April 2022

Showing up, unconditionally

Reflections on a daily walking routine

The park by my home has a wooded loop that I must have circled a thousand times by now. I’ve seen it from so many different perspectives over the years, from sunrise to sunset, through each of the four seasons. I’ve shown up through snow storms, ice storms, and torrential downpours. Through falling leaves and around flooded trails. Trudging over thick mud that cakes onto your boots, and over soft supple snow that eventually compresses into treacherously slick ice. These nature walks have become an almost daily routine for me, but I haven’t always been so committed.

A wooded trail. A light layer of snow covers emerging green leaves.

Previously, I would only go when it was nice out, under ideal conditions. But working from home, boxed into the four narrow walls of my office, I’ve learned that we aren’t meant to be confined in such an artificial space. Without a change of scenery, without some connection to the natural environment from which we came, the mind and body grow heavy. The world becomes distant.

Going outside

Today the conditions are ideal. It’s wonderfully mild and sunny with a warm gentle breeze. This contrasts sharply against the bitter winter weather from which it emerged and signals the passing of winter, giving way to the incipient spring.

For the past few months I’ve had the park more or less to myself. Just me and a few others, most of them led by their canine companions. Today it’s bustling with friends, families, couples, athletes, and more. Everyone showing up on beat and in rhythm for the change of season.

But this auspicious spring day is just one part of one verse in the song of the seasons. Have you ever had the experience of listening to the radio to a seemingly unfamiliar song? Then, as if out of nowhere, the song transitions and you’re suddenly hit with a wave of recognition. You’ve heard it before a million times, perhaps in commercials or movie soundtracks, but you’ve never heard the entire song. You weren’t even aware there was more to the music. You can’t help but stop what you’re doing, drop into the moment, and listen closely. It’s a curious experience that gives new dimension to something previously taken completely for granted.

That’s what I liken this kind of unconditional showing up to. It may not come on so suddenly, but with time comes familiarity and with familiarity, perspective. Having faced the frigid roiling winds of the past few weeks, I can appreciate even more deeply today’s wonderfully warm calm breeze.

When I set out on this commitment to daily walks it was purely for the beneficial mental and physical effects, but it’s grown into something much more important than the sum of those benefits. No longer is this just a place where I go to walk it out. There’s something incredible about seeing the landscape transform over time, optically in response to the light of the sun as it travels across the sky, and physically in response the continually changing weather. It’s not only seeing, but experiencing firsthand, day by day, through each of the sense gateways. This place has a life of its own, of which I can be in intimate connection with. I just have to show up and pay attention.

Coming back inside

All this leads me to wonder how I show up in other areas of life. When things get difficult, when I’m under stress, I don’t always maintain the same commitment. Instead I distract myself with work, with media, with food, or mind-altering substances. This is of course a familiar refrain for many of us living in these modern times of convenience. But can we really be fully present when things are good if we’re habitually turning away when things aren’t so good? What might we find if we committed to showing up for the difficult terrain of our own minds?

Even these walks, as fruitful as they have been overall, sometimes serve more to distract me from what’s going on inside than to provide the space I initially sought from the confines of my home office. For me then, this is an invitation to explore and become as familiar with my inner landscape as I have become with this outer landscape. To summon my curiosity and see what new perspectives and dimensions open when I show up and allow myself to experience it fully, even when the conditions aren’t ideal, especially when the conditions aren’t ideal, when they are unpleasant and downright torrential. I know there’s so much more to the music of my experience, and I want to hear the entire composition.

A mildly flooded trail through some woods under a partly cloudy sky. The blue sky and clouds reflect in the water on the trail.