This is one of my favorite ways to reduce stress and reconnect with my own inner compass. It is an especially helpful tool for people who can’t do the traditional types of meditating that involve closing the eyes and trying to clear the mind. In our modern day, fast paced world we are living in, slowing down the mind is a near impossibility for most people. I recommend trying this method out a minimum of two days per week to help balance out the craziness of life.
Find a spot in nature where you can walk for 45-90 minutes (if your health allows). The farther removed from traffic, buildings, and such, the better. Walking on a beach, on hiking trails in the mountains, in a beautiful park, whatever is available to you where you live is the goal. Ideally, if it is safe, you would walk completely alone. Walking with a dog or companion is fine. But if a friend accompanies you, it is important that you both be on the same page, and you agree that there will be no talking on the walk. Set your phone to airplane mode. Even if you vow not to look at your phone during the walk, when you feel or hear messages coming in, it will distract your mind to wondering who it is from and whether it was important.
As you begin your walk, you will likely be in distracted mode. You will be partially aware of your surroundings, and your mind will be spinning with a million thoughts, to-do lists, problems, frustrations, etc. For the first 10 minutes or so, just let that be. Allow your mind to do its ping-ponging back and forth between all of the concerns in your life. Think of your mind like a small child that is demanding your attention. It needs to feel heard and acknowledged. Also notice that these thoughts you are having aren’t new thoughts. They are the same thoughts you’ve been rolling around in your mind for days, weeks, or even months. When you really think about it, having these repetitive thoughts hasn’t resolved your stress. It is just perpetuating it.
After about 10 minutes, tell your mind thank you for keeping track of all of those items for you. Let it know that you are going to disconnect from that endless loop and focus on your surroundings. At this point, you aren’t trying to stop your mind from thinking. You are taking control and creating a new subject matter. Begin to focus on your surroundings. Notice the grasses, plants and trees. Notice any wildlife in the area. How many different colors are in your environment? Are there any clouds in the sky, and what are their shapes? Contemplate the mysteries of nature. As you look at a large tree, you might wonder how many insects, birds and squirrels call that tree their home. As you pass by a spider web woven in the grasses that has the morning dew drops clinging to its threads, you notice the beauty of that creation. Watch a bird soaring overhead and imagine what it would feel like if you could fly like that. Imagine that sense of freedom and what your perspective of the world would be from that vantage point. You get the idea…use your imagination and keep your mind busy with a childlike wonderment of your surroundings.
The combination of the exercise, fresh air, and a sustained break from your normal mental loops create an opportunity for you to release some of the stress you’ve been carrying with you. After practicing this walking meditation for a while, something magical began to happen for me. Towards the last 5-10 minutes of my walk, when my thoughts were starting to return to my normal mental chatter, I would suddenly get a brilliant insight. From out of the blue, I would see one of my problems from a whole new perspective. I would come up with a solution and an action item to finally get that issue off of my list. If you’ve ever had the experience where you’ve wrestled with a problem on your mind all day to no avail. Then, after a good night’s sleep, your first thought upon waking in the morning is the perfect answer you were looking for. This walking meditation has the same effect. Our best insights don’t come from a place of tightness and spinning, they come following a time of release.
Try to include this healthy practice into your weekly routines.