Mindfulness in Yellowstone
For several years I have felt stuck, trapped in the flow of expectations for myself and perceived expectations from others. I desperately wanted to be, as I put it in yearly resolutions scribbled on scraps of paper, “my best self.” However, striving for something so ill-defined ultimately fueled my greatest shame, a battle continuously raging within—my depression and anxiety. I was constantly questioning my worth, whether those closest to me genuinely valued our relationships, and whether I even had valid reasons to feel the way I did. My head constantly buzzed with intrusive thoughts and I regularly ruminated over my past mistakes and potential failures. I was tearing myself apart and straying further from who I wanted to be, yet I could not stop myself. Despite seeking help, I was beginning to believe that I would always feel that way—that this was just who I am.
But everything changed when I found a business card exclaiming, “Take one if you’re interested in working in Yellowstone!”. I applied for the first position I could find without a second thought. Little did I know, working in Yellowstone would change my life completely; it would be an eye-opening opportunity which would shift my perspective, help me rediscover myself, and find a deeper meaning in seemingly mundane experiences.
The change occurred almost instantaneously. Within the first month, as I worked for the Lake Lodge as a room attendant, I encountered a great deal of challenges but, through a fierce determination and persistent effort, I overcame them. Unlike before my time in Yellowstone, I began to fully utilize my strengths and recognize my weaknesses; I began to understand that these weaknesses did not define me. This understanding was a reward in itself and my hard work did not go unnoticed, as I was soon promoted to the position of rooms inspector. While not the sole component, this accomplishment launched a re-evaluation of who I was and my perspective in life.
After work and on my days off, I dedicated my time to exploring Yellowstone and the surrounding area. Not only did hiking the trails throughout Yellowstone bring me to awe-inspiring waterfalls and majestic mountain peaks, but they also lead me to deliberately think about each step I took and focus on my breathing as I navigated through new terrain; simultaneously, they combatted the intrusive thoughts that once invited themselves into my consciousness. The seemingly endless rumination that once took up so much of my time was fading away and soon gave way to a natural state of being mindful. With less time wasted on obsessing over my mistakes and failures, whether they lie in the past or I was conjuring up a less-than-likely future, I was able to bring awareness to my senses and notice things I had once ignored— simple things—like the way my muscles flexed and relaxed with each movement and the intricate patterns of bark on trees. Mindfulness extended into an appreciation for the details surrounding me, and this appreciation reignited my passion for photography. I strived to capture my favorite details in photographs, to keep them as a memento to look back on in the future—something I am thankful for to this day.
When I tell people that Yellowstone changed my life, I am not exaggerating. Working in and exploring Yellowstone taught me valuable lessons and provided me with experiences that, today, help me fight back any depressive and anxiety symptoms that I may encounter. When unwanted questions of my worth simmer up on my bad days, I can now reflect on my strengths as an individual and how my weaknesses, while they do not define me, are a piece of being human; I can praise myself for all I have accomplished, big and small, and forgive myself for my mistakes. When I find myself ruminating in negativity, I can practice being mindful, whether it is noticing sensations or appreciating the details of my surroundings; I can stop the negativity and redirect my attention to something better. These are skills that I had once lacked but have gained because of my time in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone changed my life and, in anticipating my return for another summer season, I am open to the additional change it has to offer.
When Kayla Theune isn’t spending her summer working for the Lake Lodge as a rooms inspector and exploring Yellowstone, she is an undergraduate student in Wisconsin studying psychology. As a self-proclaimed adventurer, she spends as much time as she can on road trips with a handful of her closest friends—camping in and exploring national parks and sightseeing in nearby cities. Ordinarily, however, she can often be found reading one of her favorite books, writing, or planning future adventures. After her graduation from college in May, she will be returning to Yellowstone for another season and is looking forward to new experiences with friends, new and old.