When we go out walking, what do we see, hear, do or think? Of course, it’s a healthy activity in itself whether for exercise, walking the dog, getting where we need to go or just a pleasant stroll for some fresh air.
But do we take our surroundings for granted and forget to be grateful for their presence in our lives? If we walk more mindfully, there are many interesting views that can lift the spirit.
Let’s imagine it’s springtime – not far away now – in a country lane or local park, and the hedgerows are full of promise. There are bright green leaves, daffodils and primroses, catkins and the vibrant yellow flowers of gorse whose perfume is similar to a Pina Colada cocktail. Many early spring flowers are yellow, an uplifting colour linked with the solar plexus and emotions, giving a boost to our mood. We could touch these flowers, take in their simple beauty and aroma and thank them for being here. They bring to mind the cycle of nature, these plants in tune with the seasons and being of service to the Earth by providing pollen for the bees.
The roots, leaves and flowers of many of our plants can also be used for food or remedies, and our ancestors would forage the countryside for them. Let’s look with new eyes at the magic of our hedgerows and borders, perhaps taking photos and researching them at home later. The humble dandelion, for example, has edible young leaves that can be added to salads or steeped in hot water for tea. The bright yellow petals can also be added to salads: dandelion is a natural diuretic, helping to flush toxins from our bodies.
The oft-maligned common nettle is packed with protein and vitamin C, and can ease the pain of arthritis. It’s best to use the top leaves of the plant, washed thoroughly, before the plant flowers; they can be immersed whole in soups or used for a nice morning tea, especially combined with freshly picked mint. Many such common plants are used in mystical practices too: the dandelion is associated with the planet Jupiter, whilst the nettle is linked with Mars and is used in spells for protection.
On our walk we shall also hear birdsong and the rustling of animals in the bushes, reminding us that mysticism surrounds birds and animals too, often considered as omens by our ancestors. The cuckoo is believed to predict a visitor coming to stay, whilst the kingfisher represents contentment and the pheasant success. We might see a fox, symbolising a trickster or maybe a teacher to guide us through a tricky situation, or an adder caught unawares basking in the sunshine and promising fertility, healing or transformation. Even the common cow symbolises wealth and abundance, since our ancestors considered owning cattle a status symbol.
It’s fun to take a morning walk along a beach and watch the antics of dogs having a good time with one another while out with their owners. They show such exuberance for life in the moment and their pure enjoyment of freedom shines through as they run, barking out their happiness, crashing through waves, dragging seaweed along in a game and chasing seabirds to watch them fly away. They behave like we did as children – but when did we last freely enjoy ourselves like this, running and playing and laughing out loud? Social norms can stagnate us so we believe we should behave in more restrained ways. Let’s try to let go and be more in the moment, feeling the wind in our hair and blowing away the winter cobwebs!
Even a walk through town can become a mindful experience. As we tread cobbles or old paving stones we can think of the place’s history. Many towns and villages were part of old pilgrims’ trails, linked to ancient tracks, and we can imagine who may have travelled here before. Pausing at a pavement café and looking up, there is often much interesting architecture to see above the ground level shopfronts, with glimpses of the grace of these old buildings from their heyday. Some of the ancient names still survive on shops, pubs and other buildings.
While watching the world go by, notice other people as they pass too: are they rushing along with frowns on their faces and looking stressed, or on their `phones oblivious to everything around them? Are children tugging at their parents’ sleeves, needing attention but being ignored? How many people are smiling and actually interacting with others in a happy way? Observing all of this reminds us to consider that our own behaviour maybe needs a gentle nudge in a new direction, reducing the time we spend on our `phones, listening more to others and smiling more often!
Sometimes we simply take a walk when we need to mull over a particular problem, but often our thoughts and worries leave no space in our minds for new ideas to have the freedom to roam there. A good way to create this space is to focus on our breathing: slowing it down, counting our breaths, paying attention to the chest moving up and down and sensing the cold air through the nose before entering our lungs. These habits help us to feel more free and at peace with the world around us, learning from our new encounters and new perspectives.
When we walk, we can become more mindful of who we are, of our environment and of nature as our senses tune into our world and the part we play within it.
Sandra Bray is the author of Odd Days of Heaven and Even More Days of Heaven, each book describing nearly two hundred ideas and activities sure to lift your spirits – or even change your whole life. www.local-legend.co.uk