It is all about how you give your attention!
Here is a spiritual practice while hiking that keeps the mind centered. I do the practice at other times as well.
For instance it was useful when I walked my dog at other times during the day. They were shorter walks — one in early afternoon, then again about dinner time and once more later in the evening just before I went to bed.
This practice can be done while showering, brushing your teeth, dressing or any other mindless task during the day.
I say “spiritual” practice, for that is my intention when doing it. But, it is just as good for mental well-being.
The chief objective of spiritual practices is to gain better control over our attention — where we direct it and how long we hold it there.
Despite our best efforts, thoughts arise and distract us. But we can choose not to go with these distracting thoughts. We can just allow them to continue on their way out of mind by just preferring to hold our attention to the task at hand.
We need to do just that if we want to be here now.
There really is nothing mysterious about it. Hiking is often the task to which I prefer to give my attention. When thoughts arise to divert my attention to something else like trying to recall the title of a book a friend recommended, I pull a 3×5 card from my pocket, jot the title down and turn my attention back to the next foot shuffling forward and planting itself upon the dirt of the trail followed by the next foot forward holding the attention to the shifting working surfaces and allowing all thoughts that come to mind to spin on out past me.
There are different names for the various versions of this exercise.
Today I’m simply asking myself, “Do I hear the sound of my foot crunching the trail or feel the boot touch down upon it first?”
It is not as easy as it seems. And it doesn’t really matter which. It is just trying to keep the attention focused on the walking that matters.
I’ve done this practice on forest, mountain and canyon trails. But I’ve also practiced it while walking on the sidewalks of New York. And I’ve done it in our carpeted living room.
The effect is the same — bringing my attention to what is occurring in the present moment.
Sports and Arts
We can see the power of the control of attention in sports and the arts.
Watching a professional baseball game we see that the game is all about each teams’ players’ attention to each play on the ball field, every error coming from a player’s failure to keep his attention ‘on the ball’ in play.
I love watching Olympic competitors when a slight distraction can mean the difference between gold, silver or zip!
Musicians and actors obviously give single-pointed attention, if they are at all worth watching.
And we all have our favorite stars!
I’ve a collection of videos of my all-time favorite soprano, Maria Callas. Consummate diva! No doubt about it.
Metropolitan Opera conductor, James Levine, is another favorite. I’ve watched him give his intense attention for three, uninterrupted hours conducting Wagner’s Das Rheingold with no relief of an intermission. Beyond belief!
OK, so I’m an opera buff as well as a trail nut. But, you have your favorites whose attention is essential for their performances.
Try To See Where the Working Surfaces Meet
Another generic version of mindfulness practices that can be applied in almost any situation is to focus your attention to “where the working surfaces meet.”
Frankly, I cannot tell you where they meet; or even what the working surfaces might be.
Yet, you’ll be able to find them — if you give your attention fully to the task you are doing. When you stay intently alert and keep aware of the work, it will become clearer where the “working surfaces” are for the task in hand.