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Mindfulness in the Outdoors

We have a choice. We can live life deep or shallow. We can suck the marrow out of every experience or distractedly pass by it without thought or reflection. Pascal wisely observed, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quiet in his room.” Unable to deal with depth, we turn to diversion. Unable to give ourselves to things that really matter, we turn to proximate goals and short-term missions. If it is not worth giving one’s life for, is it really worth my commitment?

Again Pascal warned, “The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.”

For me, climbing was once such a diversion. I was called a “summit bagger.” There was no time to enjoy the journey or savor the experience, I flew in, hit the summit, and flew home. Mountains are more than trophies to be mounted on one’s wall like big game hunting. They are at their best portals of transcendence for those who have eyes to see.

I was happy to be introduced to Mountain Pilgrims, an emerging community of people seeking to re-imagine the mountain experience. They meet outdoors to discover together the “thin places” where the spirit soars and one is lifted out of the everyday. To be a Mountain Pilgrim means: “To experience wild places together and see more than the view, to be refreshed and resourced for life’s ups and downs, and to be a community of travelers eating and sharing stories together.” Mountain Pilgrims are based in the Lake District of England. But their vision of experiencing deeply and seeing through to something beyond us is a welcome reminder.

New Copernican millennials are those who are deeply committed to making the world a better place. This is a noteworthy characteristic. In doing so, it is best not to be sidetracked by proximate adventures. Make all your pilgrimages count. The danger is to travel like a tourist and not a pilgrim; to live superficially instead of with depth. The naturalist John Muir was not a “summit bagger.” He wrote, “I’d rather be outdoors thinking about God, than in a church thinking about the mountains.” The journey is the thing and the mindfulness it inspires. Even good things can become a distraction when done in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. Summit baggers miss the view for the climb.

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