Gunshots in the Wilderness
#2 in a Series – Mindfulness in the Mountains
It seemed that spirit was working with us on this day on the water, during Mountain Spirit Institute‘s recent program with The Natural Dharma Fellowship Buddhist retreat center based at Wonderwell Refuge in Springfield, NH. The six of us slowly paddled our kayaks through the mist on Grafton Pond. There was no one else to be seen on this drizzly Sunday morning, when normally 20-40 cars might be unloading their boats. It’s for good reason this place is popular. Actually a one-and-half-mile lake with a wilderness feel, complete with some 44 islands and great views of Cardigan Mountain to the north, this place has become overly popular with weekend warriors. We didn’t even have Grafton Pond on the schedule, knowing that private mediation and crowds weren’t conducive for contemplation in the wilds of New Hampshire. But there were no other cars to be seen on this day. Just us.
The weather forecast called for a short break in the rainy downpours between 10am and 2pm. Right on schedule, the rain stopped, and all was quiet, for the time being. We paddled quietly to the southwest arm of the pond. The first exercise we gave our participants was to drift in the big bay, slowly exploring the shoreline with presence of mind, quietly and slowly paddling from their kayaks.
All was idyllic, no rain, no people, just peace. Then, like a tear in the fabric, gunshots from 3 miles away broke the silence. As we were each far apart from each other, we were not comparing notes about the noise until we reconvened one hour later. The shots rang regularly every three to five minutes apart.
We asked our participants, (not only on this day, but also at the end of the program), what their takeaways were from the experience. My co-facilitator, Tara Moon, shared that “the gun shots were” for her, “like punctuation marks, reminders to stay present” . Unlike her, my first reaction was to swear at the offending firearms person, granted, under my breath. But as the hour drew on, I too accepted the state of the lake, complete with echoes of the gunshots heard on the water’s edge.
What has been most powerful though, has been the extension of this lesson learned, the transference of the experience, and how it has stuck with me in “my life away from the wilderness”, back in civilization. The gunshots are, to me, like any disturbance that comes into my life, whether it’s an unkind comment that comes my way, or a bank that has overcharged me. What I do between these disturbances is my business, my responsibility. It is up to me to keep the calm, to remain in balance.
I also presented a metaphor of the lake and its waves during our kayaking program to illustrate, (from Eckhart Tolle’s example) that our lives are like not just the waves on the surface of the lake, but the whole lake. The waves might sometimes be windy and rough, but that is only part of the lake. Going down deep, where the water is undisturbed, or moved ever so slightly, is similar to staying focused on the goal of presence.
I love facilitating groups in the mountains and wilderness. I learn as much, or more than the students, and this case proved that again.