I sometimes go through a workday and entirely miss the scent of the rosemary in my front yard, so such lingering walks help me maintain a connection to this world. I’m guilty of focusing too much on where I’m headed, or getting trapped within my head, and can go “swimming” through life, barely noticing the moment and sensations I’m enveloped within. But when walking unhurried, quietly absorbing, insights somehow have more space to arise. Even though I rarely stop thinking, this wandering practice also offers me a chance to be more aware of my ceaseless internal chattering, my “monkey-mind” as some traditions would call it. So I can also gently work on being an observer of my thoughts. In essence, my solo walks help me practice Being. They also defy the silly notion that I’m an independent entity.
In the best moments, as I amble along my sense of self begins to loosen (horror of horrors in our self-made, individual-praising, American culture!), and a deeper connection emerges. One that transcends my “identity” — this accumulation of ideas about who I am. The mockingbird laughs at my titles, professions, roles and names, and all the personality tags that I conveniently (yet falsely) use to define “me.” Paradoxically, tuning in to the sight of the sunrise, the sound of the river rippling gently across stones, the quiet buzzy mew of a cat bird, the lushness of the spring field grasses underfoot, the smell of river mud and blossoms opening to the dawn — something about focusing softly outward allows me to dive inward.
What at first seem to be discreet “things” that I can name (this type of flower, tree, bird) that are outside of “me” are slowly revealed to not be “things” at all, but interwoven processes: butterflies pollinating blossoms that will bear fruit; decaying logs in the muck harbor crayfish on which herons will feast; prints in the mud from deer that drank at the river bank and left scat where mushrooms will sprout; the only constant is life feeding life. Similarly, this physical “thing” called me is really a dynamic process as much or more than an unchanging constant. I’m not the person I was two years ago, or last year, or last month, or even yesterday.
This familiar being I refer to as “me” is not a static, fixed thing. Cells are dying and being created, muscles wear and are renewed, interactions with others triggers emotional pathways, creative instants have expand synapses and understanding and so I’m changed. Strangely, we insist on identifying ourselves as the same, and even strive to force all life into rigid separated “things” and categories.
Yet, allowing my sense of self to be washed away on the river bank, the boundaries start to dissolve. I’m am occasionally conscious, ever-changing cluster of energies interacting within the ever-shifting whole of life. In losing my limited sense of self, I discover the wonders of an unlimited “self” immersed, merged and inseparable from all other life forms. We’re far less important, and yet so much more integral than we can begin to imagine...