Before I get into this I would like to say that Mindfulness is a very broad topic and has many levels in which it is taught and practiced. I am a beginner and my views and statements reflect my limited experience. Mindfulness began as part of the teachings of the Buddha centuries ago. In the United States its history starts in the 1970’s when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a stress reduction program based on a type of Buddhist meditation. There is an ongoing debate between those who see Buddhism as a philosophy and those that consider it a religion. I am not attempting to or desiring to answer those questions. I am of the opinion that stopping to smell the roses has become more difficult as the flow of information increases. And it’s not just the speed but so much of that information is useless, mindless, and banal. I hope to develop mindfulness to keep me on point, in hopes of realizing all the gifts and potential God has bestowed upon me. This was suppose to be a simple disclaimer of my limited experience, but is turning into the blog itself. . I guess I better get started. The Journey continues…with a few of my thoughts on mindfulness and an example from my life and what it has to do with my hike.
The human brain is a multi tasking marvel. It processes and evaluates the past, present, and future simultaneously. Often we have difficulty slowing it down to concentrate and focus clearly on the task at hand, the present moment. Mindfulness attempts to give us a tool to discard the distractions which cloud and negatively characterize our thought process. Mindfulness doesn’t require an emptying the mind of all thoughts but by deliberately and intentionally coming back to the present moment the focus becomes not on the problem itself but our relationship to the problems. This process is work like any other exercise program. Right away you will see how eager the mind wants to wander to anywhere but the present. To escape the clutter and distraction for a few minutes can be beneficial for our thought process and physical health. I will list some links to a few videos on this subject at the bottom of the post.
Our lives are shortchanged in many ways. Distractions permeate everyday life. To the point they thwart our ability to experience each day in fullness and vitality. In conversations we often aren’t fully present. Our minds are thinking about yesterday or off into the weekend ahead. We allow these distractions to pull us away to the past or to an imagined future. The present moments meantime tick away with little inspiration or purpose. Life is meant to be lived. Deliberately and intentionally. Even the small moments present an opportunity for a fuller relationship to others and to the world around us. Being awake and aware let’s us see the needs of others, enabling us to provide support and care. Being present internally helps us to see and understand ourselves, our concerns and worries. Freeing up wasted energy to develop a positive outlook and a loving spirit. That is living!
Here is an extreme example of how mindfulness could have been helpful in changing my life. The most important moments we have are the present. The past as they say is past. However the truth is, we often we carry it with us. The negative associations become anchors holding us back. Mindfulness can help us to let go of those feelings and attend to the present moment without reservations.
I grew up in a somewhat unstable home. I had two things in my favor, brothers and sisters who cared for each other and a safe accessible community. Not a bad environment, just one where the future of our family wasn’t assured. I was young and had no understanding of the reasons nor the effects all this had on my decisions. I simply got through it. Seemingly I left it all behind. Once in the working world and modestly in control of my basic needs, a degree of security replaced my early fears. I held fast to my new found stability. Life was good. At the time I was looking forward not at the past. But in fact I was really living day to day the past feelings were below the surface. What really would have secured some stability in my life was a college degree. That would require a roll of the dice I wasn’t prepared to make. I simply wasn’t willing or able to risk losing the little bit of security that I had achieved. It meant I was not going to chase a college degree. To do so would require getting beyond those fears that in my mind were long since left behind. Because they hadn’t truly been left behind, I couldn’t visualize the real possibilities and the potential benefit. They had become an anchor. An anchor can do two things. It can keep you secure or hold you back. I used it both ways. My fear and doubt both became the anchor holding me back and at the same time I feared the unsettling changes which would be required. The anchor would keep me from drifting back to what I feared most. Instability. The past unconsciously controlled how I thought and thus my present actions.
Mindfullness, when developed through practice allows us to view hidden issues almost as if we are looking at ourselves from the outside.Once free of judgement and the emotions that shape our thought process, we can move forward. That is why mindfulness is so important. It allows us to make positive changes and choices by letting go of the past. Freed of our self judgement our thoughts become just that, our thoughts. They don’t define us and by coming back to the present in a mindful way we reestablish our true identity and purpose. No need to replay the past or wish for a future happiness. Understanding the present situation allows us to make that next step intentionally.
The routine and nature of modern life can lead to complacency and apathy, robbing us of precious moments in time. We can’t restore time, but a deliberate awareness of the present can restore life. I have heard it said “We have not one but two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one life”
What does this have to do with my hike? I think that it goes without saying that at 63 I’d like to maximize my enjoyment and be fully present for each day going forward. Hiking is naturally mindful. Each step requires an alert body and mind. In life or on the trail very few paths are on perfect ground. A loose rock, a root, wet leaves all can spell disaster. A fall potentially can take you off the trail. Awareness of changing weather conditions is often important. Sounds of wildlife in the area can keep unintended interactions with bears or other potentially dangerous animals. Also though the Appalachian Trail is pretty well-marked mistakes in direction are often possible. Awareness of changes in trail direction is a must. Aches and pains need monitoring. Adjustments to stride or equipment can minimize the toll on the body. At the same time, when fatigued the mind tends to wander. While hiking, deliberately returning the mind to the present is an exercise performed over and over for hours a day. mindfulness becomes an important part of each day.
I can also say I have experienced a curious effect when these three elements come together. There is something about the step step step cadence, left right left combined with the feel of the ground beneath my feet and the natural world around me that stimulates my thoughts. When physical and mental tiredness sets in, my mind wanders. It’s as if the brain relaxes, resistance ceases and out pours thoughts and ideas previously hidden. Many times with more clarity and inspiration. Hiking is a sure-fire method whenever I am having trouble with solving problems or jump starting the thought process.
The 2,200 mile journey should provide sufficient opportunity to make mindfulness part of my daily life. I look forward to experiencing every minute of every day. I challenge myself to being mindful through the joyful moments of a sunrise, a beautiful mountaintop, a miserable cold rainy day or a parched dry throat while pushing up a steep incline on a hot sunny day. The goal will be to find a happiness, a peaceful mind predicated, not on a future time which may never happen, unchained from a negative past experience, but based on the present moment with a faith that when that future arrives it comes with the promise of purpose and fellowship. Thanks be to God.
Three links that speak on mindfulness
What is mindfulness explained by Science Guy Youtube
Using Mindfulness to choose Love over Fear Dr.Narveen Dosanjh MD Youtube