I love Pinterest. I discovered it a few months ago and have not looked back. When I’m bored I pull it up and read about Star Wars, cannabis, and recipes. I use it to dream about my next tour vehicle and discovering new camping hacks. It is truly junk food in the written word. One of my favorite things about Pinterest is the amount of lists for camping gear they have. Headlines almost always include some arbitrary number: 49 Things you MUST have for your next camping trip. The same items appear on almost every list and yet I read them each time and think to myself, “I absolutely need to get that inflatable lantern.”
The truth is nobody needs to get the inflatable lantern, the inflatable tent, or even the inflatable hammock (all real things, by the way). What do we need for summer camping? Or camping and outdoors-ing in general? My list for the things I need this summer looks a lot different than the ones I have seen on Pinterest.
Openness to experience, or the level to which someone accepts new experiences, is incredibly important to reaching full potential when exploring nature. Not only does it cause a statistically significant increase in cognitive ability and decision making (Lapine, Colquit, & Erez, 2000), it affords the mind a respite from the normal worries of every day life back in the city. Accepting and inviting whatever it is that comes our way means we won’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go according to plan. It means losing our attachment to the way we think things ought to be. When exploring nature this trait is invaluable and constantly utilized. Sometimes you forget the can opener and you don’t realize it until you unpack at the campsite that’s an hour and a half from anywhere. Other times it unexpectedly pours down rain the entire weekend for a backpacking trip and you forgot the cover to your backpack. Or maybe your keys fell out of your pocket when you were hiking out of the Grand Canyon that one time and you didn’t realize it until you got to the car. Yeah, these have all happened to me and caused minor to major meltdowns. Not this year, friends. If I drive all the way to the Jemez and forget my fishing rod I’m going to go hiking instead. Who knows? I may see something I’ve never seen before.
Take it all in. What does the air smell like exactly? How cold is the water in the stream? How do different trails feel beneath your feet? What happens to your mind and body during a long hike? How does the campfire smell? What memories comeback when that smell lingers on your clothes? What thoughts are you having as you sit by the lake? Think about how you are part of nature, not separate from it when you lay down in camp at night. By being mindful of every aspect of our outdoors experience we ground ourselves in the natural world and allow it to work its healing in our lives. Five deep breaths are all it takes to connect yourself to the moment. When your mind naturally makes its way towards problems and stressors you’ve encountered during the work week, allow them to pass like leaves on a river. Observe them, then move your attention back to the present moment by connecting with the feeling of your breath and labeling your five sense. A more enriching interaction with the natural world is your reward.
As we walk through the natural world we must do so with the intention that we will keep it as such: natural. This is a result of the compassion we feel towards ourselves, our communities, and the earth we live in. The three realms are not separate from each other. When we feel compassion for one realm it will inform our interactions with another. We feel compassion towards ourselves, this will extend to our community. If we have compassion for our community and ourselves, we will desire to enrich and conserve the natural environment we find ourselves in. Our environment feeds our communities in many ways, from the farms that grow our food to the mountains that feed our souls. Having compassion towards our environment means that we tread lightly and preserve them so the community we love can continue to benefit from the land long into the future.
Have you ever been hiking in pristine wilderness only to come around a bend in the trail and see leftover food trash? It’s a miserable experience. Leave no trace ethics are paramount to keeping our natural lands healthy and ensuring their survival. Do you know how to poop in the woods? What about what you should do to erase your campsite? Do you know what cryptobiotic soil is? Educate yourself on how you can enjoy the natural world in the most responsible way. Wherever you are, leave the earth looking better than when you found it.
This refers to your ability to think and process your experiences while they are happening and after they happen. When you are in the wild it is important to let your mind explore your soul. What better place to ask the big questions than surrounded by a cluster of 14,000 foot peaks? Or staring at a sunset while listening to the lull of waves at the shore? The ability to reflect on your experiences is the key to learning from them. Sometimes it doesn’t come naturally, but here are some questions you can ask yourself if you’re finding it hard to get started:
- How is this experience affecting me?
- Why did I do that?
- What do I really need right now?
Enjoy your adventures this summer. Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Bring your maps and a raincoat. Don’t forget the snacks and inflatable hammock. Don’t forget why your doing it, either.