I set out earlier today to do a training hike on the trails near my cottage. I planned on doing 5 miles as I carried 33 pounds in my pack. Slowly I am carrying more weight in my pack and traveling further distances to increase my body’s strength. The weather report said that it would be rainy in the early afternoon but I felt prepared for that. My rain jacket and rain pants were in my pack, I had a hat for my head and a rain cover for my pack if it got bad. I even had a map of the trails in a plastic bag as I planned on trying a few new sections that I hadn’t gone to before in order to increase the miles I was doing. I had some lunch with me and a plan to hike about 3 miles then stop for a bit to eat and enjoy the woods.
I started up the hill feeling good and ready to enjoy the walk. I have been working with a process called “Camino Divina” from a book of that name by Gina Marie Mammano, a fellow Whidbey resident. It is a way to use your walks as a moving meditation as you work with a phrase of poetry or prose. Like the “lectio divina” practice that I have used off and on for many years, a practice of feasting on sacred words, you allow yourself to take a bite of the phrase or words (lectio), chew on it (meditatio), savor it’s essence (oratio) and finally digest it (contemplatio) as you walk. I had planned on pulling out a new phrase to walk with but realized I had forgotten to do so when I was already a quarter mile up the hill. So I decided to continue to work with the phrase from Wendell Berry that Gina used in the first chapter of her book, “The search withholds the joy from what is found.” My poustinia circle of 9 friends are all walking with this phrase this month and then coming together in early July to share how it moved us. Though I felt I had done that over the last week I figured there was probably more to be digested since it was all that was coming to mind for me today and I did want to walk with something to meditate on.
Up until now I felt that what I had gleaned from walking with that line was that it was important to make sure I am present with my life as it is and to experience the joy there rather than always searching, seeking something else, something more, something that will happen someday. It feels like a bit of a paradox in that I feel so strongly that it is important for me and others to continually be open to new learning, new experiences, new ways of being if we want to be vitally alive. How do we balance and do both? In many ways this is exactly what I am doing with this pilgrimage through the Cascades this summer to celebrate my 60th birthday and feel into what the last third of my life is to be about. My life is very full and rich as it is and I do appreciate and feel joy in living it yet I am going forth to explore and stretch myself, hoping be transformed by my experiences out in the wild. I have been reading books about pilgrimages and one of them describes a tourist as someone who goes and experiences new places and comes home the same person while a pilgrim goes out and has new experiences but comes home transformed by them.
As I continued to walk along the trail today I let the phrase move through me as I moved and wondered how much more I could learn from it. The rain started to fall lightly as I started warming up and I felt I was good in just my shirt and jeans as I continued to walk knowing I could put on my rain jacket and pants whenever it felt necessary. It felt good to feel the strength and ability of my body to carry the weighted pack on my back relatively easily compared to just a month ago and my breathing felt light and easy also. My breathing had been an issue with some shortness of breath being a continuing problem as I worked to improve my cardiovascular conditioning. It had felt frustrating to be so slow to develop that compared to how easy it had been when I was younger. I started playing with the phrase a bit and seeing if I could make it my own with this present place in my life.
I had been seeing these times of walking as training times to prepare me for the trip. Though that had potency and got me out the door, somehow it didn’t quite feel like that was all that it is or that I want it to be. I want it to be a practice, a spiritual practice that I then continue and deepen as I walk my 265 miles this summer. Danny Dryer (Chi Walking) speaks of “a practice as a regular, mindful activity that works to enhance your quality of life. It’s something you work at every day. A truly good practice will help your body, emotions, mind and spirit to evolve and progress.” All of the spiritual practices that I have cycled through my days over the last decade of my life have done that for me so deeply. None of them seemed to have any juice lately though and I am finding it hard to sit down to any of them every morning. Instead I find myself using the time reading about where I am going and planning the details for the hike. Awhile ago I realized that my training walks need to be my spiritual practice right now and sought ways to turn them into meditations. So Gina’s book being mentioned by a friend was a wonderful synchronicity as it put a name and more intentionality and structure to what I was trying to do. So as I walked along today I changed the phrase to “Calling it training withholds the joy of what can be found if I call it a spiritual practice.”
What joy is there is this very moment as I walk, what is found if I stay aware of my body and of my surroundings as I travel on these wonderful trails? As I continued along it had started raining harder and harder. I finally realized that I should probably put on my rain jacket and pants as I was getting wetter and wetter and still had 2-3 miles to go. I stopped and pulled out my jacket, put it on and then looked for my rain pants. They were not to be found in my pack and I then could picture them hanging in my laundry room where I put them to dry after the last time I wore them. “Okay well I’m plenty warm and it should be fine”, I tell myself. “My jeans will be wet but I’ll survive”. I looked at my map as I was now heading into the new sections I wanted to travel. I was to travel on Oliver Twist, turn left on Coyote, right on CanterBerry Trail, right on Dirty Pants, right onto Moss Valley and then I would be in territory I had traveled in before. (Aren’t the names of these trails a hoot?)
Off I went enjoying the rain and the process even though it was now pouring. Even as my pants were now totally soaked it was a joy to walk along watching how a deep rain transforms the trails and woods. Muddy puddles to find my way around or travel through, if children can enjoy splashing through puddles so can I. I have to say I was very glad to have my water proof new boots and thought it would be a good test for them. So I’m walking, thinking, being present and enjoying when all of a sudden CanterBerry Trail ends at Rocky Road – “where did Dirty Pants that I was supposed to turn right on go?” I look at my map and see somehow I have passed it but it looks like eventually I can get where I am going on Rocky Road, just a little longer. My mind wants to start complaining “But I’m really wet and don’t want to go farther, I want to be in out of the rain or at least have my rain pants! I sure don’t want to stop and eat my lunch, this is miserable. Why didn’t I put my pants in my pack!” I thought to myself ,“Okay now is the time to really practice this new possibility of staying with whatever is present with joy”. So I did, I set aside that conversation that wanted to get going and kept walking and enjoying the moment as it was. Rain, beautiful rain bringing life to all that surrounds me. Lush foliage, deep green moss, amazing trees and a path filled with puddles! A healthy, strong body able to carry me along and keep me warm as I continue to move, I laugh at myself and the situation as I go, delighting in the day and the challenge. (I’ll probably have a few days like this as I travel in August so I might as well learn to enjoy them.)
A few more kinks with the trails and the map and then I feel a sense that if I go right here on this little trail that isn’t marked I’ll be soon be back on track. LOTS more puddles, more like ponds, in my way, that I begin to just move through rather than go around. At last another trail that I think might actually be Dirty Pants so I follow and sure enough I find Moss Valley and now know how far I am from home and how to get there. A mile and a half later, jeans dripping wet and into my boots that have otherwise remained dry on the inside, I arrive home feeling exhilarated, stretched and thankful for new practices that can transform and change me if I will allow them to.
Dirty Pants hanging in laundry room, rain pants now in backpack.