A few days ago, during our first snow storm this winter, I made my way down through the back fields, across the stream, to disappear into the waiting woods. High wind and blowing snow made it almost impossible to see at first, but once in the calm of the forest, a winter wonderland passed by with each step on the trail.
I walk a lot in winter, preferring the woods to the dirt road that runs past our house. It seems every time I pace my wooded trails, in all seasons, there is always something new waiting to be discovered. I have been tramping the same forest for over twenty years, and even now, after hundreds of visits, I am amazed by the depth of experience, the subtle change and the wellness it seems to give.
For me, the biggest benefit of a daily walk is the clarity of mind it produces. Those steps become a walking meditation, bringing me back to the present. If life is about depth of experience, then training ourselves to become more attentive every day is a worthy goal and should give us greater insight on what it means to be truly alive.
On a walk my mind is usually active and wandering for the first few minutes, then I begin to notice things that interest me, usually I go slow, touching things, looking, listening, smelling, as I move through the forest, my awareness deepening with every step.
On the return loop, I speed up and look more towards feeling my body working hard, enjoying the aches and pains, the breath, my heartbeat, all signs that I am wonderfully alive!
As an artist I am used to looking, but over the past six years I have come to use another sense to increase my awareness levels. Now I also pay close attention to the sounds I hear and will often stop on a walk to just listen, to pick out the sounds of life all around me. It might be the smallest detail of a sound, a bird, a leaf flutter, the drip of rain from a heavy bough, the faint gurgle of a stream buried underneath a thick blanket of snow, each sound bringing its own uniqueness to the journey.
For me awareness and presence are the foundation of my life as a painter, taking time to cultivate this through walking gives me insight and clarity. I get to find the beauty in every step, in every breath, in everything around me, something that I can take with me throughout the day.
We seem to habitually rush through our lives, seeking reward in thoughts of the future or even the past, but, if you think about it, our mind can be a thief, stealing away the richness of the present moment, which is there right now, for you. To cultivate awareness through mindful walking is like planting a seed, one that with continued watering, food and love, could grow into something quite beautiful.