by Kelli Van Noppen, ID Nature Coordinator
In my last months as a classroom teacher, I decided that I needed to develop some new habits of mind in order to deal with the layers of stress I allowed myself to be buried under. I turned to a good friend of mine, also a teacher, who had been studying and training within the field of mindfulness and meditation for a couple years. She invited me over for a few guided sits and armed me with a list of podcasts, books, and audio CDs. I waded through them to find the ones that I found relatable and got to work. And by work, I mean sat down and began my practice of paying attention to my own attention. It all got very meta.
I figured it would be fairly easy for me to slip into this routine. Just sit and breathe and mind the present.
Turns out, it really wasn’t.
I could feel the benefits from my practice within a week. Decreased anxiety and increased motivation came first. But even with all the positive side effects, I still struggled to adhere to a routine. So I did what any good student of meditation does and paid attention to something else.
During this time I was also making the transition from teaching into working as the distance education coordinator here at the Montana Natural History Center. As part of that preparation, I took the Master Naturalist course MNHC offered during the summer in order to increase my background knowledge of the natural history of our state. During this class, the practice of journaling was introduced as a way to catalog and build an anthology of our own understanding of the content.
And I loved it. I bought a journal and a few Micron pens and again set to work. And by work, I mean wandered into the woods and began my practice of paying attention to every living thing I wandered past. This was also a bit more work than I thought it would be.
This is where I began to draw parallels between mindfulness and nature journaling. At first glance, both appear to be relatively simple and seem to yield increased levels of focus and attention and decreased levels of stress. They both share the beautiful potential to relish your current place and time. However, to sustain these two things and to reap the benefits encased within them, there is no choice but to surrender to the tedious action that is practice. Meeting yourself where you are, building them both into your week or day, and keeping a beginner’s mind about both is just a nice way of saying, keep your expectations low. That way, when the wolf lichen you attempted to capture resembles a fruit roll-up and you yell at the car in front of you for not using a turn lane, you can gently remind yourself that you are still learning.
It takes practice.
If you are a teacher in Montana and would like to start your own journey down these winding paths and see how you can incorporate them into your classroom, you may be interested in our upcoming professional development on these tandem topics. We will be launching a 2-credit graduate course that will run from February through April. Learn more and sign up here. Questions? Feel free to contact me at kvannoppen [at] montananaturalist [dot] org or 327.0405 x205.