Mindfulness has taken centre stage in the self-help field in recent years. It has proven medical benefits, reducing stress responses and improving mood. It can protect against depression and anxiety, and there are plenty anecdotal accounts out there of people’s life-changing experiences with practicing it.
Mindfulness doesn’t just have to be about sitting in the lotus position and meditating, it can be incorporated into every day activities. In fact, that’s where I personally find it to be of most benefit.
Mindful activity is just taking notice of what’s happening while you are doing that activity, rather than going through with an activity while your mind is elsewhere. It doesn’t have to be difficult, or serious, it’s about being ‘present’ to what’s happening in your body and surroundings, and noticing rather than becoming the feelings that come up. That all sounds a bit complicated, but it really isn’t too difficult to do, and with practice can provide respite in any busy day.
But it’s all too easy to slip back into old habits of letting the mind wander to to-do lists, hurrying up and getting something done just to tick it off, so you can get on with everything else that needs to be done, rather than full enjoying what you are doing at the time.
So recently while having a day alone in Scotland, I set myself a challenge to hike up Conic Hill, mindfully.
This is what happened.
The first thing that happened is what normally happens to me the moment I start actively trying to focus on what's around me. An enormous smile engulfed my face. My breathing rate and walking pace slowed a little, and I started noticing what was actually happening in my vicinity.
I saw this gorgeous bluebell wood to the side of the path, and my smile spread even wider.
I nearly missed this duck, who was sitting right by the path completely camouflaged. I stayed and watched her for a couple of minutes - she was beautiful, and I was tickled that I had almost walked right passed her without seeing her.
Have you ever closely studied a dandelion clock? They are amazing really when you consider that this used to be a pretty yellow flower, and is now a set of seeds ready to be spread on the wind.How amazing is that!
I looked up at the massive trees around me, and considered how very tiny I am in comparison. They're so big I couldn’t even fit them all into a photo. It helped put things into perspective.
I started noticing how my feet hit the path, how the toes moved as my foot rolled through each stride. I felt grateful for my functioning body.
I came across this tree and decided I had to touch its leaves. These young, bright green ends weren’t spiky like I thought they would be, but soft! I was pleasantly surprised, but I think passers-by must have thought I was odd grinning at a tree.
Talking of passers-by, I started noticing the people walking along the path in the other direction. I tried not to stare too hard, and didn’t take pictures of them… But did smile at little details, like this person’s smile, or that couple holding hands, or that little Westie absolutely covered in dirt and loving life.
I found this fern, and in fact an entire bunch of them, all with these incredible curled ends. They were furry to touch, and so intricate when I looked close. How does nature do that?!
Then came the gorse. Have you ever deeply breathed in springtime gorse? It smells like Pina Colada, and transported me back to my time at Edinburgh uni, walking up Blackford Hill with a hangover.
Midges are perhaps the most mindful of all the creatures, as when you’re surrounded by them, you can’t think of anything except them. However, they are also well annoying. I didn’t enjoy the swarms of them, and felt annoyed at them. This didn’t make me smile. BUT! Then I did have to laugh at my reaction to them!
A helicopter, coming to rescue a poor lady who injured her ankle on the way down the hill, momentarily distracted my thoughts, and for about 15 minutes after that my mind was back to its default mode, thinking about my to-do list, planning next week’s expedition, day-dreaming. I was by this point getting pretty sweaty and the actual hiking was becoming more demanding. Perhaps it was actually more difficult because my brain, one of the most oxygen-guzzling organs of the body, was using my energy for thinking about other things.
So, once I realised I had lost focus, which was a good 15-20 minutes in, I gently redirected my thoughts to the task at hand, and made it to the top of the hill.
I didn’t stay there long because the mindful midges were eating me alive, but did have a lovely, refocussed walk back down. I had to keep reminding myself of the challenge a few times when my mind started to wander again, and was glad that I had set it as a challenge rather than just as an option, because I finished the walk beaming from ear to ear, feeling refreshed, if a little sweaty, and so eternally grateful for the natural spaces we have available.
As with a lot of the stuff I bang on about, I think this connection to our wellbeing through nature also drives a desire to protect it. I would be horrified if this place and this wildlife that I had spent the last couple of hours marvelling at was threatened. That would make me want to take action to protect it. That’s my theory anyway…
I’d love to hear about your own mindful exploring!
You can do this alone, or share your experience with a friend, but make sure not to slip into talking about other things if you do have company.
You literally just need a pair of shoes. Or not it you really feel like connecting! And an open mind.
You can do this anywhere and I guarantee you’ll find things to look at that make you smile. Enjoy!