It is harder and harder to find the space to just be silent. There is so much buzz in my head. Everything is begging for attention, pulling me in all directions.
Every waking moment my thoughts recite a never-ending to-do list that fills my brain with the most unpleasant noise. It is for this reason I live for my morning mindfulness walks. It’s where I find the nurturance I need to center myself throughout the day. It is how I manage my chronic pain. It is how I manage my stress. It is a unique experience that I can only try to share.
It goes something like this: first, I make an intention and say, “I will leave my thoughts of the past and future, my ego, my self-interest, and all judgments aside.”
As I stand outside my door ready to start I make a conscious effort to be the witness of what I’m about to experience on my walk. I intend not to engage in an internal dialog or make judgments such as, “I like this or I don’t like that,” but rather to dedicate this time to becoming aware, to merging with the state of awareness itself. My goal is to gather as much attention as I can, to be a witness to all that I experience.
I take my first steps while focusing on my breath as it flows in and out of my body. I’m just feeling how the breath feels as I inhale and then how it feels to exhale while I’m walking. My pace is slow and deliberate so I can experience and engage with every present moment.
I simply tune into the feeling of just being, of not having to be anywhere else but right here on my walk. This is my time, a gift to myself.
As I continue to walk, I rest my eyes loosely about six feet ahead towards the ground. I then do an internal body scan just to see what feelings and sensations are present for me. I focus my attention on my feet and immediately notice pain, sharp and raw as I take each step. I notice that I am holding tension there and examine how that feels. I notice how difficult it is for me to walk but just acknowledge it as part of my experience then let it go.
Next, I move my attention to my legs and notice soreness as I take each step. I notice the swelling in my hands, the dull ache in my back and the stiffness in my neck. I acknowledge those sensations then let them all go.
I notice the way the cool temperature of the wind gently touches the skin on my arms and face, and acknowledge it. With each sensation I experience, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, I simply acknowledge it without judging it, dwelling on it, or giving it an opinion. After I’ve scanned my whole body, I focus on to my breath again for a few minutes as I continue my walk.
Next, I turn all my attention towards sounds, and become as aware as I can be. I listen carefully to identify each sound. I notice whether it is a subtle sound, like a delicate songbird far away, or a loud noise like a school bus rumbling by.
Whichever it is, I notice it, identify it, and locate its direction. I do this without judgment or having any dialog simply noticing it without giving it any opinion.
I dissolve myself within awareness and sound, serving as a silent witness. If a thought slips in, I notice that too, and just move my attention away from it, and bring my attention back to the sounds that I hear on my walk. I don’t beat myself up over any distractions just return my focus back to the sounds I hear.
After about ten or so minutes I shift my attention to my sight, and all that is visible in my world. I continue to include sounds but add smells in as well, while keeping the primary focus on my vision. My pace is still slow and deliberate as I gaze at everything with deep concentration and purpose.
Everything I see is somewhat surreal and illuminated. I’m not sure if it’s because my awareness is enhanced or because I’ve dedicated myself to be fully present in the moment, but whatever the reason what I see is extraordinary.
I try to look at as much detail as I can, such as the shape of the different leaves on the trees, the way a branch blows in the wind, the way the light hits across the grass, the way the squirrels chase each other, the way a robin flies across my path and drops a perfectly intact mulberry right in front of me.
I notice the smell of a neighboring mimosa tree in bloom, a deer that surprises me as it darts out of a yard, and the vivid fuchsia flowers of the crepe myrtle and rose bush. I look at the vastness of the sky and think how the clouds look like an
Impressionist painting. I notice how the expansiveness of the sky makes me feel light and free.
As I walk down the street I notice the tall trees lining it and feel a strong presence and silence emanating from them. It’s not just any silence: there is a stillness, calmness, and reassurance that spill out from the trees and all of nature. It feels like a knowingness that envelops me.
An inner knowledge swells in my heart as a revelation rises. “Nature is perfect as it is. It has no choices to make. It is exactly the way it is designed to be: pure without any fault.” The more intently I focus on each leaf, branch, flower, rock, blade of grass, and bird, I see the essence of life within it, existing authentically as it is intended to be.
I ponder how these gifts of nature, this resource so readily available to me has been overlooked or dismissed as unimportant. As this understanding unfolds, my heart fills with a newfound gratitude for what is being witnessed and understood. I inhale a breath with deep gratitude and exhale with a sigh of plenitude.
This essence, this stillness, this peace is always here but it is hidden within all the noise of the digital world we live in. I discovered if I can draw on the peace within the sanctuary I’ve established on my walks in times of need things inevitably work out better than without it.
When I’m confronted with a stressful situation, I pause, then step away before reacting. I find a quite space, and focus on my breathing, which immediately calms me down and evokes a stillness and connection to what is important: being authentic, self-aware, and truly in the present moment.
When I return to the situation I find that I much more empathetic, and likely to make better choices which usually includes taking the higher road.
What I’ve discovered from my mindfulness walks is that the essence of life exists on the outside in nature but also inside of me. It is one.
This practice is a constant source of renewal and vitality for me. It makes me more peaceful, and has better equipped me to manage my stress and pain. In fact, I now have control over my life in a way that I never had before.
By connecting with this essence of life, by dedicating this time for my self-care, by nurturing my heart in this way, I am establishing a sanctuary that I can seek refuge in at anytime. Although, I only mindfully walk for less than an hour a day the benefits I receive far exceed any limitations of time.
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE: If you want to unplug and get some stress relief please take a few minutes or more to listen to my sound meditation. START: Find yourself a comfortable and quiet place to sit, turn your phone off, and bring your attention to the cycle of breath automatically going on in your body. Take a few moments to just relax noticing the in and out flow of your breath without having to change it in any way. See if you can let any thoughts that arise to drift away and then begin the audio file (click the link) gently bringing your awareness to each sound. Simply noticing the texture of each sound without the need to make any judgement. Enjoy!
I am an ICF credential coach, if you would like to learn how to manage your stress and be more effective in all that you do, feel free to contact me, Julie Schelling at [email protected]
Photo: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, July 2016.