Two weeks ago, I went on my first walk.  I am 22 years old and I went on my first walk two weeks ago, that’s right.  

It was the end of November, yet not a typical day for late November.  The sun was shining strong and it was warm enough to wear shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals.  This made it unusually easy to drop whatever I was doing and just get outside.  Just go.  So I found myself quickly choosing summer clothing, moving out the door, and taking my first steps on the sidewalk.  I never planned on going for a walk, I didn’t know where I was walking, but there I was, walking.

I felt my body moving.  It was as if I was moving in and out of experiencing no resistance.  No resistance to the temperature, no thoughts about how I looked, no grasping to know where I was going, no desire to learn about the street names, and no desire to look at the letters and numbers on the passing car’s license plates. I didn’t feel a desire to know anything.  There was already enough going on in my body as I walked.  Feeling my body move, ever so subtly, filled me with enjoyment and satisfaction.

This first walk lasted two and a half hours, but as I rounded the bend to find myself back at the Center for Mindful Learning, it felt like it had just been 10 minutes.

This first walk, truly felt like a gift.  I had never experienced anything like it before.   I walked with my feet on the ground and the sky above me, nothing more.  My body was moving freely.

Today is Sunday, the free day at CML. The experience of my first walk was so powerful, that I will go on another walk to see if I can feel like that again.  So I put on my long johns, layer a few long sleeve shirts over me, wrap a scarf around my neck, and find my jacket.  I have four hours to place one foot in front of the other.  No expectations.  I step out the door, and begin walking.

As the cool december breeze blows against the skin on my face, my mind is there for a moment with that feeling, nothing more.

I feel the gravel under my left foot through a thin rubber soul, absorbing the craters and hills.  Then my right foot.

I hear the waves calmly break against the frozen sand of Lake Champlain.

I hear the birds.  Their chipring relaxes the brain in the skull.  The mind doesn’t have anything to do, but become what already is happening, become the sound of the birds.

These moments are few and far between, but nonetheless when they occur, no thoughts about what I have to do come into my mind. Walking becomes a relief.  Walking becomes beautiful.  Walking becomes amazing.  I could have never imagined walking could feel this good.   The mind is in the body.  The body and mind are yoked together, having the same experience perhaps.

I spend a lot of time at the Center for Mindful Learning sitting.  During these times of sitting, I can not say that I experience much, but the impact of my mindfulness practice is unmistakable when I surround myself in Nature or go on walks.  Things seem fresh and new.

The total contentment of these seemingly common experiences is a mystery to me because they have always been there.  However, just the subtle change of carefully listening to them radically enriches my experience of them.  All that is needed is for me to settle down enough to realize that it is Okay to have my attention fully on the sound of the birds.  Now that I have discovered this, I can not continue my life ignoring it.  I can not continue living without an appreciation for the moment.  For when my attention is being carried away on the wandering mind, I do not stand up as tall, I do not walk with ease and confidence.  When I am caught up in my thoughts, I do not have a grounded appreciation for the happenings of the moment.

 Ironically, walks were never enough for me.  I always felt they were lazy exercise.  But as I grow older and as I progress on this path of mindfulness, I realize I have not been able to slow down enough to appreciate walking because I am deeply insecure.  This insecurity manifests as anxiety.  Becoming aware of these insecurities took (and continues to take) awhile for me to see because I have constructed a view of myself being a mindful, relaxed, and Nature based person.  But after throwing myself into a rigorous mindfulness practice for 4 months at CML, I have begun to clean myself out, revealing the uncomfortable barriers that I have created to live in false comfort.

Deep down, I have anxiety.  It is very difficult for me to slow down and just hold my attention on anything, from feeling the body to being present for another person.  I am becoming aware of the unrest in the body and mind.  Yet, I have tasted the experience of what it feels like to be content with what is happening in the given moment.  To be filled with the energy and beauty of this Universe.  A small taste of freedom.  A worthy pursuit in life.

Now, it is getting colder in New England.  Walks are becoming more difficult to endure. But that’s okay, I am determined to translate this life energy that I have experienced while moving when walking, to moving when doing other activities.  Hey, cross country ski season is here!

 

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Ben Barnet

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