Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” We may not think about it often, but mindfulness has been a key part of being at camp for a long time.
Although it may not be something that we communicate often, encouraging our campers and staff to be mindful of their summer experience is one of the reasons why we remain unplugged at our camps. Before Mindfulness was a buzzword, many of us in the camping world understood the intrinsic value of being “unplugged” and in the moment in the great outdoors. Technology has a great many values in the world outside of camp, but at camp it often acts as a distraction, and can truly change an experience from one that our campers will never forget, to one they miss entirely.
These days we spend a lot of time thinking about what’s coming next, or dwelling on what’s already happened. But living in the moment is what mindfulness and summer camp are all about.
Where else do our girls get the opportunity to do something in the moment, just because it is fun? How often can they stand in the rain just to feel the water drip down their faces? And splash in the puddles with no concern of how wet they are getting, or how much mud they will track inside? When else will they simultaneously have a schedule that allows them to know what’s coming next without ever having to be worried about the time?
Summer camp isn’t a place to worry. Summer camp is a place to experience. We want to live in the moment with our campers when they experience new situations and sensations, whether that be dipping their toes into the cascades for the first time, or enjoying their first s’more.
You may be able to think back to when you were a child, before the days when work, your phone, or homelife responsibilities crept into the corners of your mind. Maybe you made mud pies in backyard, maybe you had long late night conversations while sitting in a parking lot with your best friend. Those memories stick with you because you were present, truly present in that moment. I can remember the color of the sunset over my high school football field, and I can remember the refreshingly cold smack of the lake water against my skin at summer camp when I’d jump in off the dock. I remember seeing my first turtle…
Small children are mindfulness masters! They haven’t yet learned how to worry. They see a situation for what it is. The rest of us, however, need more practice as we get older. We so often need to remind ourselves to be “present.” Kids are holding onto their mastery of mindfulness less and less these days, which is why experiences like summer camp are so important. Summer camp is an opportunity to practice mindfulness everyday, and just like everything else in life, the more you practice the better you get.
Elise’s summer camp journey began as a camper at Girl Scout camps in New York. As she got older, she worked her way from Junior Counselor to Waterfront Director with a Girl Scout residential summer camp in Vermont. Elise attended the University of Maine at Farmington, where she dual-majored in English and Psychology. Elise has worn many work hats, having been a Youth Advocate, Behavioral Health Professional, Education Technician, a Volunteer Coordinator and most recently the Executive Camp Director for non-traditional co-ed day and resident camps in Massachusetts. A former women’s rugby player and Zumba instructor, Elise currently spends what little free time she has playing with her husband, new baby boy, and animals (three dogs, four cats and a bird!). She can also be found painting, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and watching reruns of Star Trek. Her favorite foods are campfire s’mores and mac and cheese.