180º of Mindfulness

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Taylor sporting his Vibram Five Fingers

I love hiking. In fact, I look forward to Sunday mornings more than every other day of the week simply because Beth and I have made it a habit to hike every Sunday.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not innately a morning person, and no matter how hard I try to make getting up early a ritual, it still feels grueling every day. Still, on Sundays, once the fog has lifted, I almost spring out of bed knowing how much a 3 mile hike will burn away the cobwebs in my brain and help me refocus, regenerate, reenergize and reinvigorate my passion for… well, all the things.

Today, as I hiked, I focused on my own perception. See, I really enjoy hiking in Vibram Five Fingers. You can call me a douche for wearing toe shoes — I don’t care; wearing minimalist shoes that both give your toes room to breathe and your feet a feeling of connection with the earth while hiking through the woods is, to me, the very definition of mindfulness. At least I’m not wearing a bluetooth headset too. 😉

This morning I focused on perception, and not just because I wear minimalist shoes to connect with the earth, but for another more pragmatic reason. On any given day, stubbing your toe on a thick, gnarled tree root in Five Fingers proves rather less than enjoyable; doing so when it’s cold outside and your toes are half-frozen is, quite frankly, excruciating.

Now, because it’s fall here, and although the rainbow of leaves that remain on the trees are quite beautiful, those that have fallen to the ground prove both abundant and slippery. Where before I could see and easily navigate the undulating path of acorns, dirt, rocks and roots, this morning I see only a trail of multi-colored leaves weaving their way through the hills, hiding those tiny toe killers mere centimeters below their surface.

While hiking through the hills of north Atlanta on this beautiful, if brisk, November morning, it occurred to me that one wrong step, one tiny tree root or jagged rock, would take me right out of my head, away from my incredible enjoyment of hiking, and leave me in rather significant discomfort — quite possibly with a broken toe, or worse.

As we started on our hike, all of these things occurred to me in rather quick succession, as did the realization that I’ve never been lauded for my incredible powers of observation. Indeed, as hard as I might try to expand my center of attention to see the world around me, I am often so focused on what is in front of me that the world around me is but a blur. As a kid, I dreamed of honing my powers of observation and deductive reasoning like Sherlock Holmes; unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I often miss not-so-subtle details immediately outside my somewhat narrow field of vision. Although I haven’t given up on my dream, I know I’ve got a long way to go before I get there.

And so, as I started my hike this morning, I decided to specifically see more of the world. As I walked, I stretched my field of vision and tried to see the finest details in every direction. While focusing on what is directly in front of me, I tried to see the leaves on the trees at both outside edges of my peripheral vision; I tried to see my feet as I walked, and simultaneously, the branches above my head blowing in the breeze. Interestingly, this is both incredibly difficult to do, and also, incredibly… mind expanding. As strange as it may sound, simple seeing more of the world as I walked through the woods made it seem as though all of my senses were electrified. As I saw more, I smelled more, and as I smelled more, I heard more. Though it might be pretty hard to describe, I can say that world was a very different place, and I felt more connected than I can remember having felt. It was mindfulness, through a magnifying glass.

Admittedly, after a few minutes of stretching my field of vision, my eyes would actually get quite tired and I would have to relax my eyes and look straight ahead for a few minutes (or, rather, at the ground in front of my feet for the sake of my cold toes), after which I would again make a conscious effort to see absolutely as much as my eyes could take in, from every possible direction.

An hour later, as I unlocked the car and climbed into my seat, sipped water to rehydrate and put on reggae to begin my journey back into the world, I realized what an incredibly mindful and meditative hike it had been. And all I did was shift my perception outwardly.

By looking out, I saw farther in. Whoa, that’s deep.

Anyway, try it sometime. 🙂

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