Mindfulness in Hiking
Let me get this off my chest: I am horrible at living in the present.
Blame it on my INFJ, but if you were to ask me what I'm thinking about at any given moment, I would have a rough time pinpointing just what I'm thinking. Why? Gosh, well at the present moment I'm thinking about how much water I drank today, what I might make for breakfast tomorrow (millet porridge or a smoothie?! It's a hard decision), how much I love my adorable puppy who just came in to say hi and hang out (shoutout to my faithful companion, Tomas), which photographs to update my walls with.... In other words, my mind is continually jumbled in what seems like a million topics at once, many of which revolve around some future point in time: the vision I create about the plans and dreams I have. That's not to say that my creative imagination and capacity for multi-tasking thought processes is a bad thing. Sometimes I just need to focus more on what's happening in the present moment.
I catch glimpses of mindfulness every once in a while. A breath or two during my yoga practice, a moment of belly-shaking laughter, a couple bites while eating millet porridge, a minute during that horrendously strenuous AMRAP (only because my muscles are begging me to stop - enough already!). But when I stop to think about it, how much of my life am I living in the present moment? How much of our lives do we live fully present with our surroundings?
Having become aware of my lack of mindfulness, I decided to go on a hike in order to challenge myself to live presently...
My mind was still filled with a million thoughts. What's the next stage of my life going to look like? Will I end up living in that apartment with the fabulous kitchen? I hope I can bike - or walk - to work! Oh dear, I'm going to have to buy serious winter clothes...no more SoCal weather. But mountains! What foods should I serve at my dinner parties now that I'm an adult?! These dried blueberries are the yummiest snack I've ever eaten! What kind of granola can I start making?
But what are failures if you don't learn and correct?
Yet in some ways, I succeeded. And that's what I want to dedicate my energy to.
Amidst all the flittering thoughts, I was able to capture quite a few moments of focus on the present. And hiking at 8:30am, alone, on a Monday morning is a good time to start. Usually I'll plug my headphones in and listen to my latest playlist while I'm out on walks (recommended: Andrew Belle's Black Bear album is fab), drowning out the external inputs that fight for my attention. But I intentionally decided to keep my ears and eyes clear (after having my sunglasses slip off my nose too many times) so I could soak in my surroundings. Without musical poetry to distract me from my current state, I began to notice more and more things about my environment, and even myself. I could fully feel my congestion as I tried breathing deeper, and felt the expansion and deflation of my lungs along with the swiftness of my heartbeat and the sweat building as I climbed ever higher up the Sandia slopes. It was just cool enough to keep me from sweating buckets (which would have happened under normal, warmer circumstances). I began noticing how the light illuminated the white curlicues on the yuccas lining the trail, the bushes of fuzzy flower buds...
Then there were the sounds and smells. The crunch-crunch-crunch of my shoes over tiny rocks (and the occasional skidding as I descended the trail; thank goodness there was nobody to see how many times I almost ate it on my face) and chirping birds singing their melodies. The smells of juniper, ponderosa, and other plants painted the scene with sweet, warm notes reminiscent of my childhood days spent camping and hugging the vanilla-toned trees in the Jemez. The more I soaked in, the more beautiful it looked, smelled, and sounded. Even the crows' chattering as they circled my resting spot meshed into the natural music of the environment.
The feeling of looking over Albuquerque from my rocky perch also incited a new way of looking at my town. While cruising through the urban jungle, I often think about how large the city is (I mean, it does take me a good 20 minutes to drive to work) and how the Sandias are merely a backdrop to this city I call home. But removing myself from the paved roads and strip malls and getting into the woodwork of the mountains reminded me of the sheer enormity of these mountains I look at each and every day. Being on the trail brought the Sandias back to life, and made Albuquerque appear laughable. Seriously, our downtown is so small, and my commute to work isn't really that bad. It made me appreciate the ability I have to get away from it all and be reminded of how small the "big" things, such as 55-mph traffic on I-25, really are in comparison to the larger picture. From above, those worries seem insignificant. So I'm glad I had that perspective change.
As I search for words to describe the hike, one phrase seems fitting: "the purpose of life is to enjoy every moment." We cannot fully appreciate the life we are given if we are constantly looking ahead of or behind us. Though it is essential to learn from the past and to dream of a purposeful future, being fully enveloped in the current moment is a skill that I believe is crucial to living a well-lived life. If we're constantly living for the future, for events and people of which we are uncertain, how can we truly enjoy life? All that's certain is what we've experienced and what we are dealt on a daily basis. Though one of my greatest strengths is vision - creativity and focus on the future - I need to cultivate my presentness. Whether it's when I'm eating, singing in the car, practicing yoga, writing a blog post, crying in bed, the act of immersing myself in the present moment and experiencing life is a gift worth pursuing.
Tangent: Sometimes the hardest situations in which to be present are the most important. I recently helped a friend get through a lousy, painful day, and realized that heartbreak is one of the most difficult emotions to withstand. You either dwell on it or skip over it completely. At least I do. But what I realized is that, by being fully present with your emotions, you come to understand yourself better, to have a richer experience, and to heal in more profound ways. Because denying the true state of affairs only masks your pain for so long. At some point you will have to face what's been hiding underneath, and being fully present throughout the healing process is just as important as the recovery. What is success and recovery if you never felt the pain? And what is pain if you've never felt true happiness and contentment?
So regardless of the situation, take it as an opportunity to listen, feel, smell, and experience the here-and-now. Soak it in. These moments are fleeting, and we don't want to miss a single heartbeat of our lives.