|Wildwood Trail in Forest Park|
Do you enjoy hiking? What is it about the experience that you enjoy? Is it the challenge of reaching the top of a mountain or the goal of reaching some scenic destination? Is it the exhilarating feeling you get from the exercise or the social aspect of being with friends? In my youth, I considered hiking to be the initial and easy part of conquering a mountain. I remember one occasion when we met some people who were “just hiking.” No one in our group could figure out why they were even there. However, the next day after the climb, I hiked out with two other people. One of them insisted that we maintain a distance of at least 200 yards between ourselves. This was my introduction to a new dimension of hiking, one with a focus on what you see and hear on the hike.
So, how do we do overcome these distractions? Well, we can control many of the physical distractions. We can turn off the cell phone and put away the music player. The mental distractions are more difficult. You can’t focus on not thinking about them. That, too, is a distraction. The only strategy is to fix your attention of the present experience of the natural environment — the shape and color of the leaves on the trees, the way the light filters through the trees, the way the branches sway in the wind, the sound of the call of the chickadees and nuthatches, the texture of the bark on the trees, the moss and the ferns growing along the trail, the smells of the woods and wildflowers.
Pacific Silver Fir Pollen Cones
Mindfulness of nature involves a focus on the natural environment, but it is a particular kind of focus. This focus on nature is characterized by curiosity, knowledge, and wonder. Almost everyone at least has some appreciation of the beauty of nature. But this level of appreciation can be quite superficial. Curiosity can take us deeper. It leads us to look more closely and to notice new details and relationships.
The more you learn, the more your attention to nature will be rewarded. The reward is the joy of the experience of beauty. It brings healing to the mind that transcends psychotherapy, drug therapy, and perhaps even inward meditation. So when you are out hiking, be mindful of your environment. You will be rewarded.
"Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another." - Our National Parks, John Muir