Isn’t the Spring wonderful? I’m lucky to live in an area of London that is very green and there are several large open spaces where we can walk. There are three or four parks, a woodland walk next to a stream and a large old cemetery planted up with a wide selection of mature trees. Everywhere there are wild flowers and flowering trees. One of the parks was used for shooting practice by tanks during the last war and is being left to grow up wild, with apple and pear trees, flowering hawthorn, Laburnum and horse chestnut trees all growing at random.
I try to walk out every day and my intention is to listen to the birdsong and fully appreciate the beauty of the bright green leaves and fresh flowers. But how often do I walk through this amazing, fresh display without seeing anything apart from where to plant my feet, concerned only with my inner landscape. Am I so far from being “in the moment” that I am missing the moment entirely? My inner judge is ready to tell me off: “your daily walk should be holistic. It should benefit your mind as well as body.”
My inner judge is a bossy old thing and has been with me since I was five or six. I have realised as I have grown older that my inner judge is not always correct. It likes to repeat stuff from other people and the proof of this is the way my inner judge talks to me in terms of “you”, “should” and “ought”. When it’s just me in my head I use, “I” and direct experiences like, “I feel”, “I want” or “I love”.
When my inner judge starts its nagging, I can take note of what it’s saying and consider whether I agree, but I don’t have to feel criticised. It’s okay, I didn’t do anything wrong, there’s no such thing as “should”, but I might choose to make changes.
What happens when I’m walking in one of the local parks? In the first place, my mind will continue with its usual mishmash of chatter. The rhythm of walking, I suspect, enables this chatter to increase, because there is nothing particular to focus my mind on. To bring myself back into the present and really enjoy nature going through its changing seasons, I often find that I have to use deliberate techniques.
One of my favourites is the snapshot. I stand still and bring myself to the present. I remind myself that this moment is unique – which is easy to do in the springtime, when each leaf has changed by tomorrow. I focus on taking a mental snapshot, a three-dimensional photo of all I can see, hear, smell and taste or touch right now. This broadens my consciousness of the present moment.
Another technique I use a lot is conscious appreciation. It’s the process of becoming aware of and naming what you are enjoying. So walking through the woodland alongside the stream I can keep up a commentary in my head, such as, “I’m really enjoying the wild flowers, the tall Queen Anne’s Lace, wild garlic, buttercups, dandelions and those little pink ones I don’t know the name of. I love the trees at this time of year when even the new holly leaves are soft and bendy and pink, and the beech leaves are concertinaed. I love the sound of the birdsong and of the children playing on the rope that swings over the stream.”
Another technique is mindful meditation. This means keeping your focus on the present, and deliberately pushing other thoughts out of your mind, preventing the mindless chatter from going on. I have discovered that I can do this if I’m sitting down, but if I’m walking I’m too easily distracted by the changing scenery around me.