A slow walk
“We have no destination and nothing to accomplish” is how I introduce my Saturday mindfulness walks in Norwich’s Mohegan Park. After some welcoming words, a brief warm-up, and expressions of gratitude for the day, we walk — slowly, silently, and softly.
In my teaching of mindfulness walking practice, I invite participants to bring their awareness to the breath and body, sights and sounds, movements and rhythms, smells and breezes, muscles and bones, absorbing information and guidance from everything around them and within them at every moment. I seek to do the same, though wandering thoughts and passing fancies intrude as they do for everybody.
On a recent walk around the park’s Spaulding Pond with my small group, we passed under the trellises of wisteria, felt lifted by the oh-la-ree of red-winged blackbirds sitting on the cattails, pondered the profusion of skunk cabbages in the swampy areas, blinked at the no-see-um’s flitting into our eyes, and concluded by lifting our eyes to the sunlight filtering through the leaves and blossoms of the dogwood trees.
We brought our awareness to the human element of the park as well, catching snippets of conversation of passing couples and families, noticing (without judgment!) the left-behind water bottles and beer cans, and offering silent good wishes to the fishing folks sitting on buckets and contemplatively smoking cigarettes.
I advise participants to take it all in, neither grasping nor pushing away but simply noticing. In my practice, when I start to fixate on a thing or a thought, I whisper to myself “this, too” as an expression of acceptance and gratitude no matter how beautiful or ugly, sweet or pungent, or quiet or noisy the thing or thought — and then returning to awareness and the breath.
During this walk, I tried to focus my attention on my body, feeling the movement of my breath, the press of my feet on the path, the tightening of my leg muscles, the gurgling of my stomach, the beating of my heart, and my growing thirst.
A mindfulness walk, or any mindfulness practice, can do wonders to bring us back to a more spacious, contemplative place, away from all the planning, problem-solving, self-judging, and worrying in which we are usually engaged. Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice offers many benefits to the mind and body: Improving attention, decreasing job burnout, improving sleep, and controlling diabetes as well as reducing anxiety, pain, depression, and high blood pressure.
I find the spiritual aspects of a mindfulness walk beneficial as well, especially in those brief moments when the veil between the world and me drops away, and I experience a sense of unity, beauty, and, at times, euphoria.
I invite you in the coming weeks, as we anticipate the start of summer, to take a slow walk in silence, stepping softly upon the earth and giving your soul the gentle care it needs.
Photo: Mohegan Park, Norwich, Conn.