Navigating an emotionally difficult transition, I knew today that it was time to head alone into the forest. An early arrival gave me a head start before the crowds that mob Muir Woods National Monument on a summer weekend.
I headed toward the TCC Trail in adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park, a largely untraveled path where I always have solitude. I hastened past the tourists over the pavement and boardwalk with my trekking poles tucked under my arm, until I heard the comforting sound of my boots on dirt. And began my walking meditation.
In traditional Buddhist practice, a simplified definition is that walking meditation cultivates mindfulness and awareness of the body and spirit through walking back and forth on a path of only a few yards. I have had powerful experiences walking just a few feet over and over. But today was about being expansive, covering more ground and deepening my practice.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn wrote: “In daily life, our steps are burdened with anxieties and fears. Life itself seems to be a continuous chain for insecure feelings, and so our steps lose their natural easiness. Our earth is truly beautiful. There is so much graceful, natural scenery along the paths and roads around the earth! … Do you know how many forest paths there are, paved with colorful leaves, offering cool and shade? They are all available to us, yet we cannot enjoy them because our hearts are not trouble-free, and our steps are not at ease. Walking meditation is learning to walk again with ease.”
I focused on walking with ease.
I was flooded with the thoughts of recent wounds that are tender. I let the thoughts and feelings come and go, intermingled with my accelerated pulse and quickened breathing as I headed up the steep slope. I opened to be mindful of where I was, listening to the calls of band-tailed pigeons, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees.
In a wave of sadness, I reached out to feel a redwood’s fibrous bark. Along the trail I stopped to pick up my first acorn of the year, still green and covered in fuzz, and was reminded of the evolving seasons of the heart.
Eight miles of beauty, acceptance and healing. The journey continues.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s quote is from his book The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation.