How Getting into Your Body Can Change Your Mind

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This post illustrates one example of how getting into your body can change your mind. It was originally written in May 2015, when I was struggling with symptoms of chronic Lyme disease (more often called Post Lyme Disease Syndrome).

 

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 had 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 personal experience chronic illness and pain, I would alternate 45-60 minutes on an elliptical machine with an excellent 60 minute Barre class 2-3 times a week. I always had an intention for a day or two of rest and recovery, but never found a way to make that happen. It felt lazy!

See, 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 head home after 5 minutes, this affected my state of mind much more than it affected by body. I got scared. Depression found me. I became angry, both at my body and at the world.

The Path Reveals Itself

One day we moved apartments, and as you might guess my pain was at an all-time high. But when things started to settle down a few days later, seeing people walking intrigued me, and I decided I’d go out for a stroll. Not a run or a power walk. A stroll. Without a book, without music.

I’ve gone out walking a lot since then.

I also embraced a mantra of one of my mentors, “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, my mind would go 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 thought 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 here 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 had about what my senses took in during my walks was negative. This part of me challenged: “what if you could you just state objectively what you see, without adding a value judgment (either good or bad)? ” 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 difficult to 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’d had lots of training.

Plus, I was feeling angry and upset over 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

broken purple stickSomewhere 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 I was told that a broken stick represented broken trust.

The next day I took some photos of the lawn ornaments I had been poo-pooing. Later 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 I discovered miles away, which resembled one lost in my laundry).

Eventually, I found myself wanting to take photos of things that a few weeks prior, I would have considered ugly. Every time I walked, I saw so many things in the world that were beautiful! Things in nature, and things we as humans have left scattered about.

As my medical issue got addressed, I increased the amount of time I walked and eventually would go for an hour. I had to be careful not to overdo it. But I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being able to walk without discomfort. Although it’s been over 7 years since my diagnosis, I’m still grateful every time I walk.

What’s more, I’m amazed at how much walking transformed my mind in just a few short weeks, and how much I enjoy it now.

 

As always, I invite you to comment and let me know your thoughts. Have you had similar experiences? What would you notice in your mind if you walked without distractions?


 

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