The Path Reveals Itself
The first time I sat down to breakfast in our house, I noticed that many of my new neighbors had a morning walking habit. Apart from vacations where I tend to do a lot of walking or hiking, walking has never been my “exercise” of choice. Although I knew it was good for me, on some level I didn’t really equate it with being healthy. Why? Because it was too slow.
Before my chronic pain I would alternate 45-60 minutes on an elliptical machine with an excellent 60 minute Barre class 2-3 times a week, always having an intention for a day or two of rest and recovery but never quite finding a way to make that happen. I love exercising; since I was an undergraduate in college it has been a critical part of my physical and (even more so) mental heath. So when my pain got so bad that I couldn’t take a slow walk without having to turn around and head home after 5 minutes, this affected my state of mind much more than it affected by body. I got scared. Depression found me again. I became angry, both at my body and at the world.
The day we moved my pain was at an all-time high. But when things started to settle back down a few days later, seeing these people walking intrigued me, and my pain subsided enough that I decided I’d go out for a stroll. Not a run or a power walk. A stroll. Without a book, without music. Walking only. Not even ChiWalking, which I tried a few times before.
I’ve gone out walking a lot since then. In fact, most days my morning yoga practice is followed by a walk, beginning just around the time the sun is rising. It’s a beautiful time of the day! Sometimes I can’t fit it in in the morning though, so I’ll go later and get some vitamin D from the glorious Texas sun. I also have a new mantra: “Horses run, people walk.” (thanks Chase Bossart!) What I noticed on these walks, however, is what I really want to share with you.
The Default Direction of My Mind
I discovered that when I wasn’t focusing on the walk as exercise or being distracted by music or reading, my mind appeared to run off in many different directions. After a few days of walking though, I started to notice that no, my mind wandered in the exact same direction: to criticisms and judgments of other things and other people who I knew absolutely nothing about. Some of the things I said to myself included:
- “Look at that [pink little girl’s] bike thrown in the front yard like that. Don’t her parents teach her to take care of her things?”
- “Apparently to live in Texas one has to have a yard full of crab grass and ostentatious lawn ornaments.”
- “How many $&*%&^@! cars do people need?” and “What kind of crap are these people hoarding in their garages?” [noticing that 4-6 cars were parked in each driveway on a street where every house had a 2-car garage.]
- “I hate that color [car, house, etc].”
- “That woman [walking past me] is mean.”
I don’t remember exactly when the shift happened, but at some point the Witness part of me realized that every thought I was having about what my senses were taking in during my walks was negative. My higher Self asked: “Could you just state objectively what you see, without adding a value judgment (either good or bad)? ” Hmm…something had challenged me to reframe my thoughts. OK, so:
- “A pink child’s bike lying in the grass.”
- “An arrangement of lawn ornaments and grass that’s different from what I’m used to at this house.”
- “4 cars, 6 cars, 4 cars…”
- “A blue house. A tan house. A red car.”
- “That woman appears to be frowning.”
It was hard to just objectively name what I saw! Every street or so I’d catch my mind slipping back into familiar patterns–my family of origin was expert at criticism and judgement so I’ve had lots of practice. Plus, I was feeling angry and upset about a lot of what had happened to me and directing that anger out into the world. But over the course of a few walks, it became easier and easier to simply observe.
Discovering Beauty in Everything, Even the Imperfect
Somewhere along the path of observing, I started taking photos of things I saw along my walks. It began, I believe, with the broken purple stick. I took this photo because 1) purple is my favorite color, 2) how often do you see a purple stick? 3) the stick was broken, and reminded me of a psychic reading I had a few years ago where a broken stick represented broken trust.
The next day I took some photos of the lawn ornaments I had been poo-pooing. Several days it was something in nature that I felt privileged to see at that early morning hour. Sometimes it was something funny (e.g. the pink sock that I discovered miles from the house that resembled one of mine that we keep losing in the laundry). Lately, I’ve found myself wanting to take photos of things that a few weeks ago, I would have considered ugly: a wooden fence with a few differently colored and bent boards, for example. Every time I walk, I see so many things in the world that are beautiful! Things in nature, and things we as humans have left scattered about.
Yesterday morning I went on an hour long walk, and although I’m starting to border on overdoing again (more on that soon), I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being able to walk for an hour without a lot of discomfort, especially around that time when my body started letting me know that I was getting dangerously close to my edge.
What’s more, I’m amazed at how much walking has transformed my mind in just a few short weeks, and how much I enjoy it now (I even miss it when I don’t get to go). I still attend Barre classes two times a week, but you’re much less inclined to see me trying to be a horse or aggravating my SI joint on an elliptical at the gym!
See more photos from my walk here. And as always, please comment and let me know your thoughts. Have you had similar experiences?