Mindfulness. What comes to mind (no pun intended) when you hear this term? Some might think of certain religions, or yoga, maybe meditation. For some, when this term gets thrown around, the first reaction is groaning and a roll of the eyes. For others, this term is like an unfathomable goal – something that they think they can never achieve.
But why is this? I asked myself this question while taking a walk in the Park during my lunch break one day. My coworkers and I had been working on the content for our new outdoor educational enrichment program where students practice mindfulness in the Park, and I needed a change of scenery to help spark some creativity. As I walked along the path of the Noland Trail pondering this stigma around mindfulness, a million other thoughts popped up in my head. “I wonder if I have any new emails waiting for me at my office.” “What updates do I have for everyone for our department meeting later?” “What am I going to cook for dinner?” And of course, “Man, it is SO HOT outside, I should head back to the AC before I start sweating.”
As I stopped to turn around and head back to my desk, I noticed that I had walked much further than I normally do during my lunch walks. Looking around, I noticed a doe and her two fawns staring at me from across the road. Not wanting to scare them, I stood still and after a few seconds of an intense staring contest, the family walked away. As they walked, I noticed how small one of the fawns was – with its white-speckled coat- and wondered how old it was. As they moved, I noticed they were walking like ninjas, so quiet that I really had to strain to try and hear even the slightest crinkle of leaves and twigs under their feet.
Once the deer passed, I started to make my way back to the office and tried to see how quietly I could walk too. I could feel the rocks and grooves in the path and felt the sponginess of the grass as I walked along the trail. Coming up to the Museum, I could smell the Café and all the wonderful foods they were cooking up for guests and fellow co-workers alike. As I sat down at my desk, I was hit with the realization that during my entire walk back, I was practicing mindfulness and I laughed to myself as I reflected on my unintentional mindfulness exercise.
You see, mindfulness is something that can happen anywhere and anytime. The act of being mindful is simply awareness. It’s being aware of your surroundings and your thoughts. By noticing all the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells around me, I was practicing mindfulness! It really can be that simple. Now, this isn’t to say that during this time, not a single thought popped up in my head. It’s just that I chose not to dwell on those thoughts. I simply acknowledged the thoughts and then let them go.
The way I like to think of this concept of letting thoughts go is through bubbles. The bubble/thought is created and then I let them float away and pop, not giving it a second moment more. It’s not always easy to let this happen though. Some days it is easier to not dwell on thoughts, while others, not so much. But just like with any activity, practice helps me get a little better at it every time. Practicing mindfulness, or being mindful, can have so many benefits for your overall well-being. It has the ability to help one relax, decompress, and process emotions and thoughts among many other things.
So, the next time you come to the Park and walk the Noland Trail, I challenge you to practice being mindful. Start by using all your senses to take in your surroundings as you journey along the beaten path. Maybe you will see something that you had never noticed before but has been there all along. If thoughts pop up in your head, don’t get frustrated or discouraged. It happens to everyone, even to the seasoned yogi like me. With every little bit of practice, being mindful will become easier and easier. And if all else fails, you still can enjoy a beautiful walk in the Park! Who knows, maybe someday, you might find yourself turning to a mindfulness practice of your own and allowing yourself some time to just be present in the beautiful life that you are in.