Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Morning: Walking Meditations

Nature is not a place to visit.
It is home."

- Gary Snyder

Sometimes I feel guilty because of how much focus I place on gear, and techniques. Hiking for me at it's core is not about these things and I would suggest even the most frenzied gear junkie would agree.

The quote above is something I happened to be thinking about on a local trail recently. I was pondering it just as I started back up from my destination and rain rolled in from the west over the mountains. I tucked my camera away, flipped up the collar of my jacket and headed back for the car through steadily building rain.

I always have my camera out when I hike and I shoot like crazy. My mind is constantly framing subjects, dissecting light and composition. Photography is such a part of my hiking expierence that it can become distracting and take away from the reason I'm there - to simply enjoy being in nature.

The rain forced my hand on this day though, I needed to keep my camera dry. Once I had stuffed my camera away it allowed my mind to be set free of the burden of thinking ahead and simply be in the moment, no matter how soaked I happened to be in that moment.

Too often I end up focusing too much on "what am I going to write about this" and "what photos do I need to take to capture this". Too often I miss my favorite part about hiking, to let my mind be at ease and simply enjoy the moment I am in. To take time and enjoy a walking meditation.

The Zen Buddhists have a name for this, it's Kinhin. It is not the kind of meditation where you sit with your feet folded in your lap (this is Zendo) or concentrate on a thought (which is not Zen meditation). In the true practice of Kinhin you would synchronize your breathing with your step and move slowly and deliberately.

In the spirit of Kinhin hiking is a time not just to let go of stress but to let go of everything and simply be on the trail. Maybe that sounds cheesy but I think many of us do this subconsciously. We mostly all feel the release of a pressure that is on us, and a certain kind of inexpressible peace when we ramble down the trail. There is something about being in nature that facilitates this, that lets us simply enjoy the moment in a way that we seldom do in other parts of life.

So my new goal for the next few hikes (at least) is not to think about what I'm going to write or take photos of, but simply to enjoy the experience and let that inspire everything else. I'm going to put away the camera more and think less. I'm just going to let myself be.


  1. I love this post! Typically, when I get out of the car for a hike, all my concerns are swirling through my head. Early on, I'll pick out one or two and mull on them, turning them over in a new way. Inevitably, I get distracted by a bird or my own exhaustion and reminds me to focus on my feet and my breathing. And as you said, this is the period of the hike where all the pressure is released.

  2. Oh man, did you strike a chord! The last few hikes, I have been more concerned about going on the hike so I have something to write about on the blog. Then when I am on the hike, its all about what I am going to write about and then remembering to take pics even if I don't feel like it to round out the blog.

    Oddly, the times I feel completely relaxed on the hike is the summit, there is such a euphoria of accomplishment (even if it is a small mountain) that I just chill out for awhile.

    Of course, when you are pulling the commenting numbers my blog has been receving lately (lots of goose eggs), it makes it the aggravation on the trail worth even more. Good way to think about things!

  3. This is beautiful and completely resonated with my experience generally, though I also get caught in the 'capture' of images for sketching, or what words I would use to describe a scene. This can create distance from the direct experience for me. It was so refreshing to read my thoughts in someone else's blog though; I'm not alone!

  4. The comments being left here have made me euphorically happy.

    Liz, it is funny how even appreciating nature can be a distraction in itself, how focusing on a rare bird or wildflower for example can keep us from getting to that more relaxing phase of the hike.

    Peter (ADK) it's sort of paradoxial because the more effort I pour into pumping up pageviews, comment density, etc. the more the blog suffers. When I just write something thats in my heart like today - I get some of the best comments I've had to date.

    Helen, I often feel the more I try and capture an experience and express in writing, or photographs my impressions of a landscape the less I personally take away from it. The moments that have really stuck with me are not ones which I have great photographs of or popular blogs to record.

  5. So beautifully written, Chris. As a writer and photographer, I agree with your sentiments that our minds are going crazy with thoughts of how to use the subjects we see for our next project instead of just... breathing. Enjoying. Being.

    Thank you for this. I'm so happy we've met on Twitter and found this blog. I'm now following! And thank you for your thoughtful remarks on my post today. Much appreciated. =)