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Unplugging mindfully: Feathered Pipe Ranch

It seems that no matter how mindful we are in our practice – on the cushion, the yoga mat, or otherwise – many of us struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with technology. As more and more retreat centers offer full wi-fi and technology access, what’s a seeker to do when you really want to unplug? We’ve got the answer. Head to Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana for The Mindful Unplug Experience, their signature homegrown program.

We spoke with the Feathered Pipe Foundation’s Founder and Executive Director, India, and Board Chair, Anne, to find out more about why this program is so powerful in its simplicity.

Anne recalls the program’s genesis: “A few years ago, what occurred to a small group of us is that we live in an insanely digitally-saturated time. And as you know, there are billions of people out there, everybody from kids and teenagers to adults and people in the working world who spend a lot of time at least once removed from the real world. They are tethered to their screens continuously, and that isolating digital filter can dull the senses. It can create all kinds of stress, it affects sleep, it affects health and most importantly it has compromised our instincts for compassion and the quality of our everyday interactions with other human beings. We’re increasingly disconnected from one other.”

A growing body of research documents how this disconnect is having serious detrimental effects on our health, happiness, and overall sense of wellbeing. The more people ‘connect’ with their phones, the more they isolate themselves and the less they connect face to face with others. Says Anne, “We decided to create a homegrown program, and rather than build it around influential and well-known teachers, (although I would certainly welcome these teachers to The Mindful Unplug), we decided to assemble our own skilled team of talented guides who know the Ranch intimately and could weave the sacred land into the experience of mindful movement, meditation, and especially the field of sensory literacy. Bringing the senses back online. The ideal team of great people to do this emerged, almost without effort, and we’re leading our third full Ranch program this August.”

So part of the equation seems obvious: take one look at Feathered Pipe’s website and you can’t help but be struck by the unspoiled majesty of the Montana landscape. Mountains surround the ranch, which is only open for retreat in the summer months and is home to all the flora and fauna that Big Sky Country can offer. It feels easy to want to unplug there – the landscape itself is plenty inspiring and compelling all on its own…

India speaks to the magic of the land: “Montana isn’t even remote to the way it used to be, but compared to almost everything else in America, it still feels pure and wild. You go down a long dirt road to get to the Feathered Pipe Ranch. On the way to work, for me, I pass the animal refuge and there are bears playing, right at the end of our road we see nesting eagles, making easy prey out of the poor Canadian geese. Go up a bit further and you might see a mountain lion at the gate taking down a deer, and then you see the herd of deer and you go up a little bit more and you might see the elk and a moose. You see all those things in one drive or in one time at the ranch.”

Aside from the literal aspect of unplugging your devices, what does ‘mindfully unplugging’ mean exactly? Anne explains:

“It’s more than a digital detox. The idea is to nudge human senses back online and to give people practical, real-life skills to be at least as curious about the real world as the virtual world. Learning to deeply relax, practicing mindfulness, learning how to be in this crazy world we’re in. Those are all learnable skills essential to these times. And many people are craving it. They might sign up for a yoga class, or they might join a group meditation, but for any of these practices to take hold, immersion is where it’s at… when you want to learn a language, when you want to learn French, you go to France, immerse yourself in the experience, and your brain then starts to deeply comprehend the grammar. It’s the same if you want to learn the grammar of mindful living and you want to understand how to be in this world without having your nervous system hijacked by technology overlords. I’m exaggerating, but we’re enslaving ourselves to, rather than mastering technology. If you want to reassume agency over tech, it’s vital to immerse yourself in the contemplative practices and the Feathered Pipe is the ideal place to do it because it’s a light-hearted vibe and everyone feels at home and at ease there instantly. We’ve got the intimate setting and the guides to support you through the guided experiences, and then because we’re at the Ranch? The land itself may be the best teacher of all.”

In short: mindfulness is easier to practice when you’re surrounded by conspicuous beauty on all sides and everything in your environment supports your learning.

“There’s a great, Grateful Dead song “Bent my ears to hear the tune and, closed my eyes to see,” says India. “In yoga, we talk about pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, and I have thought – [in the Mindful Unplug] we’re talking about not withdrawing from the senses and I’ve tinkered with how we reconcile that. Says Anne, “Until we know what the senses are, until we know what the world can offer us and remain attentive to what’s happening while it’s happening, what we see, what we hear, what we touch, who we love, what we feel, the ground under our feet, until we can do that, we don’t have the confidence, the security, the groundedness to surrender into to the deepest place inside of ourselves. And then from there, bringing compassion into action in our own lives, and for the good of all, becomes as natural as the breath itself.”

“And so, in a very simple way it’s about connecting what’s inside with what’s outside and realizing there’s no difference between the two,” says India.

Well said.

Are you ready to unplug?

The Feathered Pipe Foundation is nestled in the Montana Rockies. Founder and Executive Director, India, and Board Chair, Anne Jablonski, are very passionate about their offering of conscious living retreats and yoga retreats. To learn more about the Feathered Pipe, visit their Retreat Guru profile

*Photos by Zane Williams Photography.

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