May 25, 2016

Mindfully Lost.

Flickr/Bernhard Latzko

I got lost today—alone—deep in the woods.

Well, I wasn’t really lost—but I had taken a switchback between two hiking trails, and for about 30 minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was headed back to the trail-head. Twice, I doubled back to the last place I was certain of on the map. One of the first rules any hiker of backpacker has to realize is that you can always make things worse. So you have to be mindful of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Just like life.

I get lost in my yoga and meditation practice too sometimes. In a flow class, I’m often behind the rest of the group. It takes a long time for this six-foot-seven frame to go from up dog to down dog to cobra. I’m sure everyone is staring.

In meditation, I often wander far from the trail of watching my breath. But just like on the trail, I can make things worse if I get frustrated or impatient.

Out on the trail today that little barking dog started yipping: You should know better, and you’ve been at this for years and why weren’t you paying attention?

As I retraced my steps, checked my compass and then did it again, I reminded myself to breathe and to be patient. I’ve been lost before. I’ll get lost again. I sat down and drank some water and just looked around. I hadn’t seen another human being for several hours, and in that silence I reminded myself I had everything I needed to get back on the proper path.

I have to remind myself of that when I’m on the cushion, the mat or on the trail. I have to remind myself of that when life gets messy, and I want solutions to all of my problems at work, in relationships, or even in traffic. Just breathe. Rest. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to fix things. Take care of yourself. Don’t make things worse by letting anxiety pick the lock on your brain. Don’t make it worse by hurrying to catch up to the rest of the class or by chiding yourself for letting your mind wander.

Today’s 12-mile hike should have been only about 11—but mindfully reorienting myself added a little time and distance to the journey. Most of the bad stories that come out of life in the outdoors come from pyramiding of a series of bad decisions. Someone leaves without telling others when they will be returning. A forgotten map or not enough water. Failure to anticipate changes in the weather. Overconfidence in the face of uncertainty.

On the trail, preparation is important, and I was grateful to have my map and compass and plenty of water. If we are mindful about our preparation for whatever trail we choose—and realize a time of uncertainty will arise—I think we can all find our way.

And along the way, we’ll see some startlingly beautiful things. If we’re mindful.


Author: Jim Owens

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Bernhard Latzko

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