This Christmas day I gave myself a small gift. A walk in peace, quiet, and mindfulness. After a morning of conversation with my mother and uncle, we went out for a short walk, together but allowing ourselves to be alone as well.
Removing the Distractions
Walking down the dirt road leading away from my grandfather’s house and up towards the pond my great-grandfather built, I walked quietly. At first I kept my eyes open, looking around and seeing the trees and the clear path in front of me. The compressed gravel road with two small tracks stretched before me, a route I have walked hundreds of times over the years. Then I walked a bit with my head down, intentionally closing myself from some of the outside distractions out in the world keeping me from thinking.
After a time, I closed my eyes and shut out my visual sense almost completely. I listened to the wind and heard the distant traffic. I felt the cold air and the crunching gravel beneath my feet. Every few steps I cracked my eyes open and checked, was I still walking straight? Was I going the right way? Was I about to trip over the berm? Then I closed them again and the greater sensations from my other senses returned. A shadowy light and darkness flickered through my eyelids as I passed through the shaded sunlight falling through overhead branches.
As I became more comfortable, I went further between opening my eyes and spent longer listening, feeling, smelling the path, trees, and fields. After 10 seconds or so I would feel I was meandering towards an edge, but knew I would soon crack my eyes open for a moment and confidently kept walking forward.
I went longer still with my eyes closed and forced myself to resist that urge to open them eyes when the initial instinct grew powerful. I reached out my senses, feeling beneath my feet for gravel loosening as a way to sense when I left the harder packed tracks. But it wasn’t perfect and a few times I even started to step off the side of the road or up the embankment along the other edge. While my eyes were closed for longer, it actually became harder to focus outside of me as I started to worry more and not trust I wouldn’t fall or slip. I realized I was looking down towards the ground, even though my eyes were closed so that habit could not help. The concern over where I was walking was keeping me from experiencing the moment.
The concern over where I was walking was keeping me from experiencing the moment.
Finally, I let this go. I lifted my head and closed eyes. I took a deep breath, pushing out the feeling of imminent uncertainty. I listened to my footsteps, to the trees and wind. I felt the cold breeze and the crunching gravel beneath my feet, and smelled and tasted the brisk winter air. I became more aware and relaxed, actually walking straighter with less swerving side to side. And for a minute or two felt truly and completely aware.
Walking down the road, a bubbling noise slowly entered my awareness. As it got louder, it clearly resolved into a small brook passing under the road. I had walked over this spot hundreds of times but had never taken the moments to appreciate the beauty of that sound. I had my camera on my shoulder but the sensation was not one to capture with a photograph. Rather, the beauty was in the organic and tranquil sounds of water flowing out of a pond and down towards its next destination. And for a few minutes I stood there, eyes closed, listening to the beauty of the moment.
How often have we heard the analogy of walking with our eyes closed? Or someone opening their eyes being used to describe finally seeing some truth? What if we look at it the other way, though? True, our vision is our strongest sense, but don’t we have to listen to our other senses as well? A beautiful meal is only as good as it tastes and smells. The experience of an incredible display of fireworks is greatly bolstered by the sounds of the shells bursting in the air, the smell of the smoke wafting through gasping crowds, and the feeling of the exploding lights as they thump in your chest.
When we walk down our path in life with eyes open, the road ahead is very clear. We can see the approaching bend and plan for it. We can watch the road to place our next step so we don’t twist an ankle. We can see the obvious path and stay on it, but sometimes that obvious path is not the only one to take.
Sometimes we need to close our eyes, and listen to our other senses. At first, we may need to sneak some glances, check ourselves as we get more comfortable with the new experiences. We might meander, we might step off the edge of the road. We even risk twisting an ankle. But when we really close our eyes, open ourselves up to all of our senses, let go and take those risks, we also may find our beautiful, bubbling brook.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken