Meditation in Shoulder Season
Walking through the woods.
Walking the dogs through the woods, but really the dogs walking us.
They’re pulling. They’re always pulling. Something is just up ahead. They can smell it. Or sense it. Or hear it. Perhaps all three. They move through the woods fully awake; privy to a world that we are not. For them, each withered old leaf and twisted branch affords the chance to learn what has been and what lies ahead.
We humans, we only see what’s in front of us. And sometimes, not even that.
When you live in Vermont, walking through the woods is as much a part of the rhythm of your day as taking a hot shower or making a cup of tea.
It is, as they say, a simple pleasure.
There is nothing particularly adventurous about going for a walk in the woods. These days we seem to have forgotten what true adventure really entails. We hitch it on to our daily routines and drag it around with words like “coffee shop” and “cooking” until its meaning becomes diluted.
No, going for a walk in the woods is not an adventure. It’s meditation. A practice wherein an individual induces a mode of awareness.
Stepping, one foot in front of the other, down a well-trodden trail my mind begins to wander. The dogs, their ears perked, their noses pressed to the ground. Me, my thoughts unraveling. Unanswered emails. The grocery list. Everything I said I’d do today but haven’t. The conversation I had with a friend last week that I don’t know what to make of. The world and all its problems. My world and all my problems.
My thoughts feel endless. One simply leads to another. A never-ending stream of consciousness that is anything but conscious. That is, until somewhere between here and there the dizzying silence is broken, by the howling of the dogs or the snap of a twig beneath my foot.
I’m brought back. To the woods. To squishy leaf muck beneath my feet. To leafless trees that offer no particular inspiration.
I find myself wishing for the leaves to return. I ache for the rays of sun that fall down through fresh layers of green, illuminating new life that has sprung up on the mossy floor.
For a moment or two I feel frustrated. Frustrated at the leafless trees and the squishy muck for not painting a prettier picture. I find myself faulting Mother Nature for lagging in this dreary in-between state for so long.
But it is only because I have forgotten.
I have forgotten that the woods do not exist to astonish me.
They do, however, exist. And they offer what the screen-saturated chambers of my life cannot. Solitude. Silence. Subtle smells and sounds. A remarkable world that is made known only to those who are able to enter it fully awake to what surrounds them. Eager to be no where else but here.
Perhaps the dogs are on to something. I’d be well advised to follow.