My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the hell she is.
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,for going out, I found, was really going in.
Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.
Overview and Introduction
“Wandering” is the best term to describe my newly adopted form of walking and hiking. To wander is to “move about without a fixed course, aim or goal.” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) Another definition is to “walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way.” (Apple Computer Dictionary)
“Mindfulness” adds a meditative element to my wandering. Hence, my new approach is a form of walking meditation. During my “mindful” walks and hikes, my primary focus will be on deep breathing, letting go of mind chatter, staying present and selective awareness. Some examples of selective awareness in this context: subtle shades of color, flowing water, bird sounds, rustling leaves, scudding clouds, trail obstacles, body rhythms, muscle aches, stomach hunger.
Putting these two concepts together (“mindful wandering”) is not terribly unique or unusual, but it is a striking departure from my long-practiced traditional style of walking and hiking. As such it will take concerted effort and discipline on my part to effect this style on any regular basis.
Mindful Wandering: Thumbnail Sketches
Mindful wandering, for me, involves at least these additional characteristics:
— walk more slowly with shorter steps than most hikers; move in a relaxed, efficient and energy-preserving manner
— take long walks putting in full hiking days, often from morning until dusk
— walk continuously with little down time; stop only when my body sensations tell me to rest, eat and drink or when some object or scene beckons me to closer inspection
— walk with a free and undisciplined spirit; be open to chance encounters; redirect when I see something beckoning to be explored or observed
— be fully aware of both my self (feelings, sensations, thoughts) and the natural world around me; enhance my awareness by walking in total silence; practice a walking rather than a sitting form of meditation
— focus on breathing deeply while walking; with each full inhalation of breath take in the intricacies, the beauties and the harmonies of nature; let go of my cares, concerns, worries and anxieties with my full exhalations
— focus on quieting my mind; lessen the power of my thinking and reasoning
— walk a bit more vigorously than the casual saunterings and meanderings emphasized by thinkers like Thoreau and Rousseau
— walk mainly in undeveloped areas usually on lesser-populated trails but sometimes off-trail as the spirit moves
— sometimes walk and hike with others, but usually solo; when hiking with others and wanting to “wander” I will express my desire to walk silently and separately, to then meet up at convenient places
— when out overnight, camp “stealthily” off-trail and away from established camps; sleep out-in-the-open except when weather is threatening; often build camp fires at night (not my usual practice)
— walk without specific destinations or timetables; walk without obvious goals other than realizing the characteristics of mindful wandering suggested above.
As should be evident from the above thumbnails, my vision of mindful wandering is many faceted. Probably more facets are yet to be discovered as I experiment.
The closest I have come to achieving the above-described states/qualities is doing solo overnights (having averaged one per year over the last several years). Most of my solo overnights, however, have been goal-oriented with a selected destination involving some hard hiking to achieve my goal (contrary to my new approach of just wandering).
Sometimes the kind of wandering I have described above is called “slackpacking.” Slackpacking involves undisciplined and leisurely walking totally as the spirit moves. It usually involves carrying only a fanny size pack with minimal supplies or no pack at all. This kind of walking and hiking is usually done in populated areas. Relaxed hut-to-hut (hostel-to-hostel)(pub-to-pub)(village-to-village) hiking, popular in places like Europe, New Zealand and South Africa, are commonly given examples of Slackpacking. Slackpacking has a definite draw for me but is currently not on my radar. Click on this link for more information on Slackpacking.
What Will Not Be a Focus with the Mindful Approach
For personal clarity, it is important to verbalize what is NOT a part of my new and different approach to walking and hiking:
— not attempting to discover my true self or get in touch with deeper parts of my soul or being
— not on a spiritual journey
— not attempting to find meaning or new directions for my life
—no attempt to name or classify the flora or fauna
— carry no distracting books, gadgets or electronics (except an emergency locator beacon kept at the bottom of my pack)
— not attempting to escape anything, wanting only to experience life with different values and perspectives.
I acknowledge that some of the things mentioned in this section might happen anyway (i.e., unintended consequences).
My Traditional Styles of Walking/Hiking
Another way to explain this unique approach is to contrast it with the kinds of walking I have done over most of the past 60 plus years.
I regularly do short walks close to my home, but they are almost always goal oriented: taking a break from what I have been doing; conditioning for more vigorous hiking; exploring a new trail or area; stretching my legs and getting some fresh air.
Most of my day hikes (solo or with a group) have been goal-oriented covering many miles with stops only to rest, hydrate and fuel up. Most of my group hikes involve keeping pace and contact with the movement of the group. Most year I have done at least one weeklong backpack trip taken during periods of prime weather. But these usually involve a closely scripted itinerary and always with a group of 2-6 people.
My approach to mindful wandering is experimental and will likely need some adjustment. No claim is being made that this “mindful” approach is for everyone. Since mindful wandering is new and different for me, how often I will do it (compared to my more traditional styles of walking and hiking) is unknown. More to the point, this new approach will not be a substitute but more of a supplement to hiking with my friends in traditional ways.
The biggest challenge will be to not fall into well-developed habits and patterns of hiking without thinking about it. Mindful wandering, even though a relaxed form of movement, will involve considerable mental discipline and focus. Not following a fixed itinerary could also be an issue both for loved ones and permitting agencies (where a permit is required). I have no problem being out in the wilderness by myself hiking solo, but doing this for more than 3 or 4 days at a time might be a problem as well. Mindful wandering might also contribute to unwanted anti-social behaviors in daily life. These are substantial challenges. Am I really up to mindful wandering?