The days in between Christmas and New Year are unlike any other, and among my favourite days of the year. Once Christmas lunch is on the table, I can relax, knowing that the annual festive event has been successfully delivered. The frantic ‘doing’ of December in the run-up to Christmas can give way to ‘being’. It is the ebb and flow of life – activity followed by calm – played out in just one month. And what better was to return to calm, and make the most of the winter light, than by walking in nature?
I am lucky to live near some beautiful woods and I often walk home through the trees after dropping the smallest Master Mindful at school. In the days before Christmas I was aware of entering the woods like a coiled spring with my mind racing and my body full of tension. The mind is designed to think relentlessly and, in my case, search for things to add to the ever-expanding ‘to do’ list. Once among the trees I could feel myself slowing down and returning to peace, yet the peace didn’t stay for long. Within a few steps, my mind is back on the to-do list. My pace quickens and the tension returns in the constant striving to ‘do’ instead of just ‘be’. I know that I have walked through these woods many times, not at all aware of my surroundings.
This morning’s walk through the woods was different. On a precious ‘in-between’ day with no to-do list, I was able to take solace in nature. I stopped by a tree and took three deep breaths, becoming present to the beauty around me. I looked up at the clear blue sky through the canopy of leaves. I noticed the light and shade, the shapes of the leaves, the different textures and shades of green. I listened and could hear the birds singing – really loudly in fact! – the dogs barking, and the distant roar of a plane overhead. I focused on my sense of smell and closed my eyes. I could smell the damp earth, decomposing leaves and woodsmoke from a nearby chimney. I took my hands out of my coat pockets to touch a leaf. It was wet and cold from the morning dew, soft and feathery. I turned my attention inward to how I felt inside: calm and connected. I felt a sensation of peace envelop me like a heavy blanket. While feeling is not one of the five senses, it is the most important because it solidifies the mindful experience and makes us aware of its many benefits.
A few moments of mindfulness opened me up to the many layers of beauty in the wood and just being present in this space quietened the chattering mind-monkeys and gave me a sense of clarity and renewed energy. If you get the opportunity to go for a walk this weekend, try the mindful walking practice below – please leave a comment below to let me know what you noticed and learned from the experience.
Mindful walking practice
At some point on your walk, stop and take ten minutes to be mindful. Take three deep breaths and breathe out any tension you may be holding onto. Use all your senses to appreciate your surroundings and ask yourself the following questions. If the mind wanders (because that’s what minds do!), gently bring your focus back to your senses and your surroundings.
- What can I see? Notice the light, shade, shapes, textures and colours.
- What can I hear? Listen to the layers of sound and whether they are loud or quiet.
- What can I smell? This is an interesting one to try as we tend to notice smell only when it’s strong and obvious. What subtle smells can you notice?
- What can I touch? Reach out and touch something, even if it’s the sleeve of your coat or your hair. What does it feel like? Can you feel the breeze on your face or the clothes on your skin?
- What does walking feel like? Notice your feet in your shoes and how the ground supports each step. Can you notice the moment when your weight shifts from one foot to the other?
- How does this mindful walking practice make you feel in your heart and soul? Try asking yourself this question again a while later – has the mindful walking practice had any long-lasting benefits?