Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our Mindful Future and Past

Rise and shine! By, Catrina & Sydney
Waking up with the birds, we all gathered together at 7:00am by the Jake to depart on our journey into modern mindfulness. After getting on our way, we had an engaging conversation about nutrition and how that relates to mindfulness. Then, we listened to a podcast by Dan Harris about the relationship between mindfulness and athletics. After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at our first stop - the UMass Medical School's Center for Mindfulness. Here we practiced mindfulness in two different settings, with two different instructors. The body scans let us really connect with ourselves, many people said it was very powerful. We also got to see the science behind mindfulness and how it affects our brain. At UMass Center for Mindfulness, they use a series of techniques to monitor how the brain reacts to being mindful. We got to witness some of these after going into a lab there, one being a brain monitor 'cap' that sends signals to your electronics. It was really interesting to see that such an old practice had deep confirmation and support in neuroscience. Next on our list was a quick lunch stop at a mall in Worcester, MA, then we headed for our next adventure. 

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? - Thoreau, Walden
Our afternoon by Torrey
40 minutes on the bus felt short compared to our early morning ride down. I sat next to Madler, a known Thoreau skeptic. The sky was a light gray, a better sign than the ominous and ever-present slate space that loomed above us throughout our morning. We arrived at the Thoreau Center by Walden Pond, amid excitement, a need to use the bathroom, and Madler telling me about how Thoreau didn't "rough it". 

We gathered in a spacious, modern wooden room with a large TV on the wall, playing a short video about the area on repeat. On a few tables by the door were stuffed animals, maps of the United States and the world, and charts about the center, their visitors, and the significance of where we stood. Johnny Moore and I played with the stuffed animals, noting that it was odd that the beaver was the same size as the bird. We soon went out and met our guides for the day, Susan and Whitney, who led us across the street and down to the pond. 

The pond was lower than what seemed normal, and so there was beachfront all around the expanse. A small blue boathouse was the only building visible from the beach, although we soon ventured into the woods and stood at the site of Thoreau's tiny house. A pile of rocks, many written on or engraved stood near the site: "Life is weird" noted a large white stone near the top of the mound. Memorial stones were scattered, many split or faded with age. We added a few to the pile, leaving our mark. 
We soon dove into silence, as we continued our adventures in mindfulness with a silent, slow, single file walk in the woods at the pond's perimeter. A train passed. About 20 minutes in, we turned to walk to the edge of the water to share our experiences and spend some time staring at the pond and its surrounding area. We employed a tactic used by Thoreau himself, inverting our vision by bending over and gazing at the same space through our own legs. 

We continued back into the woods for the silent part of the walk, with emphasis on the "beginner's mind". I took the very back of the line and felt such a greater freedom. Before, I was in between two people, so I was constantly thinking about my pace and how cramped and confined I felt. With the freedom of the back, I was able to absorb my surroundings. I turned around, slowed down, stopped briefly, and had a really personal mindful experience. A light sprinkle fell on our heads as we proceeded around the pond. I didn't mind, acknowledging the way the rain fell on the pond as well as in my hair. After completing a circumnavigation of the pond, we stopped to journal and reflect, before heading up to the recreation of Thoreau's cabin.The cabin was reminiscent of the tiny houses examined by a group during last year's project week, containing only a hard bed, a table, 3 chairs, and a wood burning fireplace. The woodshed sat out back. 
We thanked Whitney and Susan for leading us, loaded back up on the bus, and headed home. Madler even said her heart has warmed to Thoreau, noting "I didn't even realize that what he was doing was so mindful." We're all looking forward for our retreat at Kripalu to begin tomorrow!

What would Thoreau think of our distractions today?

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