October 14th, 2017
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” (Joseph Campbell)
My “sacred space” – where I can find myself again and again – is in Solitude, my time alone. Preferably spent hiking up a trail, or walking in very large circles. I’m a lover of Solitude. I yearn for it. (I think Solitude is the medium for self realization. Time alone is one of the most important things we can give ourselves if we want to know who we are, what’s missing, what we’re needing, who and what are most important to us, and what is possible for our life.)
As you probably know by now, I’m a hiker. More generally, I’m a walker.
I have this particular place in my town that I go to almost every day. I walk circles there. Large circles. Sometimes I do this over and over again, alone in my thoughts. Listening to my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation for me. Call me weird, but walking in large circles is something I look forward to. It helps me. I sometimes (read: often) have problems focusing. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I have enough self awareness to know I tend to be a “future oriented” thinker. (In 2009, I confirmed this after reading The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Dr. John Boyd. Did you know our attitudes toward time have a profound impact on our life and world? Yet we seldom recognize it.) So anyhow, these walks help me. They help me to sort out the many thoughts that are in my head.
When I walk, I pay attention to the sounds around me, and the goings-on. I pay attention to how my body feels. I pay attention to how it feels when my feet strike the ground during each single step. (I try to be gentle with my steps because especially as a hiker, I know this helps with recovery after long, hard hikes. Plus, I would prefer be a quiet stepper rather than a loud clomper.) I pay attention to my cadence. I notice my posture, and try to stand and walk tall.
When I walk in circles at my particular place, I listen for birds, and to the the breeze or wind. I hear an occasional airplane taking off or landing. Sometimes a car drives by, but not often. I see other people, but not many. Usually it’s a city worker, or a person unloading his/her horse or horses from their trailer. I often look at the foothills of my beloved Wind River Mountains. I can see the Roaring Fork, and Mt. Arter, and up Sinks Canyon. After a recent storm, I can see where the rain was rain and where the rain was snow – evidenced by a perfect line that usually crosses along the bottom of our foothills at an elevation of about 7,800′. I can see the road that leads to one of my favorite places, our cabin.
I often find heart rocks in the trail, or in the parking lot, and I sometimes spy other shapes. I’ve written before about how I love to look for or find, unexpectedly, heart shapes while on my adventures. No kidding, I’ve even spotted manure that is shaped like a heart. (Please excuse my language, but the hashtag/caption for that image was, #lovableshit) I’ve seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets here, and I’ve video recorded our oldest son as he recites a slam poem he loves or creates.
Most of the time, during these walking meditations, I let my mind wander and be free. I get many inspirations this way. Other times I try to focus my attention on a very particular thing – a problem, perhaps, or a conundrum, or an idea I want to develop, or a decision I’m wanting or needing to make. Sometimes I’ll use my walking in circles to try and memorize a favorite poem or quote. Sometimes I’ll try to empty my mind. That never works! I always smile when someone refers to an “idle mind” as being a non-active mind. (#envy)
Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, says it best: When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops, but when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. Indeed! When we’re still, our minds are often at their most active. I am a huge promoter of, and practicer of a mindfulness practice. I’ve had a practice every single weekday morning for years now, and it’s been a game changer. Because I have such an active and wandering mind, I get extensive practice at redirecting my attention, which is one the main things we’re going for when we practice mindfulness – the ability to consciously direct our attention. Such practice helps us learn how, especially during times of stress and overwhelm, to pause, and respond rather than react.
My mind is so active that I – it – craves focus. Last August, I climbed Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s tallest mountain. On summit day, according to my FitBit, we trekked 20,547 steps. Every single one of those steps were “high consequence” steps. It was a quiet, intense effort. Not many words were spoken during the 12-hour adventure, except for the short time on the summit, and when instruction was offered to us from our guide. Otherwise, I was completely focused on every single step. Until then, I had never engaged in such a sustained, high consequence experience. My mind is always thinking, and so active. I found the single-minded, single-tasking a welcome reprieve from my busy mind. Traveling on snow and up and down steep terrain, roped to one another, forced me to focus on only the next step, and then the next step, and then next step, for hours at a stretch. It was hard, but also unusual for me – and fantastic. The simplicity and intense, sustained focus on a single thing was blissful.
But back to my walking in circles. Always, they help me. May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.” I always return inspired, better, and with newfound clarity.
I also go to this place and walk circles during most of my coaching, or other calls. I work with people from all over the U.S, and typically I will have 1-2 calls a month with each of them. I am a better listener when I’m in an “open” posture, and walking, rather than sitting in front of my computer or indoors. I’m easily distracted, so one of the best ways for me to be a good listener is to free myself from distractions. And one of the best ways to be free from distractions is to get outdoors, in the open, under our usually-clear skies. I can be most present with someone by listening to them, and I just know by now that I’m a better listener and a more creative coach when I’m walking and outside, completely “tuned in”, listening and paying close attention.
Focusing on listening helps me be more present on my calls, which also helps me remember important and meaningful moments, and conversations. (This is so true that I can remember, vividly, some of the specific moments or conversations I’ve had with various clients, or friends, by retracing steps, and the path I was on, during a particular call I had with them.)
I’m more creative and energized when walking. There are numerous studies that support this – that walking is energizing, and that time outdoors does our bodies, and our minds, good. That we’re more creative thinkers as a result. Plus, walking is healthy.
I don’t believe there’s a single study that says sitting is inspiring, or that sitting is energizing. If anything, only the opposite. And sitting is bad for other, more serious reasons, too. Sitting, in fact, is often referred to as the new smoking. We sit, on average, 9.3 hours a day. All this time sitting is robbing quality, and time from our life. The more we sit, the more likely we are to suffer from depression, disease and cancer. Sitting shortens our life, which, in my humble opinion, is already too short.
I started using a FitBit in December 2013. I did this because even though I train hard and regularly, and hike long distances, most of the day I was sedentary, at my laptop. As fit as I was when I got my FitBit, I was only walking about 6,000 steps a day on the days I wasn’t hiking. I wanted to change that. I needed to change that. Today, I average about 20,000 steps a day. I’ve walked almost 25 million steps (11,000 miles). Many of these steps and miles have been logged during my walking calls in this particular place where I go to walk my circles.
Speaking of walking and health, I’m a huge fan of the Blue Zones way of living, and the work of Dan Buettner. (I highly recommend the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.) “Blue Zones” is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people. It turns out the people who live the longest, most fulfilling lives don’t lift weight or run marathons. They simply are more active throughout the day. Among other things, they walk a lot. They walk to the store, or to church. (I will save all I have to say about this for another blog post, though.)
During the last few months, I’ve had to find a different place to have my walking calls. You see, there is a lot of heavy construction going on near my usual location. Not to be self-absorbed, but I hope the project is completed before too much longer. It’s not the quiet place I’ve come to really appreciate. There is a bunch of heavy equipment driving by all of the time, and you can hear their beeps and big engines and scooping and grading sounds in the background. As a result, it’s currently not the quiet experience I’ve grown accustomed to, and therefore it’s hard to hear the person on the other end of my call, and hard for them to hear me. So at least for now, I’ve found an alternative for my walking calls.
But I still often head up there for my walking meditations – for 30-90 minutes of sauntering to clear my mind or figure something out, or just to walk. To move my body and to free my mind. (Whenever I try to talk myself out of going for a walk or a hike, I remember a quote from one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit: “Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.” I always return from a walk as more than I was before it, and I am always surprised by something during the walk.)
Yesterday, as I did this, I worked hard to silence, or at least quiet, the background sounds of the construction. I couldn’t do it. It was during this struggle that I realized what was going on around me is exactly what’s going on in my mind right now. What’s in my head is very much “under construction.” I’ve got all kinds of projects on tap, ideas that are percolating, dreams and goals. So you see, there is a lot of heavy equipment maneuvering around, trying to create something new, or better. There is a lot of digging dirt and moving of Earth going on, and supplies being hauled and things being surveyed. My mind feels full of clutter, and often, as if a collision of heavy equipment could occur at any moment. This reminds me I better take great care, and be mindful. At times I hear a loud, constant beeping of a tractor or backhoe, and there is a constant humming of moving trucks and equipment. Around me as I walk, and also in my head…
One of the reasons I love this particular place for my walking is because at times I get to watch a small airplane taking off. Sometimes it’s a beginner pilot taking a lesson. He or she is literally learning how to fly, and I am a witness. I love that metaphor of a person learning to fly. Depending on what I’m working on or trying to create in my life, I often feel like I’m learning to fly, and that I’m a small, humble airplane working to take flight. Other times I get to see an airplane land. That’s also a big deal, watching how a small airplane comes in fast and connects with ground. How it must at some point return to Earth, to once again be grounded.
Every once in awhile, while walking in my particular spot, I’ll see a woman barrel racing. She’s riding her horse very fast and maneuvering around a barrel at top speed. I am envious. I don’t know her, and there are different women who show up to do this at various times throughout the year. But whomever the woman is, usually she’s riding at top speed on this beautiful and powerful animal that she somehow has under her control. Her hair, under her cowboy hat, is highlighted by the sun, and blowing in the breeze. Total Badassery. I love this as a metaphor, too. I often feel like I’m a fast horse, only I’m not skilled like the woman I watch. I don’t know how to steer it, let alone stay on it. I envy the barrel racer, and am inspired when I watch her do such a daring thing.
And although the heavy construction that’s going on near my particular walking place for the time being is cramping my style, it too, is a fitting metaphor. I’m right now under construction in a lot of areas, and I know that to get it right – to create something great, or to improve something I’ve already created, or am already doing – will take time and work.
What’s that saying I’m thinking about right now?
Hint: Now my mind wanders to Rome, a city that my family and I fell in love with on our 30-day Europe trip two summers ago. That’s it, after a search of my mind, I found it: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
After my circles-walking ended yesterday I emailed my Dad to ask him what the construction project was since I could only make assumptions. He told me the runway at our airport is being relocated and re-built to increase safety. The FAA was concerned about the runway being too close to the taxiway. There was a risk that a small plane taking off or landing might clip the wing of a plane that was on a taxiway.
I’m so glad I asked! As a metaphor lover, this news is brilliant, and helps me to circle back (pun intended) to my main point of this blog post. Right now, my mind is so full of projects that are under construction that it sometimes feels like a collision is inevitable. Walking in large circles helps me by providing more space for the goings on in my mind and avoids any of my idea’s wings from being clipped.
Postscript: As you can see in the photo below that my son captured of me at 10:48 on this Saturday, Oct. 14, I walk my circles even when the weather is unfavorable. To my delight, I found my place to be quiet once again. (We awoke to a major blizzard, which has shut down construction, at least temporarily.) I’ll take that as a cue and try to do the same with myself, and my overactive mind this Saturday.
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I really appreciate it!
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