Travel | Canada | Mushrooms & Meditation in Stanley Park
Sometimes it’s good to get out and do something different. A friend and I had both developed a bit of an obsession with looking at wild mushrooms this season, and we’d both been feeling more stressed than usual. So when he suggested we attend Spirit Quest Adventures’ three-hour Stanley Park Mushroom Ecology Tour & Mindfulness Workshop here in Vancouver, where we live. I was totally game.
Spirit Quest Adventures is a small tour and adventure company owned by local entrepreneur Kyle Pearce, who also works within the tech sphere. At 10 a.m. on an overcast but dry Sunday, we met up with a group of 20-something other people (all surprisingly in our age group) at the Inukshuk at English Bay.
Mushroom Ecology & Meditation Tour in Vancouver
Kyle shook hands with us when we arrived; he was a natural leader with an ability to make everyone feel immediately at ease. The workshop started off with the typical housekeeping bits and background info on Kyle and his company, then we got the awkward part over with: everyone stood in a large circle, introduced themselves, and said one thing that we’d like to see change in the world. It was a diverse group, consisting of travellers, people who were new to the city, couples, and those who were just interested in mushrooms or meditation. People from as far away as Venezuela, England, and China were all represented. Immediately I liked the positive focus of the meetup and the emphasis on connecting with new people I’d probably never otherwise cross paths with.
We headed into Stanley Park, chatting along the way. The first stop was the Parks & Recreation Vancouver office, where Kyle talked about some of the interesting trees here and their significance. Next, we moved along to the tennis courts to look at the great blue heron nesting area in the trees above. Despite the fact that I live in Vancouver and come to the park often, all of this was totally new to me.
After craning our necks up for a while at the network of nests visible in the bare branches above, we moved on to yet another spot I’d never stumbled across: the bamboo garden, resplendent in a carpet of fallen yellow and red leaves, where Kyle led the group in a mindfulness meditation. I spent the first portion distracted by the fat squirrels darting back and forth through our group, and giggled when we were being guided in meditation from the head down and were told, “Relax your butt,” but I soon quieted my chatty mind and focused on my surroundings. As a group we walked through the rhododendron garden in silence, paying attention to our senses and impressions. And I really enjoyed it – I love the idea of being in the moment but get sucked into modern life way too often for my liking, and feel hopeful about incorporating mindfulness as a part of my everyday life.
Following the mindfulness exercise, as a group we discussed our experience before setting off into the forest for the mushroom ecology portion of the day.
First, we stopped to see yet another wonder of Stanley Park I’d never even heard about: a huge face carved into a tree, reportedly carved in the 1970s by an anonymous artist. I was a bit awestruck as I hadn’t expected to see something so impressive like this, hidden just inside the forest, off the beaten track.
Once we’d all taken photos of the carving, we headed down the path, then deeper into the forest. I’ll be honest: it has never even occurred to me to step off the path within Stanley Park. But Kyle was totally at home just wandering into the woods, which Joel and I both found immensely cool. We like the idea that the forest isn’t just where people go and do drugs or whatever; the idea that a normal dude hangs out in here looking at mushrooms and meditating was kind of inspiring and badass.
As we looked at mushrooms – which, by the way, are EVERYWHERE in this season – we talked about the interconnectedness of the mushroom network beneath the soil (the “mycorrhizal fungi networks” if you want to get technical) and Kyle gave us a basic primer on some of the types of fungi you’ll find both within Stanley Park and elsewhere, including honey mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, coral mushrooms, and boletes. It was easy enough to understand for those in the group whose first language isn’t English, but informative and in-depth enough to keep me engaged and wanting to learn more. We saw many spectacular mushrooms as we wandered through the woods and Kyle discussed the medicinal and cultural uses of various types of mushrooms; it was apparent his knowledge runs deep.
The tour ran a little over time and Joel and I had to split, but even though the tour’s scheduled time was over, Kyle took those who were interested on a second mindfulness meditation walk.
My experience with Spirit Quest Adventures was positive and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something different to do on a weekend, or who wants to explore Stanley Park with someone who knows the area in-depth. I’m not sure what I’d expected from the tour; I definitely thought it would be more on the cheesy and hippy-dippy side, but I didn’t really find it to be that way at all (at least not in a negative sense; a bunch of people meditating together in the forest is always going to have a bit of a hippy vibe!). Rather, it felt real, authentic, and inclusive, and the experience was relaxing, educational, and a lot of fun. I enjoyed the company of new people, and the exploration of parts of my home city that I had no idea existed. And, for me at least, it opened the gate to learning more about both mindfulness meditation and wild mushrooms – two things that can only have a positive impact on my life.
Spirit Quest Adventures offers tours a few times a month. The Stanley Park Mushroom Ecology Tour & Mindfulness Workshop is $20 per person. Sign up online.