What a walk can get out of us

by jphiker


I just finished reading a guest essay from the New York Times Opinion section by Francis Sanzaro. The title is “The Next Walk You Take Could Change Your Life”. This article really validated how I have been experiencing my walks in the wild over the last several years. Yet, sadly, for most of my adult life, I have looked at my walks in the wild from the perspective of “what I can get of out it”. I filled my mind with assumptions and expectations and judgments about a particular walk/hike/bike ride or climb. What will I get from this experience in the wild? I would fill my mind with all the beautiful wildflowers, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, mountain views or deep forest beauty that I would was sure “take” from this walk. I was really just viewing my time in nature from a “consumerism mindset”. What I am going to “take” from this walk, like a possession.

“Thinking that something is going to be beautiful does as much damage to a place as thinking it will be ugly.”

Francis Sanzaro

I know one assumption and judgment I made prior to walking the Camino was how “ugly and boring” the flat desert section in the middle of the Camino walk was going to be. It is called the “Meseta” and it takes about a week of walking to get through. I figured there was nothing I could take from walking the Meseta and I would just have to “grin and bear it”. I did not see this desert landscape as “useful” to me. Yet it turned out that there was some “hidden beauty within” this long desert section, I especially loved the feel of spaciousness and the simplicity of the landscape. Growing up on the west side of the Cascade mountains, this was a new experience. I had a new appreciation for the Meseta. You see I needed to stop assuming with my “consumerism mindset” and begin to see with the eyes of intimacy and attentiveness and wonder. I needed to rid myself of assumptions and walk with a open and receptive mindset on what might surprise me next.

“We are asking what we can get out of walk, rather than what a walk can get out of us.”

Francis Sanzaro

We all have probably seen this in how a young child will walk through a place. It takes practice and discipline to walk this way as adults it seems. If we walk with attentiveness and with all our senses alert and alive receiving the wild on its own terms, there is great delight and surprise.

Over the last several years, I have been practicing this way of walking. Receiving and not taking and keeping distractions and my assumptions at the minimum. It has made a significant difference in my life and I highly recommend you try it yourself, if you have not already.

Here are some tips I have learned in this practice:

  1. Learn to “saunter”. Don’t be in a hurry if possible.
  2. Avoid setting too many expectations and assumptions.
  3. Just be present and open and filled with surprise and wonder (like a little child)
  4. If walking with others communicate your desire to walk in this way “childlike way”
  5. Use all your senses. I love to use my sense of touch (be careful here though as it is good to know what the vegetation is that can hurt you, like poison oak)

Now this can take time to learn, to walk in this way through a place. Keep practicing I can tell you it is like opening a gift from a dear friend. You will be surprised and delighted!

Grace and Beauty Abounds!


Photographs of the Month

Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth

I mentioned the spaciousness of the Meseta, this image I captured during a beach walk at English Bloom County Park on Camano Island really communicates this idea of spaciousness. As we sauntered along the beach, the reflection of the skies on the calm water was simply spellbinding, even mesmerizing. It is interesting how timing is everything when it comes to a walk in the wild. This beautiful reflecting water and sky was gone within 15 minutes as the wind came up across the water the the gorgeous sky reflections were gone.

I decided to include a second photo for you this month.

Spring Beauty

This “little dainty” flower is called Spring Beauty. Oh, how easy it is to pass right by this little flower if one is not fully attentive and aware. This photo was taken during a hike to Esmeralda Basin in Central Washington. I love this quote by Georgia O’Keefe that speak to the “little flower” and the importance of the element of time when we are walking. Slow down so you can see the “Spring Beauty”!

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is too small. We haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a good friend takes time.”