Okay so, this is your five second warning that things are about to get a little bit woo-woo. Or hippy dippy. Or ‘out there’. Or whatever you call things that sound a little bit spiritual (no skincare reviews or photos of burgers today, soz).
I want to talk today about mindful walking, and connecting with nature (you all have your boundaries for what counts as woo-woo, for some that’s already a little odd-sounding and for some you’ll need to journey to Peru and drink hallucinogenic tea whilst dancing around naked and connecting with your past lives to even summon a slight feeling of ‘wow, weird’. PS – if this is you, holla at me, let’s go together pls).
A couple of months ago, I went on a ‘well-rested woman retreat’ led by Karen Stanberry which focussed on relaxation, calm, self-care and slowing down. One of the things we did was to go on a ‘mindful walk’, sometimes known as a walking meditation. A small group of us on the retreat slowly ambled through a beautiful wooded glade on a footpath up to the cliffs overlooking Studland Bay. The idea of the mindful walk is that you are conscious, present and mindful of everything around you – noticing your breath as it flows in and out, the way your steps feel on the ground, the sights, smells and sounds that occur around you. No headphones, no walking and texting, no chatting to a friend, just complete immersion in all that is.
As I walked in silence, I noticed so much that normally would have totally escaped me. We took the time to watch the way the trees moved in the breeze, the smell of the wild garlic as it wafted along the path. We all stopped for a few seconds to observe a meadow full of wildflowers – the way they danced and moved, drifting in time with the wind. A glade full of bluebells that extended as far as the eye could see (and probably beyond). The crunch of branches and softness of the earth underfoot. The sound of the sea in the distance. The creak of the gate as we moved out of the woods and up to the clifftop. Opening our senses and clearing our minds made it almost overwhelming; the way your eyes adjust and see more details when it’s slightly darker, the way you can intently listen to a piece of music and notice all of the individual sounds when listening through headphones.
Before Karen introduced me to mindful walking, my morning dog walks would be set to the sound of the music in my headphones, idly strolling around the same route, one eye on my watch as my mind raced, worrying and planning the day ahead. The saddest thing, for me, is that I would walk along the shoreline and have music, or a podcast playing in my ears. Considering the sound of waves rolling onto the shore is one of the most beautiful sounds to me, I feel sad that I’ve spent so many years blocking it out. I don’t deny that there is definitely a place for listening to audiobooks, or podcasts, or music whilst walking, but I’ve also made a mental note to spend as much time as I can with my headphones around my neck – listening to birdsong, the sound of dogs barking in the distance, the crunch of stones and sand underfoot, the wind whistling through the halyards in the sailing club.
Yesterday morning I took Bodhi for a walk in an area of woodland we hadn’t really explored before.
As we wandered into the woods I felt this wave of complete calm flow over me. For a long time I didn’t see another person, and it felt as if the whole word was just Bodhi and I, wandering along the path. For some of the route, the plants and trees grew close to the trail and I had to move them aside, gently brushing branches and leaves and wending through the undergrowth. Just down the path I could see a robin bobbing along, picking at sticks and other things that had fallen from the huge trees towering overhead. I wandered away from the path and into a clearing where there were tree stumps and ferns growing and just sat for a while, with Bodhi at my feet. I closed my eyes and took some time to just breathe and soak up the sense of being immersed in nature. And then I thought – ‘I am nature’. As the breeze moved around me I felt as much a part of the woodland as the trees and plants. It reminded me of a quote I heard recently – “You think of yourselves as humans searching for a spiritual awakening, when in fact you are spiritual beings attempting to cope with a human awakening. Seeing yourselves from the perspective of the spirit within will help you to remember why you came here and what you came here to do”. We think of ourselves as humans needing to be in nature, but in that moment it occurred to me we are nature – and if we are quiet and humble and connect ourselves to the earth we are the same as all of the other things we consider a natural part of the woodland. (Is this too much? I’m going to keep going).
One of the concepts or beliefs I really love is that of ‘Mother Earth’ – the idea of the earth as a living entity (or Gaia). The belief is that Mother Earth is a personification of the entire ecosystem of the planet, and that she is always working to maintain and achieve harmony and balance. Mother Earth is to be greatly honoured and respected. Rebecca Campbell – who wrote Rise Sister Rise, which I totally adore – says, “Mother Earth is talking to us. If you listen closely you can hear her whispers. She doesn’t need us. But we certainly need her. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the whole save the planet stuff because it is so mind glowingly huge and we are one of you know, billions. But the consciousness of everyone on this page helps the planet. Choosing to mediate every day, helps raise the consciousness of you and thus the world. What is mother earth calling you to do? It doesn’t need to be huge.”
As days go by I feel more and more connected to Mother Earth, and the more time I take to invest in being present and immersed in nature, the more I feel it changing me in a transcendental and deeply affecting way. These walks in the woods or along the beach are intensely important to me now – and I love this quote from Thich Nhac Hanh –
“We do not have to wait for others to help Mother Earth – we can already do it at every step. When we walk, we can pay attention to each step that we make, aware that we are walking, aware that we are alive. We can demonstrate to ourselves that we can be peace right here and now. This can be liberating. We can generate peace at every step. This is our most precious gift to the Earth and to one another.”
What do you think? Stoked on nature or feeling like I’ve lost my marbles? 🙂