The concepts of meditation and mindfulness were totally unfamiliar to me in my 20s. I was much more inclined to use various substances to "deal" with life at that time.
In my mid-20s, I went back to school, still using and abusing both alcohol and drugs, but wasn't too concerned that I wouldn't be able to maintain that lifestyle since I was able to graduate from high-school with honors in a similar state. I had planned to keep up the status quo, but life had other plans for me.
I enrolled in a philosophy class (because I'm a master at asking big questions, not because I'm great at finding answers) and, on the very first day, my professor shared with the class that he and another professor were taking a group of students to Japan to experience Buddhist philosophy. We were told that the group would be leaving in about a month and we were welcome to join.
That day, I told my dad. "Sounds like a great opportunity, if you can figure out the passport, I can help with money." Within a couple of weeks, I had secured funding and my first passport, and I was ready to take my first trip outside of the U.S. I was several years older than most of my fellow travelers, but that did not prevent me from making a few missteps while traveling.
One of my missteps was drinking too much one night. I was loud and obnoxious, which is the exact opposite of Japanese culture and the exact perception much of the world has of U.S. American culture. I didn't do anything extreme, but I was embarrassed. For the first time, I truly became aware of my actions and the impact of my behavior.
When I returned from Japan, I did not immediately start a meditation practice, but I did start noticing my thoughts, my childish inclinations, and my role as a global citizen. And I immediately quit the hard drugs. I started a process of being more intentional about the things I chose in my life. I started paying attention to how I felt about the things going on around me so that I could choose more wisely for myself, my immediate family, and my global family.
Over the years, I have tried multiple forms of meditation, but the one practice that has been the most consistent is mindfulness through nature photography. When I go into nature, I am fully alive, energized, and in-tune with the world.
Mindfulness and meditation are intended to help us fully drop into our lives. When we practice mindfulness, there are very real benefits:
Since the terms mindfulness and meditation are abstract concepts, here are a few ways one might describe the experience.
Considering the pace of every day life and the values of U.S. American culture, it can be a challenge to commit to being more mindful. Rather than give up on the idea, though, we can keep it simple.
Don't feel you need equipment, clothes, apps, and/or a "guru" to guide you. In fact, if you're spending a lot of money on meditation, you are likely contributing to cultural appropriation since meditation is an Eastern concept that Westerners have co-opted to fit our consumer culture.
It's not that Eastern forms of meditation can't be beneficial to Westerners, but if you choose to follow the path of Eastern meditation, be conscious of the impact. Be aware of who is benefiting, and at what cost. If you feel you need more information, search "cultural appropriation" and, specifically, "cultural appropriation in the field of wellness."
If you become aware that you are causing or have caused harm, it's not too late to turn it around! I like to think of it like getting sober; quit the practice, confront the Darkness, clarify your intentions, make amends, and do better moving forward.
Nature-based art is a wonderful tool in helping us to simply secure our connection to a meaningful, healthy life. Bringing nature-based art into our homes, offices, and social media spaces, we can receive the benefits of a mindfulness practice as we go about our day-to-day lives.
Here are three ideas for beginning a nature-based art mindfulness practice:
Mindfulness is a practice; it becomes easier and more beneficial over time. Nature imagery can make your mindfulness practice simple, accessible, free, and stress-free. Look around your house for a piece of nature-based art and display it for a reminder.
Also, remember that mindfulness is a self-care practice to help you stay grounded and focused so that you can take action toward creating a better world - it is not meant to be a consumer product and it is not meant to stand separate from compassionate action. Keep it simple, get centered, and then use that divine Love to fuel the fight for freedom, equity, justice, and peace.
During the summer of 2017, I spent two months traveling England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. When I departed from MSP on July 3rd, I knew who I would be staying with on which dates, and I knew where and when I would be on my own, but I didn't have detailed plans for what I was going to do in each place. I have always enjoyed unplanned travel, having the freedom to do as the mood fits. Showing up in a place and having locals share their ideas of where to go and what to do provides authentic, unexpected adventure. However, on this particular adventure, traveling so many places and encountering so many people, I got more suggestions than I could manage.
At the Tartan Lodge, a hostel in Glasgow, Scotland, I was told by my Canadian and Kiwi roommates that I HAD to get to Edinburgh. And returning from Edinburgh is when I realized that I HAD to recenter myself and simplify if I was going to make it though the second half of my journey.
To unintentionally learn that lesson, I took an unplanned one-hour train from Glasgow so I could spend a day exploring the landscapes, art, and architecture of Edinburgh. When I got into the Edinburgh station, I got a map, decided which art galleries I wanted to see and which hikes I wanted to take, made a plan, and set off for the furthest gallery of interest.
Calton Hill was astounding! And I had no doubt the art in this hilltop gallery would be just as astounding. I made it to the gallery space only to discover a temporary space (without art) being used to create interest for the permanent space that had yet to be built. Since I made the trek, I decided to explore. I watched people hike Arthur's Hill (pictured below) and decided to take that hike off my list due to the time investment! I wandered through the sculptures and found a cozy spot in the shade to sit and people watch. I set down my belongings and settled in for a leisurely lunch.
After a pleasurable break, I made my way back down the hill to visit galleries in the city center. One after another, I arrived at empty or closed galleries. I knew that Fringe Fest was two days away, but I didn't know most galleries would be in the process of setting up new exhibits for the masses of art lovers about to descend.
At this point, I was exhausted and frustrated and homesick and I just wanted to sleep the next month away. As I made my way through crowds and construction, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and judgments about stupid Edinburgh rising up in my heart. So, I did the best thing I could do for myself at the moment - I popped into Starbucks. Starbucks is particularly comforting because it reminds me of my dear friend, Alison, who loves their Iced White Chocolate Mochas and has been reassuring me from afar since my first solo-trip to Seattle twelve years prior. In this place of comfort, I sent Alison a WhatsApp message, ordered a Chai Tea Latte, my favorite comfort drink, and journaled until I felt confident I could resume without tears and criticism. Reenergized, I skipped ahead in my plan and went straight to the last stop.
When I arrived at “Stills Center for Photography,” I felt immediately at home. This space housed a gallery, a digital lab, a film lab, a small indie film theatre, and a library that housed a wealth of information about the history of photography. There was something about the space and the people that helped me feel in alignment again. I browsed through books, got inspired, and realized that, in the UK, photography is a highly valued art form. Talking with staff about the role of photography and, specifically, female nature photographers, I was given a couple of suggestions for similar places in Dublin, Ireland, which was my next stop. Spending time in this space allowed me to experience the magic of travel once again. And helped me get realigned with my values.
Riding the train back to Glasgow, lulled by the passing landscapes, I was confronted with some hard truths. Though “Stills” was amazing, my Edinburgh trip was exhausting and, somewhere along the way (likely Calton Hill), I lost my only raincoat. If I was going to make it through the next month, I had to consider what kept me from also losing my mind. Reflecting back, I noticed I overcame my anxiety, weepiness, and judgements by slowing down. Right then, I knew it was time to simplify. I needed to stop feeling like I had to do it all - because I couldn't. I decided that, from that moment on, I was going to take more time to settle into places and stop feeling like I needed to get locations checked off my list.
Throughout the rest of the trip, I slowed down, I didn't let people talk me into thinking that I needed to see more, I didn't get bothered when things didn't go the way I thought they should, and I had the most wonderful experiences people watching, wandering unbeaten paths, resting often, talking to locals, and letting all the suggestions that were not in alignment with my purpose go in one ear and out the other. And, now that I've been back for almost a year, I can honestly say I spend zero time thinking about what I missed, and instead think about the connections I made, the lessons I learned, and the inspiration I felt.