Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Walk In The Woods

There was a creek that ran behind my house growing up. It was more of a dry creek bed most of the time, but it did have water often enough to have developed some seriously overgrown vegetation. It was the local equivalent of woods for kids who had never seen any real woods outside of the movies. For me, it was also frequently an escape route. If things got to be too much for me, or if I just wanted to be alone for a while, I would go disappear down into the creek bed for a while. It was where I went when I wanted to forestall falling apart, or when I needed some peace and privacy to put myself back together.

Since those days, I have hiked through national forests, rainforests, mountain woods, and even a Christmas Tree forest or two. Give me a collection of trees and some flowing water, and I am definitely there. I have long since ceased to be dependent on the movies for an understanding of walking in the woods, but my love of and even need for doing so has only increased over the years. Two things remain absolutely true: walking is my best form of meditation, and in the woods (by some water, for preference) is my best location.

There is a common misunderstanding that meditation involves sitting on the floor, staring at a wall, and intentionally thinking about nothing. While vastly simplified, that is one form of meditation, but a form is not the whole. One way of doing a thing is not that thing. Meditation is allowing your mind to be, just be, unfettered, unencumbered by the daily concerns and tribulations of living. The whole point of meditation is to remove the shackles, not to shackle it down to one thing. The aim of meditation is to experience Right Now exactly as it is, with no intermediary, no translator, and no judgment. It is the ultimate experience of peace and serenity, and, with practice, you can learn how to take at least some of that peace and serenity with you into the daily concerns and tribulations.

There is a Zen saying that goes: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” As with most Zen sayings, there are layers of meaning here, including some that can only be experienced rather than explained, but my concern for the moment is remembering why you meditate. Let go. If you are too busy, you are not letting go. If you are stressing from not letting go, you are doing everything you do less effectively and less efficiently, thus you are too busy and getting busier. Learn how to let go, and remember to let go, and you will find that you are too busy far less often. A little peace and serenity can go a long way.

I will occasionally sit in meditation, though I don’t do that as often as I should. I use Zazen (sitting meditation) as a way to recenter when something has thrown me completely off balance. In my case this often means when a depressive episode has blindsided me and I can’t function through the smothering blackness. Some time spent Zazen will usually pull me back from that edge and help me to re-establish my own inner serenity. It’s a jump start, if you will, and works better for me than anything else I have tried over the years.

I find, though, that I need that jump start less often if I maintain a regular dosage of walking meditation. Walking meditation is easier for me than sitting meditation, because movement is easier than stillness. I’m a fidgety kind of person who is almost never entirely still, but I can focus that fidgeting into an action like walking, and put it to use. Being easier makes it a more effective tool to use on a regular basis because I don’t have to spend so much time working on the tool rather than on what the tool is meant to be doing.

This may seem somewhat contradictory, since being still is a big part of the point of meditation, but there are different kinds of being still, and they don’t all rely on the cessation of physical movement. A person with any type of physical tremors condition can still be still in every way that matters to this discussion. I’ve known some marathon runners who perfectly epitomize being still only when they are running. For me, personally, I have never in my life been more still than when I am walking beside a river in the woods.

Which brings us back to the woods part of this discussion. Meditating for serenity works best when you give it a helping hand. Whenever possible, meditate in a serene environment or, even better, an environment that actually promotes serenity. Meditation can be done anywhere, and sometimes is best needed in the heart of the storm, but that regular dosage, the one you can more often control, will give you the best results if you combine all of the elements that lead to the better results. That is one of those ideas that is so obvious, people forget.

My place of serenity is in the woods (or on the beach, but it’s awfully difficult to find a serene beach anymore, at least in my part of the world). I happen to believe that this is a very old, even primal part of who we are, and so the woods are a human place of serenity, almost on a genetic level, but find your place. It may not be in the woods, though I bet that the woods won’t hurt. Once you find your place, take a walk and let go. Breathe in, breathe out, and just be.

Make this a regular part of your life and you might be amazed at what you find. Peace, serenity, hope, love. There is nothing quite like a walk in the woods for finding important things that you had thought were lost. You might even find yourself, though I doubt you were truly lost. You just lost sight, lost track. Go for a walk, and see what you find.

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