Tecumseh Land Trust and Dharma Center sponsor walking toward mindfulness
- Published: August 29, 2013
If you think the only way to meditate is sitting cross-legged with eyes closed, think again. A walking meditation in the great outdoors can open up a whole new world of sights, sounds, sensations and smells — all while re-wiring the brain to be more aware in everyday life. For this meditation, it’s important the eyes stay open.
Monthly meditation walks in Glen Helen Nature Preserve are from 4 to 5 p.m. the last Sunday of the month through October. Sponsored by the Yellow Springs Dharma Center, Tecumseh Land Trust and the Glen, the sessions are free and open to the public and meet at the fire circle at the Outdoor Education Center, accessible from the park entrance off of Ohio 343. The next meeting is Sunday, Aug. 25.
A marriage of contemplative practice with nature communion, each session includes an introduction to meditation, a 20-minute silent (and slow) group hike, thoughts on the season by Bill Felker and a 20-minute personal journaling period followed by group reflection. No prior experience as a naturalist, or Buddhist, is necessary.
To Krista Magaw, executive director of Tecumseh Land Trust, the meditations help people connect with — and celebrate — the natural world so they will want to protect it, potentially by supporting the work of the land trust to preserve farmland and natural areas.
“The more things we can do to connect more people to the natural world, the better,” she said. “It fosters a sense of stewardship.”
To Katie Egart, a Dharma Center board member, walking meditation is another way of tuning one’s awareness to the present moment.
“Contemplative practice is another way of being in the world,” she said. “It’s a way of knowing you are part of the world, not cognitively, but really experiencing it fully.”
In fact, seated meditation, or zazen, is only one traditional way to meditate, Egart said. According to a Buddhist teaching: “Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all these waking hours, let him establish mindfulness of good will, which men call the highest state.”
Visitors to the Glen hike there with different levels of awareness about what’s going on around them, organizers said. Some chat with friends or get preoccupied with pointing out, and naming, a bird or wildflower they recognize.
But a walking meditation is a totally different way to experience the nature preserve, Magaw said. In a silent and relaxed state without mental chatter, a person might suddenly hear new sounds, like the drone of crickets or the rushing water of the distant cascades, take in new sights, like a frog that’s blending into the forest floor, or feel new sensations, like a sticky spider web on their arm. For Magaw, the experience can be summed up as, “I am a part of this and it’s really amazing,” she said.
Meditation has other benefits too, said Egart, who has practiced Buddhism for the last 20 years. Even a short walking meditation can affect one’s ability to concentrate and problem-solve as well as revel in wonderful moments well after the meditation is over by creating new pathways in the brain.
“The brain has evolved a negativity bias where we are always looking for the next problem,” Egart explained. “We balance that out by having other experiences, allowing yourself to be in the moment.”
Magaw, who is busy securing easements on the very place she is meditating, finds the silent meditation a welcome break from a demanding work schedule. And it may, in fact, help her work, she said.
“Practicing mindfulness makes you a better problem-solver,” Magaw said. “Not thinking about things for a while gives you a new set of skills for when you do. There is a greater array of possibilities.”
The collaboration between environmental and spiritual organization came about because of Antioch College first-year student Charlotte Pulitzer, a Miller Fellow working for the land trust and meditation practitioner.
“I thought that there would be interest in this community,” Pulitzer said. “Meditating with a group, and out in nature, is a different energy.”
Pulitzer, who hails from the West Coast, said the Glen and Antioch Farm were a big part of what drew her to Antioch. Working outside is vital to her, since “nature is the best medicine,” she said.
“Nature is where we can come back to our true selves, our higher selves,” Pulitzer said. “It reminds us how we are a part of everything.”
After two popular sessions this summer, organizers look forward to watching the seasons change during monthly group meditations. Felker, who doesn’t usually take silent hikes with others, said he’s enjoyed the sense of community and hearing how everyone’s experience of the same stretch of woods can be so different.
Since Magaw has helped to permanently protect 563 acres in the Glen with hopes of securing easements on the remaining 409 acres by year’s end, walking nature meditations may be a new Glen tradition for at least the next few thousand years.