1 month, 2 states & 7 solo hikes in on my 52 Hike Challenge Adventure! It has been a whirlwind of a month; with a whole lot of change and even a few trails I did not anticipate exploring. Looking back on just the past few weeks makes me wonder what it will be like to reflect on the entire year's process. Guess we'll find out soon enough . . . 45 more to go!
Wow, what a week! The Adventure has begun and there is so much to say, so much to share, so much to write! But, as the irony of all ironies would have it, I am just a few days away from venturing off into total, off the grid meditation retreat silence. Yep, you heard it, a whole entire week of pure practice and not one. single. word.
Meditation has always held a strong presence in my hiking life, and much more so on solo adventures in particular. Often times my practice takes the form of a formal, seated meditation in some deeply shaded off shoot from the path, but most often, my practice is simply that of bringing my full attention to the present; the smell of the sage brush, the crunch of the sand, the sole of my foot as it presses down into the winding trail.
And yet, there is really nothing simple about it. Practicing mindful awareness requires effort, sometimes a great deal of it. This effort dares you to escape the endless stimuli of your earbuds, your iTunes, your Fitbit, and that app that you can't possible leave home without. Even more, it dares you to escape the hold of the queen of all delusions; your very own thoughts.
Your thoughts. How many have you had today? How many have you had just while reading this last sentence? And how many of them are actually true? It is the mind's job to produce thoughts. That's what the mind does, and clearly, for most of us, the mind is working very, very well. Our thoughts are not an enemy to be blamed or demonized though. Our thoughts are invitations to practice. Our thoughts are the tool we can use to better our practice. And our thoughts, by their very existence, are our practice.
The next time you find yourself in the great outdoors, try this: Move your body into an upright, comfortable seated position, arms resting down in your lap. With eyes closed, breathe in the experience of the world around you. Pause for a moment here. Notice the temperature of the air as it enters your nostrils and travels down into your lungs. As you exhale, notice your body's gentle release; feeling supported by the earth beneath you. Now guide your awareness towards your ears, your consciousness of sound. Notice any sounds that are present around you. Pause for a moment with recognition of each of these sounds; notice the wind, notice the birds, notice the leaves.
Notice the to-do list streaming though your mind. Then notice how this is an invitation to return your attention back to your breath. Notice the judgment seeping in, "Am I doing this right?" Then notice how this is an invitation to return to your awareness of the sounds. Recognize each passing thought, without judgment, as a gentle nudge back into your practice. When your meditation is complete, gently reopen the eyes.
If a seated meditation feels too vulnerable, especially while outdoors on a solo hike, you may choose to adapt this practice by keeping eyes cast down. Alternatively, a walking meditation may even be more preferred.
To explore this option, begin by gently slowing your pace, guiding your attention inwards, towards each intentional breath. Mentally pause here, creating space for greater awareness. Observe the mechanics of each step the body takes. Feel, again, the sensation of each purposeful breath. Pausing here, notice the color of the soil. Notice the soil on your boots. Feel the sun, the wind, the rain literally pour down upon you. Know that you are vast.
Of course, no hike will entirely, or even mostly, be one of pure, mindful meditation. Aim for moments, glimpses into the present. If it helps, develop a marker that will prompt your attention. For example, every time you take a sip of water, begin a new walking meditation. Perhaps stop along the trail for a seated practice as well, or don't. Meditation is about looking within to identify what is really right for you.
And maybe after trying this practice out for a while, you too will put down the devices and stop measuring yourself in thoughts. When we're hiking in the present moment, it's not ever about how far or how fast we can get ourselves "there." It is only ever about being right, exactly here.
At Adventures in Oneyearland, you don't need to be a pro to have a passion for the great outdoors, all you need is a plan to get you there.