7 invitations for a mindful walk
By Earth Trust, May 2022
For many of us, life can feel like a constant juggling act – balancing activities and rushing around to fit everything in. Even if we are regularly able to spend time outside, we can still get caught up in “doing” mode – squeezing the dog walk in before dashing off to the next thing, or even sneaking a peak at emails on the phone while we stride through the park. When was the last time you went for a walk and felt genuinely connected to the experience? It’s not always easy to find the time to just ‘go for a walk’. But the rewards have been proven to be significant for our mental and physical health. Getting out in nature and feeling a calm, connection with the wider world, is just as important to our brains as taking an afternoon nap or getting that extra hit of caffeine! Isn’t it time we all treated ourselves to a good walk?
Claire Bird, a BAMBA-registered MBCT teacher, offers us her 7 invitations for a truly mindful walk.
“I have loved nature since I was a child, and any chance I get I like to walk in wild places, including the hills and woods of Wittenham Clumps.”
“Having meditated for the past 10 years, I see now that being in nature was my first taste of mindfulness. The natural world is always in the present moment. Nowhere do I feel a greater sense of perspective and belonging.”
“If you love to walk in nature, I am sure you have a deep sense of the benefits too. We don’t need to overthink it, but if you would like to practice mindfulness more consciously when you are out walking, here are seven invitations to explore.”
1. Go alone sometimes
It can be very nourishing to walk with company but a different experience again to walk alone in nature. Try to do this sometimes and see what you notice… If you have a mobile phone, one thing you might notice is its pull for your attention. What is it like to notice the impulse to check your phone and choose to keep it stowed away for the duration of your walk?
2. Feel your feet
As you walk, see if you can gently drop your attention down into your body. Your body is always in the present moment. You could bring awareness to the feel of your feet on the ground. Can you have a sense of your whole body moving – not thinking about the body but resting your attention in any sensations you notice as you walk? Remember there is no right or wrong thing to notice as you play with this. There is nothing that you need to feel or master. Your attention will go here and there, and that’s perfectly normal.
3. Open to your senses
Another way to play with mindfulness is to consciously bring full awareness to your senses. Pause and notice what you see – colour, shapes, light, movement; what you hear – sounds coming and going; what you can smell; and what you can feel – perhaps the air on the skin, or the feeling of clothing. Play with noticing any reactions to the things you are sensing. We have an instinctive human tendency to judge experiences as pleasant or unpleasant. And the things we experience may then trigger all kinds of mind travel. Which brings us to…
4. Watch your thoughts
My lone walks in nature are rarely ‘in silence’ because of my busy mind chattering away. This is great material for mindfulness practice! Thinking is a natural phenomenon – in the words of Jack Kornfield: “our mind secretes thoughts just like our body secretes enzymes.”
Each time you notice where your mind is, is a moment of mindfulness. When you notice you’re busy with thinking, bringing your attention back to the body or the senses can help you return to the present. This is particularly skillful when you are caught up in thoughts that are negative or undermining. Or, if the thinking you’ve noticed is helpful or enjoyable then you can choose to stay with it. Practising mindfulness is not about emptying the mind, it’s about working with it more skillfully.
5. Be playful
Mindfulness has become quite a buzz word, and the encouragement to ‘be more present’ can feel like a state we need to strive for, do better, and another thing on the to-do list. This is not what we need! So go gently. This is not about striving to be fully present in every moment. Attitudes of kindness, non-striving and non-judging are intrinsic to mindfulness, so as best you can let go of expectations. Be playful.
6. Let in the good
We may spend a lot of our time on autopilot, tilted forward into the future or dwelling on past events. Added to this, the human mind has evolved a natural negativity bias that is not always helpful. A walk in nature is an opportunity to slow down and let in the lovely stuff – bringing your full attention to enjoyable sounds, smells, sights in nature, the feel of the elements.
‘The little things? The little moments? – They aren’t little’ – Jon Kabat-Zinn
7. Go with company sometimes
When you walk with company, your practice can continue! You can choose to pause every so often together to take in where you are, particularly if you are deep in conversation. Mindful listening is another beautiful and rewarding practice and every conversation is an opportunity. When listening can you listen deeply, to understand rather than respond, and hold a safe space for your companion? Can you notice any thinking, emotions or urges that are coming up for you as you listen?