Today I’m going to write a more informal post, sharing the pleasant experience of my first mindful walking meditation.
Part of the homework in week two of the Mindfulness program is to go on a 15-30 minute mindful walk, paying attention to the senses rather than going into autopilot. This assignment was one of the programs “habit releasers”; a series of tasks given each week to help the brain get used to breaking down old habits.
Going on walks has always been a very relaxing experience in the past, so I was quite curious how that would change when I was consciously being aware of everything going on around me, and within me.
I was a bit overwhelmed by just how positive and refreshed this activity left me feeling, especially considering the darker places my thoughts wandered to on that day.
So I was inclined to share the story of this walk with you. As I said, this post won’t be informative or have many actionable tidbits to try out. Instead, treat this as an example of what is possible with mindfulness if you’re feeling discouraged by the subtle results of a formal practice.
Setting the Stage
It had been raining steadily for a few days now. The kind of rain that makes you question if it will ever end. One of my favorite weather patterns.
The sun had been obscured by a blanket of clouds for most of the week, enough to put many in a less than ideal mood. I love rain however, and was actually excited to go on this walk in the current conditions.
It was early evening and the sun was beginning to set, resulting in the shade of gray that dominated the sky slowly shifting darker and darker throughout the excursion.
Donning my waterproof boots and jacket, I grabbed an umbrella and took my first steps into the cool spring air.
I discovered that the rain had dwindled to a light mist gently floating down from that soft overcast sky. For me, this was a near perfect circumstance.
I walked down my driveway and considered where I would go. Instead of strolling around my neighborhood like I usually would, I decided to go the opposite direction and visit a place I was quite familiar with but had not seen in a long time: the local cemetery.
Solidifying the Intention
Setting off down the sidewalk towards my destination, I put my mind in the right frame by reiterating my intent to pay attention to my senses and appreciate each passing moment as it is.
I reminded myself to start with physical sensations and grow from there. Watching how the body moves, and feeling each muscle expand and contract inside the legs and torso.
The next main focus was sight, and my goal was to simply notice the things around me. It is truly amazing how much of the world we block out when preoccupied with our thoughts.
Smells and sounds were unintentionally placed on the back burner, as for most of the walk I was enthralled with all the visual stimuli. Next time, I plan on giving these senses more focus than I did this day.
Noticing What was Always There
The path I decided to take was one I knew well, as I had walked it hundreds of times as a child going to and from school.
When starting off I paid special attention to my posture and the physical sensations of each step. I didn’t get too far with this however, before my vision took over and directed me to a small patch of pink flowers in a neighbor’s garden.
I had never seen these flowers before and was filled with a sense of joy and wonder at their unique and beautiful features. I now know these flowers are called, quite accurately, bleeding hearts.
I wondered how long this plant had been there without me noticing it. This made me consider all the small details that had passed right under my nose, masked by the constant dialog of thoughts playing in my mind.
This is when my sense of vision took over and I began to view the world as a giant game of “I Spy”. I realized that there were an unlimited amount of interesting objects to examine if I just noticed them. The craziest part is that many of them had been there all along. I’d failed to notice them for YEARS.
Excited to see what else I could find I continued down the road after stopping and appreciating the bleeding hearts for a few moments.
Cresting the hill just before the cemetery, I noticed that the tiny old firehouse located across the street had been demolished; leaving an eerily empty lot that had never been there before. Other than the dirt and debris left from the foundation, the only thing remaining was a tiny red flag perched in the very center.
Curious, I decided to get a closer look. The flag had a golden firefighter symbol with a banner underneath that read “LOYAL TO OUR DUTY”. I thought that it was a nice tribute to this building that had been present my entire life and suddenly seemed to just disappear. Not giving it much more thought, I continued across the street to the entrance of the cemetery.
The Wandering Path
Upon entering the gates I was immediately flooded with memories from my childhood. The local middle school was directly across the cemetery from my neighborhood, so many of the kids that lived there took this path every day, myself included.
I was reminded of a special gravestone that had a classic horror story myth that circulated among the kids who went to school there. Noticing my thoughts beginning to wander, I decided to give the grave a visit and return to my mindfulness.
We endearingly called this grave “The Witch’s Tree” and it is truly a unique and beautiful piece of art. This grave is a little off the beaten path, and near a wooded edge of the cemetery.
As the old myth goes, 100 feet into the woods from that tree there should be a cave where the witch lives. As I stood there feeling the textures of the stone with my hand I considered trekking into the woods and seeing if there truly was a cave back there.
However, it was already getting dark and I didn’t want to be out for too long, so I decided to save that venture for another day.
I spent the remainder of my time in the cemetery scoping out new unique graves I had never seen, and approaching and examining them. It was a very peaceful experience, up until my wandering thoughts began to take control again.
I started engaging in a little memento mori, Latin for “remember death”. Walking through a cemetery, it is difficult to keep thoughts such as these from creeping in.
I contemplated my own mortality and the fact that I will one day join all these people beneath the earth. I also thought about my father’s eventual passing, and how I would handle that when it comes.
Many would find these thoughts stressful and negative, and I am no exception. However on this day as I pondered these darker realities, I did not feel aversion to them. There was a much greater feeling of acceptance than I expected. It was as if this topic had lost all of its’ “dark” connotation and instead I saw it simply as it is; a permanent and awe-inspiring fact of life.
Although it can be unpleasant, I think it is very important to have these conversations with ourselves from time to time. We must not allow death to become a taboo topic.
My thoughts were wandering, but I didn’t fight it due to the calm and accepting nature of them. After all, mindfulness is all about allowing things to be as they are. Applying this mindset to the troublesome topic of death was extremely liberating.
I did come back to my present surroundings though, and as the sun had nearly set I decided it was time to head home.
Observing the Obvious
Upon approaching the entrance to the cemetery again I was reminded of the “LOYAL TO OUR DUTY” flag placed in the remnants of the firehouse. It was no sooner than this exact moment that I realized I had been surrounded by hundreds of these exact flags for the entire duration of my walk.
At least one out every five or so gravestones had one of these flags attached. I looked around and noticed the little red flags scattered all throughout the grounds. It all clicked and I suddenly understood that this was the main purpose of these flags; to commemorate firefighters who had passed.
I was once again surprised that it had taken me so long to notice such an obvious fact of the immediate environment.
My surprise was made even more potent when I noticed what I first thought was a very large mushroom growing next to the sidewalk in front of the old firehouse. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was actually a GIANT MUTATED DANDELION.
This thing’s stem was bulbous in shape and texture, about two inches thick, and at least a foot tall! I was amazed by the diversity of biology and also wondered how I hadn’t noticed it when first passing by.
It would seem that even while actively trying to pay attention to my surroundings I had missed quite a lot.
A Restorative Journey
I was very impressed with how refreshed I felt in such a short amount of time. (~30 minutes) It seemed to go by so quickly and yet so much had happened. This is definitely an activity I will be practicing much more frequently in the future and I recommend everyone tries it.
Restoring mental clarity while getting some good exercise also makes this practice a very efficient use of time.
If you’ve made it this far, I challenge you to take a walk somewhere you think you know very well and just see how many details you’ve missed. If you’re anything like me, it could be a very eye-opening experience for you.
I hope you enjoyed my story, and if you did leave me a comment below! Share your stories of a mindful walking meditation and what you noticed along the way.
And as always, I hope you all have a productive day full of contentness and awareness.