Walking through the woods, immersed in nature, always makes me feel “high.”
I love every minute I spend outside, especially hiking around the many beautiful trails in my area. When I’m traversing the jutting rocks through streams and up steep hills, smelling pungent pines and the earth itself, I’m just…happy.
These experiences are fantastic on their own, of course, but isn’t it the human way to always want more? We can make our nature hikes even “better” by making them mindful.
When we find ourselves meandering inside the sheer beauty of tall trees and tranquility, we can add these nine ideas for a more mindful hiking experience:
1. Find the water source. There is almost always water. We can find it and close our eyes and listen for a few minutes. The soothing sound of water trickling or rushing is a complete meditation in and of itself. Watching water move reminds us of something basic in our lives: water is why we are alive.
“Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams—they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do—they all contain truths.” ~ Muhammad Ali
2. Look for animal tracks. On any given hike, there are animals all around us, watching (maybe), listening, and flying overhead, but steering clear of us for the most part. If we’re mindful, we will see evidence of beasts and critters everywhere—from scratched up trees and nests, to holes, scat, and footprints. It’s fun to imagine that along our route, we are indeed “sharing space” with living creatures great and small.
When we find proof of their existence, we will, in turn, respectfully understand our connection to them, and the importance of responsibly advocating for them. In other words, we are in their neighborhoods, and should respect them as such.
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” ~ Crowfoot
3. Stop for a minute to just be grateful. How often do we really think about the present things we are grateful for in the moment? Along the trail, we are breathing. Our legs are moving, our senses are reeling from the fresh air. We aren’t sitting in front of a television or looking down, scrolling through our phones. We aren’t feverishly trying to meet deadlines or sitting behind a desk.
We may have a few problems in our lives that need sorting out, but right here and now, on this hike, we are simply “being,” and enjoying a soul-balancing reprieve from all the mind-clogging stuff.
“The average American only spends 7 percent of their life outdoors—87 percent is spent indoors and another 6 percent in automobiles.” ~ Environmental Protection Agency
4. Gaze upward. We are so busy looking down at our feet, trying not to trip, and pushing ourselves to “get to the end,” that we forget to look up. Recently, I stopped to tie my boot and instead of quickly journeying onward, I looked up at the sky for a minute and saw a beautiful bald eagle soaring overhead. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
“Reverence for all God’s creatures is an absolute rock-bottom necessity if peace and righteousness are to prevail.” ~ Sir Wilfred Grenfell
5. Don’t finish too fast. Enjoy the journey and forget the destination. When we hike, we look forward to feeling “finished” when we reach the top. We need to forget about that and “meet ourselves where we are.” This is true of any sort of outdoor activity. Let’s not rush it, or overdo it. A hike is not a race.
“Wonderful how completely everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us. The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide, and sing.” ~ John Muir
6. Remember deceased loved ones along the way. As we walk, we can pull their images into our heads, and think about all the positive, specific things that made them wonderful and worth remembering.
“The song is ended but the melody lingers on…” ~ Irving Berlin
7. Sit for a spell. And not just at the pinnacle! Anywhere along the trail, we can stop for a moment to perch upon a jutted rock or some low-lying branch for a moment of silent reprieve. Doing this could possibly bring about a new perspective on the route we are traveling—and on life itself.
“If we are willing to be still and open enough to listen, wilderness itself will teach us.” ~ Steven Harper
8. Think about the not-so-distant future. Or the past. But don’t dwell on either. All that oxygen to our brains will surely unleash creativity and some new ideas. Capture them, and let them flow! Inspiration is sometimes born in the silence of the wilderness.
“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
9. Whistle, hum, or straight-up sing. We can channel our inner Adele and sing our way through the woods. Who cares? We’re in the woods. Adding our voices to the choir of sound that surrounds us helps us feel akin to nature.
“Use the talents you possess—for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best.” ~ Henry van Dyke
As spring lingers and summer approaches, we will surely find ourselves outdoors, exploring, and enjoying some trails. The next time we venture off to tackle a few peaks and valleys on a beautiful day, why not take these ideas along for the hike—for a more mindful experience!