For the past couple of months I’ve been training at Bosque de Tlalpan in preparation for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain this coming October. It looks nice and flat in the photos but it isn’t, it’s a tough 4-km circuit containing sections that are quite steep and challenging.
It occurred to me though, that if I’m going to be walking these wonderful woods anyway, giving my lungs the precious gift of fresh oxygen for a couple of hours two or three times a week, why not invite others to join?
British Council has a social programme for its students called MyClub, and it publishes its weekly timetable of social activities like conversation cafe, grammar doctor, pronunciation professor, TED talks, and, of course, mindfulness, among others, every Monday. Paco, from the Student Committee, also helps promote events and activities by publishing them on social media.
The practice of mindfulness might not be something people immediately associate with language learning, but mindful walking helps us process everything. Going to the woods we’re struck by the colours, the sounds of different birds singing above, the elegant stillness of the trees, and in that communion with the aliveness and scent of the earth, a sense of boundless awe and spaciousness sets in, and with it, we get in touch with pure potentiality. And it is in this space that the alchemy of learning takes place.
Walking meditation is carried out in silence. It’s a very Zen thing to give whatever you’re doing your undivided attention. So if you’re washing the dishes, you pay attention to and enjoy the washing of the dishes, and if you’re eating a meal, you pay attention to and enjoy your meal, and so on. Likewise, walking in the woods is an experience you can give your full attention to. There’s so much beauty, so much stillness, so much to enjoy. And walking meditation is an opportunity to observe our own mind as it has the tendency to carry us away with random thoughts, plans, ideas and so on. I’ve noticed, for example, that it’s easier to keep focused as my body struggles on the uphills. The heart is pumping, breathing becomes intentional, and attention can be established and maintained on the challenge. On the way down, though, the reins of our attention are naturally loosened, and as walking becomes easier, so the mind starts wondering and before long my steps are quick-paced, reflecting the sweeping nature of my mind. It takes resolute intention and determined training to remember to bring my attention back to my steps and breathing again and again.
So if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry or worried… or even if you aren’t! Do yourself an invaluable favour and take yourself out for a walk! Preferably to a place where you can be in contact with nature. You might think – as I’ve been doing over the past couple of months – “What took me so long?”