I’ve just returned from two weeks hiking in New Zealand - stunning. Before this trip, I had no idea how much I needed to reconnect with myself in the wild.
That sort of connection that comes when daily life is stripped back to only a few necessities that can all be carried on your back and the only thing
asked of me is to turn my senses outward and put one foot in front of the other.
What a great relief to be reminded of this and feel that natural sense of wellbeing arise - it truly is our birthright. AND it’s not easy. On the first day my mind was filled with replaying scenes from the day before, the flight over…the food shopping…the careful organising of my backpack. It all unfolded like the rerun of an incredibly banal movie. And then the questioning mind arose: ‘did I really need that extra jumper’ ‘why had I packed my torch at the bottom of my pack?’…‘did I have enough water for the day?
Thankfully I stumbled over a tree root and was literally shaken into the present moment by the sharp contrast of the scene playing out in my head and the astonishing moss-covered paradise all around me. I intentionally slowed my pace and became aware of the swing of my arms and the shifting weight of my pack as my hips rolled. I came back to my senses and directed my attention to the changing pressure in my knees. Into the weight moving through different parts of my feet. I noticed how the delicate bones in my ankles made their adjustments to help keep me balanced. I felt grounded in the rhythm of organic time. I felt alive. I was walking, and only walking, no little thing indeed.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is right, the little moments they aren’t little they are everything. When I was fully present with the drops of rain that danced off the leaves of a Gully Tree Fern awe spontaneously arose. When I slipped my heavy pack off for morning tea the feather lightness that arose in my body filled me with delight and I danced around like a child released from school early. When I turned towards the ache in my hips as I climbed yet another sharp incline I noticed the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as my mind was making out. It’s my mind’s resistance to pain that was causing most of my distress. When I simply turned my attention to the sensations in my hips I notice warmth and a rolling ache that came and went and acceptance arose.
During the start of the hike I found the need to intentionally and persistently return my attention to just walking to help settle my busy mind. Over the days I found the steady rhythm of my walking strengthened my mindfulness naturally, and reminded my nervous system of a more patient, steadier way of life. Turning towards the present moment with curiosity, warmth and friendliness allowed me to find aliveness, awe, delight, and acceptance. No little thing indeed! Can you relate?
Instructions for Mindful Walking
Here are some of the basics to get started.
- Choose a relatively quiet and undisturbed place to practice. (If you live in a busy urban setting, don’t worry: whatever you’ve got will do).
- Choose a flat, open path of 10-20 paces. Stand still at one end of your path, taking a few moments to feel your body. Can you relax into the simplicity of standing? Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Get a feel for this kind of natural, easy presence.
- Walk at a pace that is comfortable, perhaps slightly slower than normal; choose a pace that allows you to feel the direct sensations of your feet and legs moving.
- Feel the changing sensations in your feet as you walk: heaviness, pressure, movement, temperature. With each step, feel the steady contact with the earth or ground.
- Keep your attention mostly inward, without looking around too much. When you notice your mind engaged in thoughts or stories, allow it to return to the physical sensations of walking.
- When you reach the end of your walking path, stop and stand still again. Take a few moments to feel the body standing in a neutral state of rest.
- When you’re ready to turn around, include the movements of turning in your awareness. Take another break to stand before beginning to walk in the other direction.
- Try this for a period of 10-15 minutes, increasing the time as you like.
Heather Albrecht is an MBSR teacher for Openground in the workplace setting. Heather works in the corporate world as a professional trainer and in private practice as a mindfulness-based psychotherapist.
She has an established mindfulness practice, which has developed and deepened over the decades. She is passionate about sharing the possibilities for
self-discovery, connectedness and freedom that mindfulness offers.