The word “meditation” carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs. Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way. Meditation is often used to clear the mind and ease many health concerns, such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.
It’s another busy week and today I decided to talk a little about meditation. Have you ever done it? Have you thought about it but wondered what it really entails? Does it seem too hippie-ish to you? Too weird? I have long believed in meditation and in trying to still oneself from time to time. It’s important. We spend our lives running from here to there because our culture demands it.
Sometimes we need to be still.
Since it is so difficult for me to find time to sit and meditate at home, I developed a practice of meditating before bed, after the kids and dogs were all down for the night. It helped to clear my mind, as I very often would lie awake, my mind racing with things I needed to do the following day, errands needing to be run, things I’d forgotten to do, etc. As a result I rarely slept, and when I did I would wake up. A lot. I have found that meditating at night does help me to drift off easier and stay asleep. I have to prepare myself, though. If I lie in bed watching tv or reading I have found that I will usually drift off and wake up a few hours later. If I want a good, restful meditation before bed I have to purposefully initiate it.
I have music that I listen to as I mediate, but not always. Meditation doesn’t always require that you are seated, have music, prayer beads or anything else at all. Some of the best meditative experiences I have had were out in the woods, with nothing but the sound of leaves rustling in the wind and the panting of a dog. Hiking is definitely my therapy of choice, and I do consider it a form of meditation. The evolution of a hike can be extremely therapeutic.
When you go into the woods, something magical happens. Things smell different, the sunlight is filtered through the trees, the path you are walking is worn by countless souls that came before you. You are stepping into another world. There are no deadlines, no meetings, no traffic jams, no 9-5. At the beginning of a good hike you feel energized, excited. There usually comes a point at which you become acutely aware of the lack of background noise. I know in my own life I have a lot of background noise. There is usually a television on, dog tags jingling, kids playing or fighting, dog squeaky toys, the “psssh” sounds of the battery-powered air fresheners I have throughout the house, cell phone alerts. Sometimes the absence of background noises you are used to can be unnerving. Sometimes it can be wonderful.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I usually have a few minutes at the beginning of a hike where I–and the dogs, more importantly–are settling in. What do I mean by settling in? Well, we must get a clear rhythm going. The dogs have to get their initial excitement out of the way, which usually means they will zig and zag around each other, twirl themselves up in their leads, stop every few moments, etc. It’s kind of the equivalent to what Yo Gabba Gabba sang about to toddlers in the song “Get The Sillies Out.” I usually always start a hike with a few F bombs and a quizzical look on my face. For example, on this last trip, I actually left Sassy back at the cabin when we went to check out the Fiery Gizzard, as she’s taken to being weird about her lead lately. I don’t know what the hell it’s all about, but she is all of a sudden very acutely aware of the lead touching her, and is beginning to twirl herself around and then at some point, she just sits and doesn’t want to move. This is a dog who has been walking on a lead for a long time. She is no stranger to leads or to walking on one. I have no clue why she is being funky about this now, but my decision to leave her behind that day was a good one. She more than likely would have gone off a cliff doing her ridiculous “Something’s touching me!” twirl.
After everyone settles and has been moving steadily forward on the trail for a while, there usually comes a point at which your mind wanders. You think of things that have been bubbling just under the surface. Maybe you think about things you haven’t thought of in a long time. Relationships, family stuff, whether or not you are happy in your life; it will all come up at some point. I love reading the memoirs of long distance hikers and the changes that took place along the trail; not just physical changes but mental ones, too.
I need these kinds of hikes.
I need the kinds of hikes that force you to look at yourself, good and bad. I really need my body to readjust itself. I am not a particularly good sleeper, and rarely feel rested when I awaken. Did you know that your body, when exposed to natural light, will synchronize itself to a more natural rhythm? Check out this blog for more information on circadian rhythms and resetting your internal clock. It’s fascinating stuff!
Have you hiked/backpacked long distance and experienced a change in your bodily rhythms? We’d love to hear about your experiences. For all of my stressed-out and overworked friends, try to take a few moments this week for yourself. You deserve it!