The more time people spend inside on devices, the more "blind" they are becoming to the place in which they live. It may sound a bit existential, but place blindness--the idea that fewer and fewer people have a relationship with the land around them -- is an identified phenomena.
"The lifestyle shift has been very dramatic since 2007 when the iPhone dropped," Micah Mortali, whose new Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership (KSMOL) is the first to design a stewardship course rooted in mindfulness, tells ASN.
"The average time on a device is 11 hours a day, and people now spend over 90 percent of their lives indoors. If children are living this way and not bonding with the outdoor environment where they live, where will the future environmentalists come from? If you don't love your land, you won't care if you lose it."
Mortali says modern yogic practice is partly to blame, too. "Yoga and mindfulness have become nature-deficit themselves. We're inside in big groups where we can't breathe, wearing synthetic clothes, lying on rubber mats."
That was the spark for KSMOL. The certification program, which launches this October, is designed to teach people to become mindful guides, but also ambassadors between people and the bioregions where they live, using mindfulness as the tool to foster a deeper connection, according to Mortali, who grew up playing in the woods of New England.
The school offers two levels of training in nine-day courses, and is appropriate for outdoor guides, educators and counselors, as well as everyday outdoor enthusiasts who want to further their connection to the land and local community. Graduates will take home basics like first aid and CPR, but also specific skills to lead individuals and small groups in connecting more mindfully with nature.
Topics in Level 1 range from forest bathing fundamentals, nature therapy and council practice, to advanced theories of nature meditations, fire rituals, shelter building and animal connections in Level 2.
The teaching methodology goes something like this, says Mortali: Orient people to where you are, maybe including the history and ecology of place so they start to see where they are, too. Incorporate some warming-up movements and breath to get into your body. Then go into 'centering' by closing the eyes, connecting with the present moment, and letting go of any stories. Then, drop into gratitude for the earth under your feet, mindful walking, forest bathing, or it could be “prairie bathing” depending where you are.
The 75-hour certification programs, held on Kripalu's 125-acre lakefront property in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, will set you back a couple grand. It's $1,049 for the course; room and board can hit $900 for the week-plus stay, depending on whether you choose to sleep dorm-style or in a private.
For those without the resources to commit just yet, Mortali shares some simple ways to start overcoming your place blindness, wherever you are:
Near is the New Far
"Instead of studying the rain forests, why aren't we studying the immediate woodlands? Rather than Machu Picchu, maybe we should get to know where we are. How well do you know the place where you live?" Mortali asks.
Try mindful walking at a little pocket park or find a tree in an urban setting. Bring attention to the present movement, connect to breathing and let go of your agendas. Stay with this sensation as you begin to walk, allowing your mind to come back to breath, and just pay attention to what's real all around you.
Whether it's to other people or the world around us, "listening is one of the most ancient practices of all," Mortali says. "Start focusing more on your on sense of hearing -- birds speaking, wind through the trees, running water in a babbling brook. These are very powerful doorways."
Build a campfire. Commit to a fire pit. Light some candles each night. Fire, Mortali says, is a primary portal for meditation. Humans historically ended the day gazing at a fire. “Fire is such a primal element, a way to purify the sense of sight," he says. “But it doesn't have to be a bonfire."
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