Walking alone in the woods is my favorite meditation.
Yesterday, I was feeling a vague sense of ill-ease. There was no particular cause I could put a finger on. In the evening, I decided to take a walk in the woods. First, I scaled the small, steep mountain at the edge of our property and then followed a road from a small, family cemetery up towards higher elevations. As I exerted myself, I realized that I felt better—more alive. The inner monologue faded away seamlessly, into a quiet awareness of the landscape. It’s times such as these that I feel the clearest.
When we are receptive to the wild, it seems it puts us in the frame of mind to receive the blessing of connection. What is it that modern human beings generally suffer from, if not the feeling of isolation? Being part of this immense planetary ecosystem, how could we possibly be disconnected? If we were cut off from the life-sustaining environment around us for even a moment, we would begin to die. The sense of being apart from life is purely psychological. As far as I can tell, the source is the belief in a separate self, engendered in us since birth by a culture that accepts such an impossible creature as an incontrovertible reality. When we realize that we are nature, foolish actions against it cease, being recognized as self-destruction.
As I hiked along the mountain road, I could hear the sound of rushing waters and see a distant ridge line, covered with recently fallen snow. By the time I got home, I realized that the feeling of discontent was completely gone, replaced with mild euphoria and a general sense of well-being.
Throughout most of history and prehistory, our ancestors were physically very active. It’s only quite recently that we began spending a large percentage of the time sitting on couches and in cubicles, looking at small and large glowing screens. The energy we aren’t expending has to go somewhere. This may be one reason that anxiety is so widespread in modern, affluent societies.
Why is traditional meditation so difficult for do many? Could it be that sitting in one place and trying to silence the brain is unnatural? Our bodies are meant to be in motion. I find my thinking to be clearest and quietest when I’m walking. This isn’t to say that Zazen and other forms of stationary meditation can’t be helpful, just that moving forms of witnessing the mind and surroundings may offer additional benefits.