more outdoor/meditation collaborative programs.
Stay tuned for more posts in this series: Mindfulness in the Mountains