Last week, in collaboration with Mount Olivet Day Camps, the Conference & Retreat Center hosted a weeklong Nature Camp for children. Activities included decorating pots and planting seeds in compost, finding macroinvertebrates in swamp water, games that taught about the connectedness of all creation, nature hikes, mindfulness practices, and wearing in the new natural playscape and gaga ball pit.
During the first morning, we created space to become a little more present, aware, and grounded. I began by repeatedly turning over a large mason jar filled with water and blue glitter. While they watched my low-budget snow globe swirl, I gave an age-appropriate elevator pitch on mindfulness: “Sometimes when we’re upset, excited, angry, or distracted it might feel like our insides are churning. Yet when are still and everything settles, we can see more clearly.”
Being in peace and seeing more clearly are laudable goals for us all. How do we get there though? In one part of the exercise, the day campers got to run and yell with a single breath, stopping when they reached the end of their exhale. In another part, we sat still for two minutes silently gazing into the woods noticing what it’s like to bring extra intention to our attention. Sometimes stillness is needed to let the glitter settle. Other times stirring everything up makes room for what we need. (Have you ever emotionally felt better after a massage?)
The third intro-to-mindfulness exercise we did is one of my favorites. I offered three-to-five different prompts, each followed by a half-minute of silent reflection. I might invite them to think about something in their surrounding that’s distracting like a noise or the heat. Another prompt could be to consider a person or pet they love who isn’t at camp with them. Or to think about the things they’re impatient about like eating lunch or swimming in the pool. At the end of each movement, I would count to three and all together we would yell, “I AM HERE!” while jumping once on each word. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, we can choose to defy our distractions by grounding ourselves in the present place and time. And we look super cool while we’re doing it.
None of these activities might sound enticing while you are retreating, nevertheless I invite you to consider what it would be like to let yourself embrace one of them with the curiosity and willingness of a child. If you were to walk outside right now and run while screaming until you ran out of breath, what do you think that would feel like in your body? What emotions might follow? If you conjured up the thing that is most distracting in your life right now, stood with it for a minute, and then jumped up and down while protesting, “I am here!” how might you feel? When was the last time you were silent for two minutes, and what would happen if we devoted ourselves to even that much mindfulness every day? What are you needing most right now? To relax or release?
When it comes to practices like these, I’m not convinced all our reservations have to do with looking silly but rather about how we will change. When we risk being more present to ourselves, we’re opened up to be more present to the world around us, to our human and animal neighbors, to the trees, to the land. We might see our connectedness to creation in a new way, and that can be comforting and afflicting.
It’s worth it. It’s reality. It’s the only way we all make it. Because when we see clearly, we connect authentically, and that gives us life in the midst of whatever we might be enduring.