Last Wednesday I was hiking with my dog on a new trail. We’d hit the trailhead early enough to beat the NC heat and we were both enjoying the early morning fog and cool air as we started the hike down a muddy logging road.
We splashed our way through the prior night’s rain puddles. My dog Velo dove headlong into the shrubbery following the scent of rabbits all along the ridge. About a half mile in we met a true NC local man in coveralls and really tall rubber boots. He was carrying some huckleberry buckets and stopped to chat with me about the dearth of ripe berries that morning. He also warned me about the not so infrequent bears in the area and where we might be likeliest to run into them. I thanked him for the information, and Velo and I continued on our hike.
It was still pretty early and I noticed the fog starting to clear as the day heated up. The birds got more and more noisy and I kept noticing how fresh and wonderful everything smelled. “There must be some local flower blooming”, I thought out loud to Velo. I was reminded of walking in France and Italy in the summer and felt my whole body relax even more with the memories.
On and on we hiked, getting happily lost on some trails that looped around or dead-ended. Eventually we found the main trail again and arrived at the bald where I shucked my pack, got out snacks and a book and bared my feet to the sun. Velo curled up in the shade of some bushes and we relaxed for an hour, all the while I continued to dream of hiking in the hills of Europe.
What finally dawned on me when I was putting on my pack after our break was that the night before I’d put a drop of lavender oil on Velo’s feet, (lavender being good for joint pain in older dogs). What had reminded me of hiking in Europe all morning was the scent of lavender wafting off my dog she trotted ahead of me on the trail.
“WHAT HIT ME HARDEST WAS HOW LONG IT’D TAKEN ME TO REMEMBER SOMETHING THAT I’DE DONE JUST THE NIGHT BEFORE!“
Then I got thinking- if I’d forgotten or not been aware of this, what other stuff was I missing? I started considering how easy it was to simply get caught up in daily activities and miss out on all sorts of things. More important to me, where was I missing out on something exciting?
Of course I started thinking about what might help with all this missing out on life. What could I do everyday that would help me be more aware and attentive to what was happening?
I’ve learned to let sleeping dogs lie.
What I hit upon was a simple mindfulness practice that was a kind of challenge (you all know that I love a challenge). I would hike my final 4 miles while paying attention to every little thing I could notice in each moment without getting ahead or behind myself.
I got involved with all the small things that I was noticing, from the birds to the wind to my dog snuffling through the brush; the berry bushes that had overgrown the trail and the slippery mud under my boots. I noticed the shifts in my mood and my breathing as we hiked along and the heat or cool on my skin as the clouds flew in front of the sun. I was so wrapped up in noticing as much as I could every moment that those last 4 miles flew by!
Try this out for yourself.
1. Take a minute and think of something you have to do today that you aren’t totally psyched about having to deal with. Go on…. I know there’s probably some task you have to deal with today that doesn’t have you jumping for joy.
2. When you start the task- also start paying really, really close attention to everything. Not just the actions you are doing, but how is your breath? What emotions or thoughts are coming up into your attention? Did some part of you get tense or tight?
3. What else can you become aware of? If you’re in an office, do you hear your co-workers talking or breathing?
4. Maybe there’s the squeak of a chair? If you work from home is there the gentle sound of a fan running or the a/c unit kicking in, or a thunder-pawed cat stalking across the floor?
5. Keep refocusing your attention on completing the task while noting everything possible for 5 minutes.
6. At the end of the task- note what felt different about working this way. Was it easier? Harder? More or less interesting or more or less frustrating?
My bet is that you found it to be a real challenge and ALSO more interesting than expected- but don’t just take that from me- check it out for yourself.
Velo on the trail.
This isn’t some brand-spankin’ new way to do mindfulness, it’s simply calling attention to a practice that exists and has been around for centuries (albeit with various names).
I’ve been doing mindfulness for close to 20 years and I still remind myself to get back to my practice from time to time.
It’s like that for all of us with something isn’t it?
What do you do everyday that might benefit from more attention?
How does it change the task or job for you and how does it change your next hour, or even the whole day?
Was there something you noticed within that short 5-10 minute mindful practice that you can use to shift your attitude or approach to whatever you are doing?
I challenge you to play around with 5 minutes of really paying attention at some point during your day today.
And hey! I’d love it if you stopped back here and left a comment about what it was like for you.
Taking in the view from the bald.
–Photo by Amy Kosh