How Wild Whatcom Brings Mindfulness to Trail Work Parties
Here are three of our favorite ways that Wild Whatcom makes time for mindfulness with youth.
By Clarissa Allen
Every year, WTA works with dozens of community partners to lead stewardship events for youth ages 10–18. One special collaboration, with Wild Whatcom, has been in place for almost 10 years. Through our work with Wild Whatcom, we’ve seen first-hand how they foster lifelong connections to nature in their cohort-style outdoor education programs.
Over the years, WTA staff and volunteer leaders have loved seeing the ways that Wild Whatcom incorporates their organization's practices and culture into their WTA day work parties, specifically those practices that cultivate mindfulness. Here are three of our favorite ways Wild Whatcom cultivates mindfulness on WTA work parties.
Every WTA work party begins with an opening circle, but our events with Wild Whatcom follow a specific formula for checking in and building community. First, we build an awareness of the place we’re gathering in and tending by reflecting on the history of the land and expressing gratitude to its first stewards. Then we introduce ourselves as individuals, sharing our nature names (those who have one) and how our bodies and hearts are feeling at the moment. This check-in practice supports youth in building awareness of self and communicating that to the group.
In the afternoon, after a full day of meaningful work on trail, Wild Whatcom mentors lead the group in an activity called Peaceful Place, also known as a sit spot. Peaceful Place is an opportunity for every single person to have integration and alone time at the end of the outing. It’s the pause before transitioning on to the next thing. To participate in Peaceful Place, youth find a spot to have personal space and are encouraged to be truly present and reflect on their day with the support of the 5 S’s. They are still, or stay in one place. They are silent. They sit alone, or solo. They are safe (choose a spot within earshot of the group, don't sit on "stinging" plants or sensitive habitat, etc.). They use all of their senses: What do they see, hear, taste, smell, feel? Younger folks might start with 5 minutes; older teens may sit for 2 hours on some of their outings. Any amount of time can be meaningful.
After Peaceful Place, everyone walks back to the trailhead to put away tools, have a snack and participate in the closing circle. In this circle, Wild Whatcom mentors cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Mentors ask youth to close their eyes, and then they describe what happened that day. During this story of the day, youth pay attention to memories that spark joy, moments that made them smile and people who supported them. After, youth open their eyes and take turns sharing with the community something that they feel gratitude for. This intentional closing circle practice allows youth to take stock of the experiences they’ve had that day and reflect on them in a meaningful way. This practice fosters a culture of people who are able to self-reflect and share in reciprocal gratitude.
Fostering nature connections
Like WTA, Wild Whatcom knows that connecting to ourselves and others outdoors is good for our hearts, minds and bodies.
“Getting outside looks different for everyone, and access to that looks different for people. Whatever access to nature we have has the power to be healing and to spark curiosity. Watching the ants carry food back and forth on the concrete can spark just as many questions as watching the orcas travel the channels of Juan de Fuca,” said Stormie Romero, Wild Whatcom program manager and mentor.
As part of their commitment to making their programs accessible to families with lower incomes, Wild Whatcom offers financial assistance and free loaner gear to all participants. We’re grateful for our partnership and the good work Wild Whatcom is doing to foster lifelong nature connections in our youngest generation of explorers, stewards and champions for Washington's trails.