“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes
We should heed this advice more often. We can find plenty of reasons to avoid the woods: heat, cold, rain, ticks, the intimidating intensity of a raw connection to nature, the threat witnessing something really real, or of learning something alarming about the world, about ourselves.
“We are called by the wild, but we resist full engagement,” -Eila Carrico in The Other Side of the River
Every time I go out into the woods something happens. Even the phrase “out into the woods” is a beautiful paradox. You go out and enter a clump of dirt and wood and leaves. But you also go in. Into someone else’s habitat, into yourself. Into the One of which we are all a part.
I’m not great at hiking mindfully. I walk too fast. I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the trail. When will I see another animal? Where’s the spot with the best view? So I had this idea of bringing the concept of walking meditation to the trail to make myself a more mindful hiker.
What is mindfulness, anyway? I recently heard it defined as, “remembering the present,” and I love thinking of it like that. Do you remember the present when you hike? What moments or experiences help you to do so?
“Suppose we are walking to a sacred place. We would walk quietly and take each gentle step with reverence. I propose that we walk this way every time we walk on the earth. The earth is sacred and we touch her with each step…When we walk mindfully, we see the beauty and the wonder of the earth around us…When we take mindful steps on the earth, our body and mind unite, and we unite with the earth…Whenever we breathe, whenever we step, we are returning to the earth…With each step we fully arrive in the present moment. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
During a traditional walking meditation you move slowly, thinking about lifting, moving, planting, and shifting each foot, over and over and over again. Honestly, I’m not so big a fan. It actually throws me off balance because I’m focusing so hard on my walking, and I don’t think that’s the point! Here are some tips for mindful hiking that I have found work well for me. Feel free to ignore anything that doesn’t help you remember the present…
How to hike mindfully:
- Hike a trail you know well, a short loop, or out-and-back trail so it is impossible to get lost. Although you won’t get very far.
- Hike in silence, slowly, with a smile.
- Feel your feet as they touch the ground. Notice how gravity connects you to the earth with each step.
- Let your eyes (and all four of your other senses) follow what interests them. Be present with those sensations.
- Be present with plants or critters that you observe, for as long as you want. There is no rule against stopping!
- If something is bothering you (bugs, unpleasant smells or temperatures, itching, pain etc.), just acknowledge how you feel. Remember that the sensation is impermanent, and let it go.
- With each step, try to focus completely on your experience in THIS MOMENT and THIS PLACE.
“Each crackling leaf beneath your feet is a personal invitation to come to your senses.” -Barbara Ann Kipfer
Remember that this is a practice everyone can use at home, in your backyards, or even in the grocery store! Feel gratitude toward yourself for taking a walk in nature for your own well-being and that of the human and nonhuman beings around you. Happy trails, fellow primates!
Wild Calm: Finding Mindfulness in Forest Bathing by Joan Vorderbruggen
Into Nature: A Creative Field Guide and Journal from The Mindfulness Project
Natural Meditation: Refreshing Your Spirit Through Nature by Barbara Ann Kipfer