You never step onto the same path twice …

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” – Heraclitus

… for the path is never the same, and you are never the same.  I have walked (i.e., meditation walks) two sets of trails near my home hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times and have never once had the same experience.  Not only are there the changes that occur with the passing of time, there’s the intersection of my internal here (What am I thinking, feeling and sensing that either amplifies the experience or interferes with the experience?) and the external now (what is happening around me?  What has been changed by man/nature?  What role does the season or the weather play?).

This is what I call my here-now experience that comes fully alive when I focus on being present to what I see, hear and feel on any given walk.  Of late, I’ve started writing down one thing about each walk that stands out – sometimes it’s an external “wow” and at other times it’s an internal “a-ha.”  The metaphors and symbolism are then considered in the bigger picture of my life.

Here’s a sampling of my different path, different me walks [and the questions that came to mind]:

* A squirrel was running ahead of me in a serpentine pattern, leading the way down the greenway for more than 75′ then jumped off at the point on the trail where my favorite tree had been taken down.  [Where do I need to be open to pathways that lead me to where I need to go, but aren't the straightest or fastest paths?  Where do I need to pay attention more to the journey rather than the end-point?]

* The red crepe myrtles let go of their petals, creating a red shag carpet on the cement.  [How do I open my eyes to see beauty in those things that are discarded or aged?]

* The blue heron stood alone by the edge of the pond – similar in form to the trees that stood near the water.  [I have since learned that his partner died in a winter storm and he spends his time going back and forth between two ponds.  [Where am I playing too small?  How is it that I blend into my surroundings - in ways that are positive or negative?]

Kildaire Farms trail, lake, blue heron




* I found a hardware, metal nut on the ground and added it to my “things found” collection at home.  [Where do I need to lighten up in my life (i.e., be more of a nut)?  Or, is there someplace where I need to be building/creating something more?]

* Seven large black crows greeted me at the end of my walk.  [Thinking of crows as a totem animal - where in my life do I need to be more flexible, adaptable, or fearless?  How do I need to transform?]

* Someone chalked in a “Squirrel Crossing” path across the sidewalk.  [LOL - seriously, a squirrel crossing in a straight line?]

Hinshaw sidewalk, squirrel crossing



* The red fox crossed my path for the 3rd time – this time crossing a small creek to give me space, then joining me in a mutual admiration staring contest.  [click on the link to get a better understanding of the red fox saga]

* I came up with two great ideas for my counseling work … yes, two separate “a-ha” moments on two different walks.  [FYI - when ideas come to me while walking, they are instantaneous "zaps" of creativity rather than long-and-hard thought processes ... I trust these right-brained flashes to be more valuable than my left-brained plodding logic.]

* A snail was slowly making its way across the sidewalk to get to the other side.  [OMG - what parts of my life are moving along at an unbearable slow speed?  And, what parts of my life are moving along at full-speed ahead that need to be reined in?]

061314 Pirates Cove, snail by park



I then take these into my day (similar to how I might ponder a dream and its meaning), and in an open-ended way ask myself “what is it I need to know?” to see if there are any hidden truths to help me see my life differently.


Anatomy of a favorite tree …

A few months ago I was walking at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve when I came upon a young boy trying to re-find his favorite tree.  I so got having a favorite tree!  Although I couldn’t help him reconnect with his, I was able to have a full-out discussion about the importance of having such a tree — finding it each time; seeing it in the different seasons; noticing changes brought about by storms or infestations or life itself.  And, I couldn’t help out by sharing my tree; or, by mentioning another cool tree that I knew about — it’s a personal thing why a given tree “rings true” for an individual.

At another location, on the Hinshaw Greenway, I of course had yet another favorite tree for that stretch of the woods.  Having walked area greenways for 20+ years it’s more of a full-out tree relationship with the magnitude of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein; and, similar to the shifts and changes of Portia Nelson’s “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” — except that my tree had three short chapters — life as a work of art, being marked for take-down (similar to the Scarlett Letter “A”), then leaving behind it’s essence in the remaining heart-shaped stump.  So here’s the story of my tree – in three short (photo) chapters:

Chapter 1:

Hinshaw Greenway - Favorite Tree, Sky

Hinshaw Greenway - favorite tree, knobsHinshaw Greenway - favorite tree, arty knot

Chapter 2:

Hinshaw Greenway - favorite tree, marked for cut-down





Chapter 3:

Hinshaw Greenway - Favorite tree, stump


Etch-a-Sketch Skies and Cloud Appreciation

011012 Sunrise cloudsI have developed great appreciation by simply looking up at the sky – inhaling the ever-changing cloud designs or the random checker-board vapor trails of jets.  Perhaps this focus has come about from working in windowless offices or from the recent up-tick in weather events in North Carolina.  But, my sense is that my slowing down to be intentionally mindful of sky patterns is at the core – and these other factors just amplify its impact.

040412 storm cloudsEach work day, I walk slowly into work – breathing in my final breaths of nature as if to hold onto its livingness for the entire workday; choosing the building entrance that bursts into a two-story, floor-to-ceiling glass-walled lobby that puts nature on a big-screen display; and, finishing on a hallway that dead-ends (live-ends?) at a window-wall which neatly frames a tree with its slo-mo seasonal shifts – do I really see what’s different with each passing day?

Every day the sky canvas is different – shifted quickly by the weather and what cloud types nature chooses to use as its paintbrush of the day.  It’s about seeing the design and stepping out of the judgment (too hot/too cold; too rainy/too snowy); it’s about finding the shapes that giddily look like something else; it’s about sensing the conditions that hold the potential for a rainbow siting.  I appreciate clouds!  There’s a group for that – The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Morning walks – human 1, red fox 1

CC red fox (Brian Hoffman)When you live near and walk on greenways (or trails for that matter) you should be open to seeing and interacting with nature as it presents itself (ah, the whole essence of nature is that it provides surprises, and we have no control).  I knew this from a place of thinking, but I really didn’t know this from a place of being.

My first encounter with said red fox was when I headed out the door for a morning meditation walk.  Five steps out the door I looked up and there sat the red fox at the end of the driveway.  I stared at him (her?), and he stared right back.  I mumbled “you win” (as my thinking brain went nuts with thoughts of bites and rabies) and headed back inside – forgoing my walk and settling for coffee.

My second encounter with said fox came midway through a morning meditation  walk.  My thinking brain again went “bites, rabies” then embellished it with how to protect myself “you should pick up a stick; you should call 911; you should call animal control.”  But then my observing mind (ah, the whole reason that I undertake these walks to begin with!) chirped in: “you do realize that the red fox crossed the street to give you room to walk by unimpeded?” and “you’re looking back at the fox just as he is similarly looking back at you as you both gracefully walk past each other and go on your way” and “of course there’s a fox, you’re out in nature!”  This became a moment of small awe.

I am now looking forward to the time when my meditation walk intersects again with the red fox since I have now shifted out of a place of fear to a place of awe.  I want the chance to stop in my tracks and merely watch – to see, to really see.  And, to chuckle slightly at my own humanness.

Epilogue:  On August 4, 2014 my path intersected with said red fox for the third time.  I was out on a morning meditation walk, focusing on breath and a “here – now” mantra when he came out of hiding and crossed a low flowing creek to stay clear of my path.  He then stopped and stared at me; and, I stopped and stared at him … sort of a mutual respect club.  Awe, pure awe.  I looked away first and he won the stare contest; and, as I walked away I took one quick look back to know that foxes don’t join the human parade such as stray dogs do.  I feel honored to have a sense of where he feels safe enough to make his home.

Photo – Creative commons (Brian Hoffman)