Nature whispers and boots creak in the midst of a thousand shades of snow. All that is heard amidst the winter silence is your breath and the rhythmic crunch of snow beneath your feet. And chirping birds, somewhere away from here. The sleepy, quiet sunlight is dancing with the trees. The crisp air is spiced up by ethereal scents of fir needles. Twinkling snow crystals are whirling out of the trees. Wintertime is full of wonder and snowy woods showcase nature’s calm beauty. And although there seems to be magic and poetry everywhere, there is no such thing as magic; it’s simply mindfulness and the awesome beauty of Tirol’s snowy wilderness.
Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the European mainstream in recent years. Yoga, meditation classes and spiritual practices of the Far East have become increasingly popular tools for calming the mind. Once a poorly understood New Age fad, mindfulness has moved from the margins to the mainstream.
According to Wikipedia, the practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Mindfulness is a “kind of non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is” (Bishop et al., 2004).
The relentless and frantic pace of modern life can stifle creativity and undermine happiness and wellbeing – thus it’s no wonder that more and more people see mindfulness as vital for dealing with the complexity of our information-rich lives. What mindfulness slowly brings to our understanding is how much our experience is shaped by our minds. It loosens that reactivity which can trap us in a limiting loop, and allows for very different responses, which can manifest in all kinds of ways – greater creativity, more empathy, and more patience, less judgment.
Kids are great at mindfulness and masters of intention – there is much you can learn by watching them. You only need to observe a small child at play to see how completely focused and totally absorbed in the present moment that they are. They can spend an eternity playing with a fallen leave or a moss-covered stick and searching for woodland sprites and secretly hidden caves. The popular guessing game named “I spy with my little eye… “, where players have to guess the object the ‘spy’ saw, is a game where little ones always stump Mom or Dad. They are fully awake in the present moment and their whole being is engaged.
We live in a small village on the mountain and the woods behind our home are our favourite playground. Each day we get out and create a new wonder, such as tiny forest homes, pirate’s ships, scales, mazes and rock cairns from those things the forest gives us, fir cones, stones, branches and sticks, moss, and icicles in the winter.
We don’t go there to simply pass the time. The woods are our secret sanctuary. I credit the woods for being a lifeline to the magical brilliance in its leafy reality. Being in nature provides a much-needed perspective, a greater vista. A walk in the woods is mindfulness in everyday life, it’s exploring nature in a “non-judgemental” way, it turns the mind inward upon itself, absorbed in self-reflection. Mindfulness, at the core, is about bringing your attention to the present moment. Doing so, we are able to see more wildlife and discern more subtle patterns.
There’s no better place to begin a practice of being truly “present” than the magnificent natural setting of the Land in the Mountains. I’m grateful for living here. Emerald carpets laden with dazzling wildflower bouquets draped over rolling ridges, towered by craggy cliffs invite you to embrace your senses. The stunning scenery is all the more dramatic in winter, when thick snow covers the ground and the water freezes into giant icicles. There’s a sense of well-being that comes from being outdoors immersed in nature. Where the only sounds you hear are chirping birds and your own heartbeat. No traffic noise and no mobile reception. This is where I can explore the concept of “forest bathing”—simply focusing on the senses as I immerse myself mindfully in nature and allow it to “bathe” me— and appreciation and gratitude naturally ripen.
It is quite simple to find ways in which to recharge our existential batteries and nourish our souls—though, in the days of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, it might be easier to have time for a walk in the woods while being on a holiday. Here’s my personal best of for mindfulness and outdoor experiences that create inner space in the Alps:
• Walking along the Way of St. James is where I found the shortest road to inner peace! Two stages make it especially easy to simply being “present” in the moment: the magnificent natural setting between Itter and Breitenbach, where a climb through dark forest brings you up to a wide-open upland plateau that gives you the ultimate in staggering and breathtaking views. And on the stage from St. Anton am Arlberg to St. Christoph am Arlberg, a scenic trail ambles peacefully through rolling Alpine meadows dotted by Maiensee Lakes, aquatic gems wrapped in gorgeous scenery. This awesome setting is made all the more spectacular by contrast with the dramatic mountainous terrain that stretches off in every direction near and far.
• Explore winter magic at the Heart of the Alps: 15 regions of Tirol provide opportunities for recreation and renewal of body, mind, and spirit in a beautiful natural setting.
• Nature Watch Walks invite you to discover the many opportunities for mindfulness in our mountains. The calm external environment encourages inner peace and sharpens the senses—be alert for special herbs and marmots. They are out there—close enough.
• AlpenRetreat in Nassereith offers an easy opportunity to discover the divinity within. Nurture your body, mind and spirit with a variety of yoga offerings. Or, hike on peaceful trails towards a quiet santuary at Brixen im Thale.