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Under the Canopy of Connection: A Fulbright Journey to Mindfulness, Cross-Cultural Bonds, and Nature

Majestic old tree with textured bark and sprawling branches providing shade on a sunlit street corner in Laos
Majestic old tree with textured bark and sprawling branches providing shade on a sunlit street corner in Laos

I took my lunch break out of the office and began walking, not sure of my destination. Recently I’ve become more ok with that idea of letting go of exactly what the future will bring. Sometimes it’s good just to take a step. I knew I needed a little mental break to refresh my mind after having spent the morning teaching English to Doctors at my service placement here in the capital city of Laos. I felt the sun on my ears and face and realized that shade would be a good place to go.

I walked by groups of people eating together and sharing food, which I have discovered is a cultural norm here. I checked in with my stomach and noticed that my level of hunger was low, since I had eaten a filling bowl of soup hours before. I looked to my left and saw a giant tree (compared to the other street trees) providing lots of shade on the street. I walked up to the tree and put my hand on the bark which had the texture, size, and shape of oyster shells. There was a crinkling sound as I moved my hand over the papery ridges. The tree had a zinc fence on either side, so I wasn’t able to see the girth, but my guess is I could fit 6 - 8 of me standing side by side if the tree was hollow inside. I let my gaze follow one of the main stems as it branched off into about 10 other branches, each the size of telephone poles.

I had been sitting for hours before this, so I found a part of the tree that allowed me to lean back, while remaining standing. I let my gaze soften to take in the contrast of green fern-like leaves cast against the robin egg colored sky. Soon I saw little yellow leaves dropping off the tree and I began to feel myself relaxing a bit. I put my bag down and remembered Dr Dan Siegel's recommendation for making time daily for doing nothing or just being. As I continued to watch the leaves gently flutter to earth, I began to notice other sounds, such as chirping birds in the treetop. I had picked up an apricot looking fruit this morning from a street vendor and pulled it out of my bag. I didn’t know the correct way to eat it so I pretended it was a mango bit into the citrusy flavor. I left one of the walnut sized fruits in the nook of the giant tree, thus trying out the practice of making an offering. It felt good to have lunch with this tree, who provided me with a nice place to take a break, recharge, and refresh.

I hope you are able to connect mindfully with a tree or plant in the coming days. Please reach out if I can assist you with developing your mindfulness practice by visiting the CMHC webpage.

About the author:

Mindfulness Teacher Phillip McKnight
Mindfulness Teacher Phillip McKnight

Phillip McKnight is a dedicated mindfulness teacher and practitioner with a passion for fostering connection and understanding across diverse communities. He has completed a rigorous two-year training program accredited by the International Mindfulness Teachers Association, equipping him with the skills to effectively teach awareness and compassion-based practices.

Embarking on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Laos, Phillip has expanded his horizons by exploring the mental health benefits of cross-cultural appreciation, mindfulness, and the natural world. With a Master's degree in Instructional Systems Design, Phillip is adept at assessing the unique needs of individuals from various ages, backgrounds, and abilities. He employs his expertise to tailor mindfulness meditation sessions and equip participants with tools that nurture the body, heart, mind, and community. As an advocate for personal growth and cross-cultural appreciation, Phillip is on a mission to help others tap into the transformative power of mindfulness and forge meaningful connections with the world around them.

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