Mindfulness: How a walk in the park isn’t as simple as we once thought
“That’s a walk in the park.”
Morning routines, gym regimes and difficult jobs that some people make look extremely simple. At one time or another, they’ve been referred to as “walks in the park.”
The saying speaks for itself. Walking in the park isn’t difficult by any means. For most, it’s a mindless act of simply going through the motions or the perfect time to catch-up with a friend.
Despite the phrase’s long-held meaning of describing things that are rather simple to do for one or many, I think we have it all wrong.
Around 10 a.m. yesterday, I was taking a walk in the park.
I don’t do this too often. Usually, I’ll finish up at the gym, head home to meditate and then go about the day. However, the weather was exceptional, and there was no way I was going to miss out on it.
When I arrived at the park, I left my phone and wallet in the car. Being that I was filling up my meditation time with this walk, I figured I’d take a meditative approach to the walk itself. Unplugging from the superficial and leaving myself vulnerable to the reality of disconnection felt vital in achieving a truly mindful, meditative experience.
This park, as do many, has what I’d call a nature trail. It’s a path that goes through a wooded section of the park, and eventually leads out to a pond on the other side. It’s, essentially, a quasi-walk-through-the-woods experience.
As I began to walk, I disconnected myself from any sort of desire. Wanting to achieve a state of mindfulness was no longer a desire, because the presence of desire renders meditation null. I simply engaged in being in its purest form.
I allowed thoughts and feelings to come, exist and then fade away. Some thoughts and feelings were new, and they came and went, too. I didn’t fight them, and I didn’t call them into being through cognition.
In the moments during which these feelings and thoughts existed, I would examine them. How does this thought relate to my current situation? Is it an accurate thought? Does the thought I’m having align with the emotion it brings? If not, then why do I feel the way I feel?
Filling the gap between feeling and responding with the act of allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the presence of your thoughts and emotions helps you gauge the validity and cause of your emotions.
In the real world, we almost always do not have a gap between feeling and responding. We feel something and then respond to it without evaluating our thoughts and feelings in the moment. This often leads to responding in ways that we later regret.
Another thing we’re told to keep in mind while meditating is the world around us. Ambient noise is one of these things. This never truly applied to my regular meditation, because the house was always quiet and I turned everything off around me, leaving it to be a moment between me and my psyche.
However, the park opened my eyes to a new reality of mindfulness.
The wooded section of the park — I’ll call it “the woods” to be short — was fairly open. It felt as though I were truly walking through the wilderness, disconnected from all material, superficial things besides the clothes on my back and glasses that kept everything in focus.
In the midst of my walking, I heard a noise in the bushes about 15 feet ahead of me. I stopped and my heart rate jumped up.
In retrospect, it’s easy to say, “How ridiculous, right?” In the moment, it’s fight-or-flight. Alone in the woods with not a person in sight, anybody would be a bit freaked out by something moving in the bushes. Luckily, it’s just as easy to say, “How ridiculous, right?” in the meditative state as it is to say in retrospect.
Instead of turning around and finding a different route, I stood there and filled the gap between my feelings and response.
You’re in a public park that hundreds of people walk through a day. You’re freaked out by a noise that’s likely a squirrel or a bird just making its way through the bushes. Why did you take something that had nothing to do with you so personally?
Talk about a meditative epiphany.
Day after day, I — and likely, many people — consistently take things that have nothing to do with them personally. We act is if people are responsible for the way that what they say or do makes us feel. We force ourselves into the equation before we even try to remove ourselves from it.
The guy that cut you off this morning doesn’t even know your name, but he’s late for work and spilled his coffee in the car. Yet, you’re sitting in your car fuming like he spit in your mother’s face.
Your boss didn’t start the e-mail with “Hi” and sign it with “Best” because she has an issue with you, that’s just how she talks. Yet, you spend the entire day waiting for a confrontation with her that will never happen.
There’s not a bear behind the bush waiting to eat you, it’s a bird trying to find its way out of the trees. Yet, you find a way to make its personal struggle about you.
As I continued my walk, I looked at the profile of a fallen tree. Its trunk was graffitied with names, “X’s” and hearts with initials in them. A more solid example of how we feel the need to make everything about us.
I decided to stop at a bridge that’s placed conveniently in the middle of a path that has a stream of water running below it. I wanted a moment to just enjoy being. I wanted to take in what was around me and have a moment with myself.
I reached for my pocket. Nothing.
Right, I left my phone in the car.
It’s not even as if I wanted to grab my phone. It was a response to the staleness of repetitive thoughts.
This is where creativity happens, and for the longest time, I’d failed to be and feel creative in the slightest.
Instead of answering to the realities of apathy with my inner-child, I often resorted to filling that space with mindless scrolling.
This must be why the world resorts to black and white answers to complex issues. Instead of battling the monster of discomfort, we sheath our swords — which very few have in the first place —and run for protection.
Boredom is a complex issue. There are countless ways to handle it, but to do so mindfully takes effort and courage. To draw your sword and destroy boredom by creating something or doing something else meaningful is a fight that very few are willing to take on. More than a few may make an attempt, but they sometimes fail to succeed and resort back to their safehouses of scrolling and swiping. A novice warrior should not expect to destroy a monster during their first go; mastery over something as complex — yet seemingly simple — as boredom takes time.
This realization gets me excited to face boredom when — and if, in this crazy, busy world — it arises.
As are most meditations, a walk in the park is our everyday lives shoved into the confines of a smaller reality. Our reactions, thoughts and feelings remain the same, but we are allowed that moment between feeling and responding to make sense of it all, and then it is our duty to work to apply it to the outside world.
Ironically, maybe “a walk in the park” is the complete antithesis of simple, mindless being.
Perhaps the simplest of things have the ability to offer profound insight into who we are and who we could be, making them not-so-simply after all.
Maybe it’s time to change how we walk in the park.
And then, as we evolve and master the walk, truly make life the walk in the park we’ve always thought it’s been.