Hiking as Mindfulness

Today I went for a hike in the Gatineaus (Quebec). I’m on holidays for a couple of weeks and I just wanted to be by myself in the woods for a bit.

I headed out of Ottawa and up to the National Capital Commission and Lac-Phillipe, the Lusk Cave Trail. I left my ipod behind and headed out on the 12 km trail with just my own thoughts. It was a cool day, a welcome relief from so many of the hot and humid days that we’ve had. The sky was largely overcast and there was (thankfully) not many people on the trails. I also planned my trip to be there as soon as the gate was opened for day visitors, so there weren’t even that many cars in the parking lot.

I headed out onto the trail. I soaked in my surroundings, taking time to just listen to the crunch of my hiking boots on the gravel.  For several minutes I focused my attention on how each foot step sounded on the gravel. As the texture of the path changed, so did the sound of my footsteps. I enjoyed the transition from gravel to sand, to the branch covered paths.

After a while, I let my attention move from my footsteps and take in all the sounds around me. The wind blowing gently on the tree tops.  I opened my ears to the chatter of the birds, and the sound of a flock of crows taking off in a cackling hurry. I let my senses fully opened and smelt the fresh air, the mud on the ground, the rotting of some of the dead foliage and trees. I soaked it in and connected those sensations deeply into my body.

For a little over four hours I hiked all on my own. I alternatively focused my attention on my surroundings, taking in the details of the forest and then on just letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. I enjoyed not numbing myself out with music as I typically do when I run or walk on the streets of my town. I enjoyed sometimes focusing on the exertion of my body up an incline, paying attention to my breathing, my muscles and the feeling of joy of making my body move.

At one point on the hike, a mother and daughter entered the trail from another path. They were chatting and wanted to talk to me. I really just wanted to sink into my own meditative hike.  After several efforts to separate myself from them by either trying to speed ahead of them, or stop and let them get far enough ahead of me, and somehow we kept bumping into one another over and over, I indicated to them that I appreciated their friendliness but I just wanted to be on my own for the hike. They were offended and told me that they were just trying to be friendly.  It was clear to me that it was hard for them to understand why I just wanted to be alone.  They were determined to ensure that I was not alone as if this could not possibly be what I wanted.

I decided to strike off onto another part of the trail, away from their need to connect with me because what I needed more than anything was to continue to connect with my inner thoughts and the awareness of the nature around me.

Fortunately for the remainder of my hike as I meandered down another path, I was left to myself.  It was easy to return my attention into my own body, into the awareness of the forest around me.

Returning to my car, I took a few moments on the park bench and closed my eyes. I practiced some deep breath and started at my head. Each breath I breathed in, I focused on a part of my body. The crown of my head, the tips of my ears, my cheekbones, my neck, my shoulders, and all the way down to my toes. I breathed in and out awareness of my body and its stillness. I breathed in and out contentment and joy at the time spent on the trail. I gathered my senses back into myself and just held that moment for a second longer.

When I got in the car and headed back to my friend’s house, I felt an amazing sense of calm and gratitude.  It was a powerful reminder of how much I depend on time alone and in the bush to re-calibrate and ground myself.

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