Joshua Tree: Making Friends with the Wind

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By Sebastian Slovin

We recently got back from leading a retreat up in Joshua Tree National Park. This was our second annual Nature Unplugged Mindfulness Retreat in collaboration with the University of San Diego's Outdoor Adventures program. We had a wonderful group of students from USD in attendance. It was an awesome time with an awesome group of people with plenty of takeaways I'm excited to share with you.

We arrived to our campsites a few hours after sundown and were welcomed by fierce and chilly winds out of the northwest. I was a bit shocked by the intensity of the wind and the cold at first. I knew it was going to be cold and windy but I wasn’t quite ready for the reality of it. The temperature was in the low 30’s with 30 - 40 mph winds (cold for southern California folk).  This was the tail end of a winter storm passing over the mountains to the west and through the area. Our group did wonderfully getting camp set up and everything in order in spite of the wild conditions. The wind persisted through the night and into the next day. I kept thinking to myself, it will ease up, but it didn’t.  

I didn’t get much sleep that first night due the noise of our tent flapping around from the wind. The next morning I was tired, short tempered and found myself being annoyed by the wind. Our trip itinerary was full of various mindfulness based activities like yoga and meditation and the wind was getting in the way of our game plan. It’s hard to do yoga when your mat is flopping all over the place or a breathing meditation with dust and sand flying in your face. Never the less, we went according to the plan that first morning and I facilitated a breathing meditation practice. It went well generally speaking but the conditions certainly made it challenging.

After our practice, we all gathered for breakfast and hot drinks. Not long after we had started to eat a fellow camper-lady, who was staying in the campsite next to ours, came over to say hello. She had an eclectic style, which was immediately noticeable as she walked over to us. Before any introduction or anything, she asked if she could read a quote to our group, saying we seemed like the kind of people who would enjoy it. Amused and intrigued, we agreed. Without inhibition, she read aloud, “Keep close to Nature’s heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” She continued, “This, of course, is by John Muir.”

We thanked her for the nice reading and then she smiled and walked off. As she walked away the Muir quote stayed with me. It resonated on a number of levels. To leave our phones and apps and technology behind,  to “unplug” and break away in order to spend some quality time in nature was precisely the point of this retreat. As the wind rushed all around me I thought more about that last line, “Wash your spirit clean.” It then occurred to me how 1.) silly it was to be resisting the wind (and the weather) and, 2.) how the wind (and all the other elements of the wild high desert), were indeed washing my spirit clean.

That little reading and gesture by our friendly camping neighbor was enough to help shift my perspective on the wind and the weather. We went on to have a wonderful trip full of hiking and (modified) yoga and meditation (often in our sleeping bags). Without the distraction of our phones or other devices, there was also deep sharing, listening, storytelling, and getting to know each other in way that is becoming increasingly rare.

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