Look outward

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Walking in nature seems like an easy thing to do. Set out on a path and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world. In practice, however, it’s not that easy.

Our minds are one of the more unruly parts of ourselves. Always demanding focus, it forces us time and time again to pay attention to it, leaving little room for anything else.

McCormick Forest Park, Gig Harbor WA

How many times have you gone for a long walk or hike in the wilderness only to find yourself thinking about the past and the future, paying little attention to the present? Have you ever spent thirty minutes walking and suddenly realize you haven’t noticed anything around you? Don’t blame your mind; it’s incapable of experiencing it without a bit of help. Why is that?

Well, our minds have evolved throughout human existence to do two things: Learn from experiences and anticipate what comes next. Both are designed to keep us safe. Our brain learns what to do and what to avoid from our experience and recognize clues that can lead to similar experiences in the future. What it doesn’t do well is experience the here and now since it’s constantly processing information to keep us alive and happy.

The trick is to “trick” our minds to take a back seat so we can experience these present moments. It’s not easy, but I think I’ve found — at least for myself — a way to do this.

Whenever I’m walking and realize I’m not in the present moment, I have this sensation that my eyes are cross-eyed, and if they are looking back into my head. When I sense this, I immediately look outward, forcing my eyes to focus on an object in nature far away. I then softly speak the mantra, “look outward.” For some odd reason, this brings me back to the present.

It certainly takes some practice, but in time, you’ll find that you can enjoy the world around you and give your mind a much-needed rest.