Taming the Wavering Mind: Thoughts from Bryce Canyon [photos]

I recently started talking to a therapist about my anxiety and fears through an app called Talkspace. As a side note before we get into things, Talkspace is an app that will find you a licensed therapist best suited to your situation. You can communicate with them through text, audio and video clips, and even schedule live video sessions with them. I have found it to be an extremely easy and accessible way to get into therapy without actually having to go and sit down with someone. As an introvert, the thought of sitting down with a stranger and spilling my feelings out is a nightmare so this is much more on my level.

Anyways, one of the things discussed last week with my therapist was learning to disconnect from my thoughts, focus on my breathing through technique and repetition, and practicing being in the moment. These lessons coincided nicely with my plans for this weekend which was to spend two days in beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah.

            My mind is always racing and it can be a challenge throughout the day to pull myself back into the present moment, but moments being surrounded by breath-taking nature is like a cheat code to mindfulness. My mind and my body just sort of sink into the moment, into the surrounding. I think we all have certain activities where mindfulness is much more easily attained and this is where we can start practicing. For some it can be writing or painting or playing with your dogs or kids. For me, the thing that brings me back to the present is being in nature surrounded by grounding and wonderous spectacles.

Bryce Canyon was the perfect place for being present this weekend. Sitting atop the Colorado Plateau, most of the park is between 8,000-9,000 feet elevation. This plateau carries winds that will pummel you if you aren’t careful (I find the excess wind exciting and invigorating). This area has drastic changes in temperature from day to night. I experienced this as the outside air was in the 60s throughout the days plummeting to the 20s at night. These conditions are perfect for carving the mesmerizing rows of rocky towers called hoodoos that are littered around the canyon. I learned that hoodoos are formed when the water from the day slowly seeps into the cracks and fissures in the rock. As the temperature drops at night, the water freezes and expands in the rock, slowly chipping away and eroding the rock over millions of years and leaving these remarkable and intricate stone towers.

Walking down amongst the hoodoos is like walking in a garden of ancient gods. They tower and loom over you with the presence and the force of a time inconceivable to a meager wanderer. They speak of the power of water to shape earth. Water that compressed river and sea sediment into limestone so many years ago, and water now seeping into the rocks and freezing, further changing and sculpting this whimsical land. And the power of water and erosion continue. As monstrous and powerful as these columns of rock seem, they are not static. They too will be destroyed by the very thing that created them. Everything is moving, changing, and fleeting; even the gods of our world.

            As you walk through this heightened land of rushing winds and flowing bands of color, you start to notice the diversity around you. While there are hoodoos scattered amongst the hills, you also notice rolling sand dunes in the spaces between the hoodoos. The distant mesas and plateaus are daunting in the distance, reaching well above 11,000 feet. The land flattens at the top of them and then fades into the distance, leaving food for my imagination. Where does it go? How did it form? The thing about living out here is it makes you want to become a geology expert.

At the flatter bottoms of the canyon are pockets of forest. Pine and firs dot the landscape and poke out of areas you would never deem fit for a tree. Pine can be found on the edges of cliffs and in between giant rocky slabs that must only get a sliver of sunlight a day. Here in this high, jagged, desolate, and ever-changing landscape, life abounds. It makes me feel that all life is just a giant exhale of energy, flowing upwards out of the void, filling in and abiding wherever it can, in the most unusual and surprising of places. Seeing a small tree wedging out of the face of a rocky cliff, alone and basking in the sun despite all odds fills me with joy and an appreciation for the resiliency we all share as lifeforms.

It was here amongst this illustrious, dynamic world that I lost myself and surrendered to the moment. The ego sort of fades into the distance as the beauty and age of our world is out on full display. Standing in so many spots throughout the hikes, I just stopped and fell into silence. Thoughts were halted, my worries about the future ceased, and my attachment to my own sense of identity vanished. Looking out over this strange and curious world, the shapes and colors of the rocks, sands, and forests melded together into a symphony of sensational awareness. I sighed relaxingly and instinctually as the scale and beauty of it all literally took my breath.

In those moments, everything is still, almost timeless, and I found myself being caught up in the larger flow of time and energy as an awareness. I recall the sounds of distant birds, the furious hiss and chill of the wind on my face, the stratified colors of reds, browns, whites, and golds of the exposed rock, the dots of dark green from the trees peppering the hills, the way the light played on the angles of sand dunes, and the ominous overseeing of the distant, hazy plateau. In the space between all of these sensations, my awareness stood.

To the depths of my soul I felt an undercurrent of peace and tranquility sweep me away and the only outward sign I could muster was a slow, relaxed, guttural exhale of air as I became present with not just the current moment, but all moments. That’s when the moment of who and what I am, along with everything else, came into view. It is those moments of clarity that I seek to master. These places are hotbeds for practicing and mastering the mind and the moment.

There is another thing I love about trips like this too and that is putting my full attention and curiosity into a place. I am naturally curious so discovering a new place, learning about its history and geology, and intimately encountering the details, colors, textures, and scales of a place makes me feel like a kid in a giant playground. This is when my spirit seems most happy. If we are an awareness amidst and among an ocean of energy then I am the equivalent of a wandering surfer riding the wave of my life. I am at play and life becomes staggeringly simple. The flow of my mind, my hike, and my day become intuitive and free. I find the most joy in these adventurous moments learning, discovering, and basking in this miracle of experience.

My trip to Bryce Canyon was a spiritual vector transporting me to the reality of myself and this world. The thing is, these temporary feelings of bliss and connectedness are still sporadic and too few and far between for me. The way I felt in those quiet moments is the way I can feel throughout any day. Nature is a gateway into this mindset for me and it is a great teacher in bringing me back to the moment, but it’s also a reminder that I don’t need nature to accomplish this mentality.

I can make a choice at every moment to live in peace with myself, no matter what I am actually feeling or doing. Life at any time can be treated as play as we find the beauty and majesty in every moment, our eyes opened and full of wonder. This is the ticket and it is right in front of us. This is my mission going forward and I hope to take the lessons and practice from this week along with me in order to cultivate a mind that is awakened and encouraged by every changing direction of the wind.

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