In the May issue of Yoga Journal, Sarah Saffian profiles six teachers who are bringing contemplative strategies into their commitment to restore ecological health to our planet. Focusing on practices that range from one minute to one year, Saffian challenges readers to explore the benefits of similar practices at a level that feels appropriate to them.
My work with Inside Passages Alaska was Saffian's pick for the week-long profile. In her introduction to the piece she writes, "It is easy to feel powerless in the face of an ailing planet, especially when the demands of daily life leave you feeling like the Earth's myriad problems are separate, distant concerns. But each of us is affected by the planet's welfare, and each of us has power to impact it. Get inspired by what six passionate stewards of the environment did to reconnect with their commitment to protect the Earth. Then take a moment, a day, or a week to nurture your own relationship with the planet, and let that inform your actions in the world."
Here is Saffian's short piece on Inside Passages, titled "In 1 Week You Can...Expand Your Boundaries"
"Nearly 20 years ago, Kurt Hoelting, a writer, commercial fisherman, and meditation teacher, longed for a perfect storm of physical and spiritual engagement. "I wanted to combine my Zen practice, my love of being out on the wild edge of nature, and my commitment to environmental activism and ecological literacy," he says from his home in Whidbey Island, Washington. He set out on a backpacking trip in Nevada's Clan Alpine mountains, where he combined silent hikes with morning and evening Zen meditation. It was a profound experience that he says deepened his connection to nature in a visceral way. Realizing that bringing other environmental activists into the wilderness could help them renew their calling, he organized a sea kayaking expedition in southeast Alaska for 10 colleagues. The response from participants was so positive, Hoelting says, that he began to offer similar weeklong trips for activists every year.
Many environmental activists, he says, can feel distanced from the environment they're striving to protect—as if they were working on behalf of a separate entity. Wilderness retreats are a way to bridge that gap. "When we work on behalf of threatened ecosystems, we are working to heal and protect ourselves," he says. "It is so important to get that at a bone level, not just at an intellectual level."
Each day on the expedition, sessions of kayaking are punctuated by periods of traditional sitting and walking meditation, yoga asana, and conversation, specifically about "what it really means to care for the well-being of our larger selves—the eco-self," Hoelting explains.
The intention is to bring contemplative practice and meditative discipline to the active exploration of ecological and social issues, and to grapple with how to be fully human in the face of them. "To hold those questions in a spacious way, with an open heart and a lot of curiosity, is rare," says Hoelting, "but that's what usually happens on these trips. We discover that sense of the natural world as an extension of our beings—a more full-bodied awareness of connecting with the vastness of that outer and inner terrain."
This coming summer will be my twentieth season of offering these week-long sea kayaking meditation retreats in Southeast Alaska, and I continue to marvel at the power of bringing a listening heart, and a discipline of contemplative practice, into encounters with wild nature. The combination of meditative practice in a primal setting evokes deep currents of connection to our wider nature, and a more profound understanding of why it matters to care for the well-being of natural systems as a dimension of caring for ourselves.
And if I may add a touch of promotion, for those who find this intriguing, we still have one spot available on each of our two Alaskan kayaking retreats this summer. If what Saffian has described here resonates with you, contact me to ask about joining in this adventure. The skill level required is modest, and the setting for exploring a practice-based life could not be more evocative. Here is what others have said about these trips. Consider joining us.