Archive for the ‘Experiential Education’ Category

El Albergue grows into Organics/Sustainability

13/12/2014

Joaquín Randall, owner of El Albergue in Ollantaytambo, shares, in the recent video, the latest developments evolving around  experiential educational stays, sustainability, organics and cultural sensitivity at his lodge in the Sacred Valley of Peru.  Mountain Spirit collaborated a bit with Sr. Randall some years ago, so we can recommend a stay at El Albergue. Keep up the good Joaquin.

El Albergue, in Peru delivers a good stay, experientially based ed, and sustainability.

El Albergue, in Peru delivers a good stay, experientially based ed, and sustainability.

Mindfulness in the Mountains Program Runs a Second Year

29/08/2013

Buddhist Refuge and Mountain Spirit Institute Collaborate again on Mindfulness Program
By R. Richards, Mountain Spirit Founder

Lama Willa Miller Collaborates with Mountain Spirit on Mindfulness in Mtns Program

Lama Willa Miller Collaborates with Mountain Spirit on Mindfulness in Mtns Program

Mindfulness in the Mountains, a 3-day adventure and meditation program, will be co-sponsored again for a second year in a row by Mountain Spirit Institute and the Natural Dharma Fellowship’s Wonderwell Refuge of Springfield NH, with a four day program of rock climbing, kayaking and hiking starting on Thursday, September 12th and lasting through the weekend.

Says Mountain Spirit Institute founder, Randall Richards, “A pair of instructors will lead each activity, one focusing on outdoor skills, the other on teaching various meditation techniques. Both instructors however,  will offer their knowledge and background in both meditation and outdoor skills.  There will be quite a bit crossover between the co-leaders. Each instructor team shares exercises in both meditation and outdoor skills.

Kayaks on last year's program

Kayaks on last year’s program

They expect participants, to come for hiking, rock climbing and kayaking from different parts of the eastern U.S. as well as farther afield. The program will be held in the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region.

Richards says of last year’s 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.” (more…)

XC Ski Instructors Talk About Nordic Nirvana

31/01/2013
Deborah Sellars

Deborah Sellars

Deb Sellars and Molly Morgan, part of the ski instructor team (with Randy Richards) for the upcoming Nordic Nirvana program, talk about their background and the concept of blending XC Skiing and the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and presence while skiing in nature.

Molly Morgan

Molly Morgan

Mountain Spirit Institute is collaborating with Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, NH to offer a special weekend, based at the refuge, of XC skiing (possibly snowshoeing depending upon conditions) on Feb. 8,9,10th. For more info see  Mountain Spirit Institute’s and Wonderwell Mountain Refuge’s webpages on the program.

Nordic Nirvana Interview w/ Lama Miller, Part 2

01/01/2013
"Letting the mountains meditate you"

“Letting the mountains meditate you”

Mountain Spirit Institute‘s director, R. Richards, continues his interview with Lama Willa Miller of the Wonderwell Mountain Refuge about their collaboration on the upcoming Nordic Nirvana Cross-Country Ski weekend retreat. This is the two organization’s second collaborative offering of mindfulness and outdoor pursuits. In Oct. 2012, MSI and Wonderwell offered Mindfulness in the Mountains.
This program promises to deliver a similar flavor of quietude but this time, with a balance of motion over snow on ski.

Nordic Nirvana Interview w/ Lama Miller, Part 1

01/01/2013
XC Skiing and Meditation

XC Skiing and Meditation

Mountain Spirit Institute is excited to once again partner with  Wonderwell Mountain Refuge and Natural Dharma Fellowship to offer a weekend of nordic skiing and meditation in the beautiful mountains and woods the Dartmouth Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire. Below is part 1 of yesterday’s interview with Lama Willa Miller, the spiritual head of the Wonderwell and Natural Dharma Fellowship of Cambridge MA. Part II is here.

Justifying My Existence

02/11/2012

A case for the hard working travelers & educators

Finally Realizing I Actually Did Make the Best Life Decisions
By R. Richards, Founder
Mountain Spirit Institute
Andrew McCarthy in his book  “The Longest Way Home – One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down “  writes, “Whenever I would tell people that I was going off on some trip or another, I was met with remarks like, “Oh, tough life,” or, “That’s rough.” Even good friends reacted with outright hostile envy-“Must be nice,” they often said. I used to try to explain and justify my travels.  It was pointless.  Travel, especially by people who rarely do it, is often dismissed as a luxury and an indulgence, not a practical or useful way to spend one’s time.
“People complain, “I wish I could afford to go away.” Even when I did the math and showed that I often spent less money while on the road than staying home, they looked at me with skepticism.  The reasons for not traveling are as varied and complex as the justification for any behavior.  Perhaps people feel this way about travel because of how it’s so often perceived and presented.
“They anticipate and expect escape, from jobs and worries, from routines and families, but mostly, I think, from themselves-the sunny beach with life’s burdens left behind.  For me, travel has rarely been about escape; it’s often not even about a particular destination. The motivation is to go, to meet life, and myself, head-on along the road. There’s something in the act of setting out that renews me, that fills me with a feeling of possibility. On the road, I’m forced to rely on instinct and intuition, on the kindness of strangers, in ways that illuminate who I am, ways that shed light on my motivations, my fears. “

The author as a child on Lake Sunapee

My wife, who had been reading McCarthy’s book this week, showed the above passage to me the other day.  Although I’ve done more than my fair share of “inner work”, in one instant, after hearing her read these words, I realized, I too have been carrying a chip on my shoulder about supposedly not working hard enough, about being a mountain guide and facilitator and director of a non-profit organziation. I’ve tried to defend what I do to  family, friends and the fellow community members in my home town. It has not been the work of my imagination – that some have thought I “was on permanent vacation”.

After graduation from University of Utah, I was on a fast track to represent an Austrian ski boot company in the U.S. by taking a Master Boot-maker program in Austria. However, the combination of two main life events,  meeting Erga and Luciano Cappella, (see my earlier post: Reconnecting with a Mentor)  and one day, simply realizing I was on the wrong side of the window in that little mountain workshop where I was learning how to make ski boots, made me have a paradigm shift. I needed to be “out there in the mountains”, in the Alps. Something in me snapped, and I realized at that moment, I was the closest I would ever get to corporate life, (aside from later conducting Outward Bound Professional corporate team-building workshops). I took a left-hand turn out of the corporate ski business, and never looked back.  With that decision, came a shift in perception, and future decisions  led me to international mountain guiding, a long stint with Outward Bound as a lead instructor and staff trainer, and lastly, founder of Mountain Spirit Institute.

Richards rappelling in his twenties, Newbury, NH

I’ve worked hard, as do most people in the outdoor education field. Anyone who has started a  non-profit organization from the ground up also knows program building and organizational management on a small scale takes a lot of energy, more so than punching a timeclock.  It has sometimes felt like pushing a boulder uphill.  That’s not even taking into account the fun, but hard and endless hours of making sure the participants get what they need on any given program.  I’m committed to what I do, and feel I’m  good at it. It has been my passion since I started teaching in the outdoors at age thirteen, and I feel it’s my life’s purpose.

But from the outside,  it looks like I’ve been galavanting around since my twenties. “When are you going to get a real job” is what if not said, is implied sometimes. Indeed, even my parents occasionally expressed concerns about my not “biting the bullet” , a nice term. Then, later in her life, my mom was just happy knowing that I was doing what filled me up.

With Dr. Theo Paredes, Peru

I didn’t know this article needed to be written until a few nights ago, but now realize it has been long overdue.  I quoted Eckhart Tolle in an earlier post
“Most people are only peripherally aware of the world that surrounds them,  Especially if their surroundings are familiar. The voice in the head absorbs a greater part of their attention. Some people feel more alive when they travel and visit unfamiliar places or foreign countries because at those times sense perception, experiencing takes up more of their consciousness than thinking. They become more present.”

I never looked back – Guiding in Alaska

It’s almost a cliché, but I think this is what other climbers, outdoor leaders and guides are up against when they encounter the world of the conventional. It’s almost like two worlds intersecting. Many articles and books have been written about this. Of course we’re all connected on one level. On another, there very different lives happening in my small hometown.  Said Oliver Wendall Holmes  “A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.”

Fortunately my mind has been stretched. Now it is up to me, with this new perspective, (thanks to McCarthy), to compassionately nod to those who don’t understand my lifestyle and career choice, and to move on.
For more information on R. Richards’ career choices you can read his short bio at Mountain Spirit Institute’s About Page.
Re-edited on 11/3/12 16:46EST (My motto, post first, edit later)

Some responses from my personal Facebook Page, also see the comment posted below by Jay for additional insight.

  • Peter Canaday Hard to explain unless you come across others of the same mind, and then, no explanation is necessary….
  • Wendy Gilker Randy, I understand living a life different from the norm. Generally, people do question it. How many times have people asked me – “When do you get a life Wendy”. As Joseph Campbell said ” the Journey begins with a” call to adventure in which the He…See More
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  • Wendy Gilker Helen Keller – “Many people admire what I did with my life because I seemed to be at such a disadvantage. But, they’re mistaken. If anything , I was greatly blessed. The danger in my “zone unknown” was great, but so was the treasure since eternal pr…See More
  • Randy Richards Good comments Wendy, I like the quotes.
  • Irene Powell Thank you for sharing….I will be allowing this words to percolate inside and see where they take me in my inner voyage of discovery.
  • Kevin Sleeper Randy, I have to say that it is/was probably jealousy which produces those comments. Be comfortable that it is our loss and your gain. Being outside was always a passion of mine, mostly expressed through scouting. Check out my posting of the Sailors take warning sky last Sunday at 6:15 or so over Lake Sunapee. I am sure you will recognize the place?
  • Randy Richards Thanks Jay Leavitt for the comment and poem (posted on our blog). You bring up some good points I failed to include. Also, I’ve done some re-edits of the blog post – My motto: Post first, edit later.
  • Randy Richards Hey Kevin Thanks for that..Yeah I remember that about you.
  • Dale Morrow I agree with Kevin, Randy. Feel a little sympathy for us who look at you, and feel the need to needle you, because we covet your life. But don’t take it all to heart. They mean no harm. People have to learn to accept the choices they’ve made.
  • Kevin Sleeper Randy, I learned a long time ago if U R going to swim upstream U R going to need a thick skin.

Mindfulness in the Mountains #2

30/10/2012

 Gunshots in the Wilderness
#2 in a Series – Mindfulness in the Mountains

The mist clears, the gunshots arrive

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.

MSI Founder R. Richards on Mindfulness in the Mountains Program, Grafton Pond, NH
Image: Tara Moon

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.

Contact us if you’d like to know more about the Mindfulness in the Mountains program, as well as our other programs in Peru, upcoming programs in France and New Zealand.

Mindfulness in the Mountains – First Adventure/Meditation Program a Success

20/10/2012

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

Small VT School Uses Debriefs to Foster Classroom Wellbeing

10/08/2012

Article on Bullying and Communication

Thanks to Laura Jean Whitcomb, publisher of Kid Stuff for letting us reprint this article about a ground-breaking move by a small school in central Vermont,  The Willow School. One look at the their website almost has me rethinking our departure for New Zealand this fall, and instead,  having our young son attend the school!

Outward Bound mandatory for all young people?

Like legendary Headmaster Dave Fowler at  Proctor Academy in Andover, NH where he pioneered incorporating Outward Bound principles of experiential education and community building into the school’s fabric in 1971,  it sure looks like the founders of the Willow School are doing the same thing for younger students. The article below covers what will hopefully be incorporated in many schools across the U.S. and abroad.   In New Zealand as well, (where we’ve been living), bullying appears to be a problem.

Proctor’s experiential model

I’m reprinting this article in hopes that it will fall into the right hands of school teachers and administrators.  During my 15-plus teaching years at Outward Bound, the debrief and reflection were key to a successful outcome for the students, and helped insure some strong “takeaways” that they could use as life skills.  In fact, Outward Bound Professional Development courses also incorporate these basic techniques (more…)

Mindfulness in The Mountains

30/07/2012

Mountain Spirit Institute is collaborating with  The Natural Dharma Fellowship of Cambridge Mass, and their retreat center in Springfield, New Hampshire (Wonderwell Refuge) to offer Mindfulness in the Mountains, Oct 12th-14th in the Dartmouth Lake Sunapee Region.

Mountains as Mediation – Going Back to Our Roots

Led by a unique team of experienced world-class outdoor adventurers, guides, instructors, and experienced meditators, this weekend will provide room for exploring the layers of self-knowledge possible through adventuring in our natural environment. During the weekend, lovers of nature and those interested in hiking, rock climbing and kayaking will come together to adventure without and within.

To get an idea what see the interview of Lama Willa Miller by R. Richards below:

Read more on the program at our  MSI and Wonderwell’s Webpages, and stay tuned for more details posted on this blog.