Life is not a walk in the park. It’s much more like a trek in the mountains.
A month plus has gone by since my first walk in Parque National de Monte Perdido y Ordesa. It feels like a lifetime has passed since then. Time is this way right now, jumping from place to place, as I insanely follow my yoga-teaching nomad friend around Europe. So much happens from place to place, the scenery changes so fast and life along with it.
But that particular day with the area’s unraveling view of the mountain peaks and canyons of the Spanish Pyranees, I understood meditation more and how it works on the mind in a way I hadn’t so tangibly connected to before.
Our intention for the 3-hour trek that turned into a 9-hour odyssey thanks to the catchy enthusiasm of our guide, Casa Cuadrau’s Dani Benito Po, and the sheer majesty of the mountain surroundings that kept drawing us closer and closer was to make a meditation of our walk (a yoga of action or karma), each step with mindfulness, each moment with awareness.
With this design, we parked the car, chanted “Aum,” and set off across the fields where cows grazed, their neck bells like bellowing wind chimes. We had driven to great heights already, but before us were the foothills of even greater mountain ranges. Aside from the cows, we walked in silence, each of us going at our own pace.
Well, technically, we were silent, though this was not the case in my head.
We were slowly going uphill. I was trying to focus on each step, but I straggled behind with a riot of thoughts pulling at my heels. I could not keep them at bay. They trudged alongside me, a cacophonous school choir, the children of my disgruntled brain singing mutinous songs: “this walk is too much for you,” “you’re going to be left behind,” even the older, more nasty kids chimed in, “you’re not good enough.”
I hate these mean children. And quickly rival thoughts interjected, which escalated in what was the equivalent of many lunchroom skirmishes, fake processed food hurling along with obscenities across the cafeteria of my mind, the playground for stupid juvenile delinquents.
And this was within the first 25 minutes.
Then I turned a corner and the path revealed the vast expanse of nature before me. I was called back into the present, from the desert of my mind to the scene of indescribable splendor, mountain ranges as far as the eye could see, scaling the sky so blue, while dramatic cliff edges dove into earth’s deep canyon crevices.
There was the now. Beautiful. Infinite. I was shaken from the misidentifications of my mind. I felt this place. I felt it in my bones and in my marrow. I felt it in my mind and in my heart. I felt that this was who and what I really was.
It was like nature’s confirmation that I wasn’t my thoughts, I wasn’t my story (erm, stories, plural), I wasn’t my body. That in essence I was one with the divine, as wondrous and full as the landscape. And this recognition had brought me back into the present path.
This is when the walking meditation started for me. I had arrived at the party, or the process. And now I could take part in the journey. My thoughts disappeared then as I focused on the actual act of walking, of being, of participating in the now. And that made all the difference.
Having arrived, however, didn’t make the mountain path easy. The path was rarely straight. It went up and down. We edged dangerous cliff-sides. Being afraid of heights, this was a real issue for me.
It took time. It seemed unnecessarily long as we zig-zaged up and down the mountains, yet this was the easiest way. The path was ever changing because that is its nature. I could not change this. But I could be aware of it. As the path changed, so did I, the walker.
Each path is potentially full of obstacles: uphill, downhill, hard rocks, soft unstable ground. That’s how life is. But the obstacles are also opportunities for the great walker: tough gradients cultivate stamina, unstable ground teaches balance, boulders to scale inspire courage.
My focus wasn’t perfect the entire afternoon, either. The view awed, distracted as well as instructed. When I looked only at the path, I missed the rest of the world in front of me. When I looked only at the scenery, I lost the actual path and nearly tripped on rocks before me. There was a need for balanced attention, even perspective to the path and the world beyond.
At the end of this epic walk, I felt—other than great relief at my legs having survived a total of 7 hours of walking—greatly inspired to have taken part in such a yoga practice. This is the yoga of action, of learning from everyday things, of learning to sanctify the most pedestrian of actions.
I had learned a lot on that day. And continue to do so as I constantly steer my wandering mind back to the here and now, applying the lessons of attentiveness in my day-to-day actions.
I'll be honest, it's not been easy these weeks, continuing to walk the path of the everyday, which I think can be more treacherous than the mountains. But I continue to hold on to that feeling of sublime wholeness that I experienced in the Spanish Pyranees, especially during these times which seem designed to challenge my sense of self. Knowing that one day, I won’t need to recall the scene to feel total and utter fullness. But for now I continue to practice the act of being, which is in itself yoga of action and an act of love.