Mountains, Meditation and Mindfulness

Reduce Stress by Spending Time in Nature

Focused or mindful breathing meditation is something I have been practising on and off for a long time now. I first came across the method in the mid-90s after reading a local newspaper article titled something like “meditation minus the costly fees”. At the time I was in my early 20s, knew next to nothing about meditation apart from its association – perhaps unfairly – with hippy and New Age types. However, I was very pleased to be proven wrong! In short, I feel it has benefited me in many ways over the years from reduced stress, better sleep, enhanced self-awareness to various cognitive paybacks.

Personally, I haven’t studied a formal meditation practice and just learnt how to do it on my own. Some people find this surprising as they assume that without the guidance of a well-versed practitioner your mind would just wonder, and you wouldn’t know what you are doing. For myself I haven’t found that to be the case. It’s not about rules or proclamations but a form of open exploration. Neither is it about reason, logic, and concepts, it’s about being with – what is. Moments of deep silence, peace and letting go at deeper levels. I steer clear of the word “spiritual” as it’s poorly defined and laden with woo – the antithesis of what meditation tries to imbue. Meditation in essence seeks to tune your mind away from the confusion of thought and develop a greater awareness of yourself.

To quote cognitive psychologist and meditation enthusiast Donald Hoffman “it’s like a caterpillar going through metamorphosis to become a butterfly”. In this analogy the caterpillar becomes restless with moseying around, chomping on leaves and expresses a yearning to do something different but it doesn’t know what exactly. At some point, the caterpillar stops eating and spins itself into a silky-smooth cocoon. Deep inside, its dormant ‘imaginal disks’ develop and give rise to the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly. Unlike the caterpillar whose transformation process takes about 10 to 14 days ours is less defined. A guesstimation would have me inches from the starting blocks. But that’s fine, it’s not about arriving it’s about being good with the process.

Heading to the mountains to meditate is something I have come to enjoy from my time living in Japan. In most cases I have fitted in periods of meditation during lunch breaks or before dinner on overnight jaunts. On other trips I have picked a quiet campsite to base myself for a couple of days or sometimes longer, spending many an hour in deep contemplation. Though can’t say I have a penchant for shugendo endurance-testing via ice-cold waterfalls. While I love bagging peaks as much as the next person sometimes just spending time in nature and the mountains is enough to reinvigorate and feel healthier.

This year my meditation practice has been especially beneficial. Back in March I underwent an operation to have a skin cancer removed from my forehead followed by a skin graft. To be quite frank it was a challenge, having excisional surgery to remove a skin cancer under general anaesthetic isn’t something you want to undergo. Though falling back to mindfulness meditation helped me remain centred during those tough post op days. Also being stuck in a hospital followed by forced convalescence stopped me from doing the things I love, guaranteeing I’ll no longer take them for granted. I plan to write about it in a future blog post so people can perhaps learn something from my experience.

If you’re contemplating giving meditation a crack, a good place to start is with Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up: A Meditation Course’ app. It’s basically the gold standard when it comes to daily meditation practice, others include Calm and Headspace. All three apps provide a basic course in meditation for free, with more advanced meditations requiring a subscription. Alternatively, try as I did in the beginning, find a quiet place, and focus on nothing but your breathing, first for 10 minutes and increase it by a minute every day until you’re up to an hour and see where it takes you.