For my last week of meditation this month I decided to keep things simple. One of the most seemingly straight-forward meditation techniques was called Vipassana Meditation. Wikipedia describes the practice of Vipassana as “insight into the true nature of reality”. It can be practiced many different ways so I chose to reflect on my present reality, i.e. wherever I happened to be meditating, I wanted to focus on truly being present. This happened to be well-timed because I was planning to be hiking in Colorado for a week. I figured there’d be no better place to contemplate the true nature of reality than the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Before heading to Colorado I did my first meditation at my apartment in Boston the night before I left. I sat in my papasan chair near my open bay windows and tried to gain “insight” into the reality of living in downtown Boston. For 30 minutes I tried to absorb the rain outside and the sounds of the city. At first it was quite calming but shortly after starting the meditation it progressively got more “urban”, for better or for worse. I started to focus on the sound of cars driving by, car horns, two different ambulance sirens, slamming car doors, more car horns, more rain, and I may or may not have fallen asleep for 10 minutes. The insight I gained was simply that the city is loud and it’s mostly filled with vehicles driven by people who are angry with each other. Usually this stuff becomes background noise to my daily life. The other day I was walking in Chinatown and I saw someone jump and turn around as if something scared them. I then quickly realized that it was the siren of an ambulance. I hadn’t even noticed, it’s simply a sound that I’m used to whereas it scared the heck out of who I assumed to be a tourist. Taking the time to really focus on the sounds outside of my apartment really helped to show me how loud and stressful living in the city can be. The following meditations in Colorado were significantly more peaceful.
On my first day in Colorado we visited a farm called James’ Ranch. It reminded me a lot of Joe Salatin’s farm from the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma that I read during my Vegetarian Lifestyle Experiment. At the farm I had the best hamburger that I’ve EVER had in my life. It was the freshest grass-fed/grass-finished beef that I’ll probably ever have and it was incredible. After the meal I sat down on the grass overlooking the farm and meditated for 30 minutes. I felt the warm breeze, the soft grass, random machine noise from farm machinery, and people walking/chatting. I really tried to engage my 5 senses and I think I accomplished being “present” at the farm.
The next day Sarah and I headed into the Rockies for five days of backpacking. On two out of the five days I didn’t get any meditation done. There was something about hiking 13 miles around 10,000 feet that really wiped me out. We fell asleep around 5pm on both of those days and slept for over 12 hours. The other three meditation sessions however, were excellent.
We spent two nights in the Chicago Basin of the Weminuche Wilderness which is a busy place by most standards in Colorado but we managed to only see a few different groups of people throughout our stay. To me it was a place where I could feel and be truly alone. I spent time contemplating the mountains, the mountain air, the valley animals (pretty aggressive goats, yikes), the glacial runoff, etc. I spent a few minutes on each sense (except taste) and it really helped me to focus on my immediate surroundings. It was really an amazing area and the only down side was that we only spent two nights there.
Despite the idyllic location, I still found it hard to take time to meditate. When you’re out camping there are a lot of things to do and to think about: packing gear, hiking, eating, drinking water, washing dishes, setting up camp, eating again, filtering more water, etc. I really had to stop for a moment and simply chill out with nature. It’s easy to lose sight of your surroundings when you’re pushing yourself physically through a series of mountain ranges. So taking the time to try and simply be present was a great benefit to my trip in the Weminuche.
After arriving back to our real-world basecamp (Sarah’s parents’ house) I decided to do a little meditating on their back deck. I sat cross-legged for about ten minutes and decided to open my eyes to look out at their yard and the mountains in the distance. That is when I came face to face with this:
I thought by being in the wilderness for this week’s meditation that it’d somehow be easier to find the time. It turned out that I still had to consciously take 30 minutes out of my pre-planned day to just sit and meditate. I’m an aggressive planner so each day has its list of to-do’s and if meditation wasn’t on there ahead of time then it didn’t happen. Despite my regimented schedules, I definitely still found value in taking the time to engage my five senses in my immediate surroundings while contemplating each sense individually for a period of time. There’s much more out there that my auto-pilot filters out and it was good to spend some time focusing on the “noise” as a means to be truly present. This is not a trivial task as I’ve learned so far but definitely one worth spending some time working on.