By Gayle Picken
Have you ever wondered why your food tastes so much better when you’re camping?
Or how sleeping on a hard, bumpy, damp surface outside for a couple of nights can actually leave you rejuvenated and refreshed?
It’s not logical, is it?
With the amount of effort required to plan, pack, shop, load, travel, unload, unpack and set up and for a camping trip, you think you’d come home a lot more stressed out than you were before you left.
Yet, as millions of people across the globe can attest, the experience of camping outdoors, whether in a tent, trailer or “glamper”, somehow serves to reset our soul and revitalize our spirit.
For me, camping has become the ultimate experiment in mindfulness…
Removing the Layers of Distraction
It can take some time to settle in. Often when we arrive at our camping destination, I’m still thinking about all of the things I forgot to do before I left… making a mental list of items to check off as soon as we get home. Setting up camp is often hurried or stressful as we are still in our “must get it done” energy. Even preparing the first meal feels like a chore to simply stave off hunger.
But then we move to lighting the fire–that time-honored tradition and iconic symbol of everything “camping”–and that is when we flip the switch. The fire, big or small, smoky or roaring, no matter how long it takes us to light, is ours and signifies that we have arrived. We are camping! Outside in nature. In a spot we’ve made our own. And that is when this practice begins.
Loud pops and crackles draw my attention and then the mesmerizing flames take over, pulling me in even further. I take a deep breath and start noticing my surroundings. I notice the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees. I notice the entertaining shenanigans of a resident chipmunk or jay. I notice temperature starting to cool my skin and I move a couple of inches closer to the fire. My body starts to relax and the layers of “to do’s” in my mind starts to slowly fade. My senses open and this begins the practice of “just being”–watching the canvas in the sky unfold as the stars appear one by one.
Bringing Our Awareness to the Space Around Us
In the morning, the sounds of the birds and the glow of the morning light wake us up. No alarms. No schedule. No need to even look at a clock. I pull on a sweatshirt and move to the picnic table. I fire up the camp stove and put the percolator on the grate. No hurry … the percolator takes its time and slowly starts to rattle as the water begins to heat up.
I notice a caterpillar on the picnic table. I become fascinated at watching it move, the tiny legs, the articulation of the long fuzzy body, the surprising progress of this tiny creature inching closer and closer to the stove. Breathing in the fresh air feels exhilarating .. how lucky we are to be in this spot right now, outside, with birds darting in and out of the bushes and butterflies dancing their way through our camp.
I hear a “bloop” and see the first bubble appear in the percolator’s glass top. This brings a smile to my face. How exciting to see that the water is boiling and our coffee is starting to brew. I realize how special it is to be present here in this moment, making coffee outside at the picnic table at our camp spot. Life is good.
I grab the box of pancake mix and add some water from my water bottle into bowl, stirring it with a fork as the frying pan heats up on the stove. The wind picks up and a couple of pine needles land in the bowl of batter. No worries, I think to myself as I pull them out, we’re camping, a little dirt won’t hurt us …
The smell of the sizzling melted butter in the pan signals that its time to cook the first pancake. Cooking outside in the open, with the trees waving and light clouds moving across the sky, it’s glorious!
Drizzling syrup over the stack of pancakes, I notice the steam coming from the pancakes and then I gaze at the piping hot cup of coffee I’ve poured in my favorite camping mug. Scrumptious! My mouth is watering before I even pick up my fork. After my first bite I have an epiphany — this has got be the best pancake I have ever tasted! The flavor is amazing and the texture so perfect … I am feeling the soft wind on my face, and I relish the moment and sink even deeper into this state of “un-doing.”
Pausing and Absorbing Our Practice
At the end of the weekend, I resist packing up. Can’t we enjoy one more cup of coffee by the river or savor another stroll through the woods? The important list of “to do’s” for the upcoming week has long been forgotten and I briefly consider the possibility of staying another night.
Camping, out in nature, where we’re forced to simplify, slow down, and return our focus to our most basic needs of shelter, food, water and fire, becomes a meditation. In our busy modern technology-driven life, it reminds us of what it is to be human.
As I slowly pack up the tent and sleeping bags and bring my attention to my life back at home, I feel energized and renewed, and I begin planning our next trip …