Notes from the Frye – Hiking as an analogy for Mindfulness Meditation July 8, 2015
I’ve been doing some lovely hiking lately in the Cascades, and as I was hiking, I had some thoughts about how hiking can be used as an analogy for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is often defined as: a particular way of purposefully paying attention to present moment experience, in a non-judgmental, kind and accepting way.
The three key aspects of mindfulness: intention, attention, and awareness, are also key aspects of hiking.
First, let’s look at intention, which refers to the purposefulness of the activity. Our intention when we hike might be to get to a beautiful lake to swim in or sit by, or to get some exercise in a beautiful, natural setting, to have some time of solitude, or to share a peaceful experience with a friend. Likewise when we meditate, we set an intention – perhaps it is to find a moment of quiet or ease, perhaps it is to develop a sense of stability to stay present to some suffering or difficulty in our lives currently, perhaps it is to cultivate qualities that we aspire to have more of, such as compassion and/or mindfulness.
So we set off on our hike, having our intention. But intention isn’t enough.
We also need to bring along our attention – The act of directing awareness to whatever arises in the present moment experience – a broad sustained attention, to external environment ( what we see, hear, smell, the temperature, observing the weather, the trail surface and conditions, etc) and our internal environment (are we hungry, fatigued, off balance, as well as noticing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc) If we aren’t paying attention, we may take a mis-step and fall, or miss the trail and get lost, or many other consequences.
And equally important, is our attitude – an open, non-judgmental, kind, curious, not knowing attitude towards our experience. We don’t hike and have an attitude of : ‘wow, why is it so rocky here, they should have paved the path.’ Or ‘gee, it’s steep, why wasn’t this mountain less steep’. Or ‘I know exactly what this trail will be like, I think I’ll just watch a youtube on my phone til I get to the destination’.
And we can see how we can circle through these three aspects. Because conditions may change – weather suddenly changing, or a bridge across a deep stream washed out – and we have to be aware of these changes, and perhaps re-adjust our intention (which is sort of like our desired destination) and also our attitude – we may find ourselves a bit disappointed or annoyed at not being able to reach what we’d hoped to be our destination, but we need to be able to let go of that and become present again to what’s in front of us, aware of our environment and circumstances (inside of us and out) and what our options are in the moment – not how we might think we want them to be. (definition of suffering – from a friend/teacher of mine Margaret Cullen– ‘suffering is the difference between how things are, and how you think you want them to be’.)
And to take this one step further –– if/when we get to the beautiful mountain lake and have the good fortune to jump in and cool and refresh our bodies, we can be mindful of that, really take in the wonder and wonderfulness of our experience. And, be willing to let that experience go when it’s time, and maybe face a rough trail back to the car in hot/dusty conditions – and ideally be able to stay present to that, too.
Each step on the path – we need to be in that moment – or we might trip or miss the trail – and we can also hold our intention to help support/motivate us to stay present to potentially reach that place of calm, beauty, clarity, etc.
So with our sitting meditation today, we’ll check in with our intention, our attention, and our attitude.
Before we start, I wanted to share a simple parable about being in the moment, with right attention and awareness, offered by Thich Nhat Hahn:
In discussing what some call “present state awareness”–experiencing and savoring the present—he offers a simple parable:
Let’s say that you want to eat a peach for dessert one evening, but you decide to only allow yourself this luxury after washing the dishes. If, while washing the dishes, all you think of is eating the peach, what will you be thinking of when you eat the peach?
The clogged inbox, that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, tomorrow’s to-do list?
The peach is eaten but not enjoyed, and so on we continue through life, victims of a progressively lopsided culture that values achievement over appreciation.
And a poem, read at the conclusion of the meditation:
Walk Slowly, by Dana Faulds
It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still and just like that,
makes space for imperfection. The harsh
voice of judgment drops to a whisper
and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race;
that we will all cross the finish line;
that waking up to life is what we were born for.
As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I am going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, to be and walk
slowly into the mystery.