Mindfulness in Iceland

I was recently in Nepal and participated in a number of yoga and meditation classes, and realized they’re not very different. Meditation is actually something we do all the time, though it may be mindless, and sometimes misused to be a tool for negative rumination.

I’ve always noticed that Icelandic nature, and the things I do in Iceland, seem a perfect setting for productive meditation. I’m usually most relaxed when I’m horse back riding, looking out on some epic scenery in the highlands, sitting in a natural hot tub in the middle of nowhere, or watching the midnight sun touch the ocean before going back up into the horizon. If the weather was better, I’m sure there would be more yoga retreats here.

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meditating with my horse in some summery sunny Icelandic weather

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an ambassador of peace and well-known spiritual leader from India, was in Iceland last week to give on a talk on the importance of meditation. He explains it as a way for people to find inner calm and happiness, which spreads naturally through a population and serves an important role in creating peace.

Exploring Iceland and SATI Mindfulness worked together to put on a Mindfulness Retreat in Hveragerdi last weekend, and I was lucky enough to take part with another 20 or so participants, a mixture of Americans, Icelanders, and one German. Our teachers were Craig and Devon, along with a landscape architect with a Phd. in Environmental design. Calling it a Mindfulness Retreat was an interesting marketing move, since telling my family I was going to a 3 day meditation workshop would have made them a little worried about my mental health – why is it that practicing meditation is such an alternative/hippy thing?

Along with some hiking, stretching and exercising, we learned that meditation is a transition from movement to stillness, and noise to silence. It gives you time to contextualize life, commit to happiness, and consider compassion. When meditating, Sri Sri’s three mantras are: I want nothing. I am nothing. I am doing nothing.

Have you ever wondered how hard it is to do nothing? Its nearly impossible. Your mind never shuts up, and if it does it only lasts a few moments before something else you need to remember or plan to do pops up. Devon and Craig also like to call ‘mindufulness’ ‘bodyfulness,’ since its in those moments when your brain quiets that you can really feel and listen to your body. Even if its pain or tiredness, just listening to your physical sensations is an extremely powerful ability that many of us ignore.

Sometimes I caught myself imagining what it would be like to have a super low IQ, or super intense ADHD, maybe then it would be easier to focus only on the here and now. Focusing on just yourself in the moment is a really difficult way to narrow your thoughts, and I’m not sure I ever managed to truly get there in our 3 days together.

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Reykjadalur, the smokey valley and hot river most people come to Hveragerdi for

Hveragerdi was a wonderful place to have the workshop. We were surrounded by summer, green vegetation, a steaming mountain side, and a hot river to bathe in. There were also hundreds of girl and boy scouts having some kind of retreat at the same time, offering endless fields of coloured tents and people walking around with rolled neck bands. We didn’t have to compete with them for a supply of nature and relaxation, but one day when we all ended up in a forest with instructions to try and hug a tree, literally, I was hoping some of them would walk by and see a bunch of grown, sober adults tree hugging and wondered what their reaction would be.

We did some other strange exercises, like trying to walk as slow as you can without stopping (you can go really slow!), or making one hand a fist be the sun and smashing it into the other open palm which represented the moon, but everything was more fun when we did it together. What I came away with from this retreat was to remember more often to bring out the inner child and just play – with myself, with nature with thoughts, and with feelings. It definitely makes you feel lighter.

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Escape to Nepal

I wasn’t planning on going to Nepal before Pakistan, since Pakistan is right beside Afghanistan, but the overroad routes between the two were unsafe and my fake husband Michael from Germany couldn’t get a visa. For whatever random reason, Icelanders don’t need a visa to Pakistan (which was a problem in itself, since every hotel and customs guy asked for my visa and I nearly couldn’t leave the country). But yeah, visa-free entry, not visa on arrival, for me and not German Michael. So, in Kabul, when it was time to leave Afghanistan, we had to go to the airport and find a way out by air.

lots of stupas and prayer flags in Kathmandu

lots of stupas and prayer flags in Kathmandu

We had preemptivley booked the cheapest flight to New Delhi but missed it after our flight from Bamyan was delayed. So we bought another, much more expensive flight at the airport, to New Delhi, and instead of stopping there went onwards to Kathmandu because… well, why not, we had both never been there (and its hard to breathe in New Delhi). The trip was last minute and very unplanned, but after more than a month in Iran and Afghanistan, it was a breath of fresh air to arrive in a country where I didn’t have to be covered, and alcohol and pork were legally sold.

Boudhanath stupa

Boudhanath stupa

Kathmandu was smaller than I expected, but not as crowded as I feared. Its squashed between China (slash Tibet) and India and the mixture of Buddhist and Hindu religions all nestled under the Himalayas, making the most beautiful backdrop for a cultural mixture of faces and features.

Phewa Lake in Pokhara

Phewa Lake in Pokhara

I felt as if I had escaped to a colourful place, full of freedom and spiritual enlightenment. In Pokhara, I took a 2 day course of yoga and meditation, and in Kathmandu, I managed to socialize in cafes and public places as a solo woman. Strangely enough both of those things were equally enlightening. I also jumped off a bridge 70m down to a woman herding her livestock home, but luckily the bungee line bounced me back up.

bungee jumping

bungee jumping

Nepal is a place to travel to for more than just an unplanned week. And escaping to Nepal in my tshirt and skirt after a month covered from head to toe in black clothes was a form of travel therapy. But a week in Nepal is better than no time in Nepal, and I sent Michael on his way to Germany and had to go back west to Pakistan. The road can get tiring sometimes, but the best thing about traveling is change. And Nepal was a pleasant break from the Silk Road.