I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,for going out, I found, was really going in.
Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.
Overview and Introduction
“Wandering” is the best term to describe my newly adopted form of walking and hiking. To wander is to “move about without a fixed course, aim or goal.” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) Another definition is to “walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way.” (Apple Computer Dictionary)
“Mindfulness” adds a meditative element to my wandering. Hence, my new approach is a form of walking meditation. During my mindful walks and hikes, my primary focus will be on deep breathing, letting go of mind chatter, staying present and selective awareness. Some examples of selective awareness in my context: subtle shades of color, flowing water, bird sounds, rustling leaves, scudding clouds, trail obstacles, body rhythms, muscle aches, stomach hunger.
Putting these two concepts together (“mindful wandering”) is not terribly unique or unusual, but it is a striking departure from my long-practiced traditional style of walking and hiking. As such it will take concerted effort and discipline on my part to effect and perfect this style.
Mindful Wandering: Thumbnail Sketches
Mindful wandering, for me, involves at least these additional characteristics:
As should be evident from the above thumbnails, mindful wandering is for me many faceted. Probably more facets are yet to be discovered as I experiment.
The closest I have come to achieving the above described states/qualities is doing solo overnights (having averaged one per year over the last several years). Most of my solo overnights, however, have been goal-oriented with a selected destination involving some hard hiking to achieve my goal (contrary to my new approach of just wandering).
Sometimes the kind of wandering I have described above is called “slackpacking.” Slackpacking involves undisciplined and leisurely walking totally as the spirit moves. It usually involves carrying only a fanny size pack with minimal supplies or no pack at all. This kind of walking and hiking is usually done in populated areas. Relaxed hut-to-hut (hostel-to-hostel)(pub-to-pub)(village-to-village) hiking, popular in places like Europe, New Zealand and South Africa, are commonly given examples of Slackpacking. Slackpacking has a definite draw for me but is currently not on my radar. Click on this link for more information on Slackpacking.
What Will Not Be a Focus with the Mindful Approach
For personal clarity, it is important to verbalize what is NOT a part of my new and different approach to walking and hiking:
I acknowledge that some of the things mentioned in this section might happen anyway (i.e., unintended consequences).
My Traditional Styles of Walking/Hiking
Another way to explain my unique approach is to contrast it with the kinds of walking I have done over the past 60 or so years.
I regularly do short walks close to my home, but they are almost always goal oriented: taking a break from what I have been doing; conditioning for more vigorous hiking; exploring a new trail or area; stretching my legs and getting some fresh air.
Most of my day hikes (solo or with a group) have been goal-oriented covering many miles with stops only to rest, hydrate and fuel up. Most of my group hikes involve keeping pace and contact with the movement of the group. Each year I do at least one weeklong backpack trip taken during periods of prime weather. But these usually involve a closely-scripted itinerary to complete a selected loop and always with a group of 2-6 people.
My approach to mindful wandering is experimental and will likely need some adjustment. No claim is being made that this “mindful” approach is for everyone. Since mindful wandering is new and different for me, how often I will do it (compared to my more traditional styles of walking and hiking) is unknown. More to the point, this new approach will not be a substitute but more of a supplement to hiking with my friends in traditional ways. I do hope to walk and hike more often than in the past.
The biggest challenge will be to not fall into well-developed habits and patterns of hiking without thinking about it. Mindful wandering, even though a relaxed form of movement, will involve considerable mental discipline and focus. Not following a fixed itinerary could also be an issue both for loved ones and permitting agencies (where a permit is required). I have no problem being out in the wilderness by myself, but doing this for 8-10 days at a stretch might be a problem as well. Mindful wandering might also contribute to unwanted anti-social behavior in daily life. These are the current challenges I envision for myself.