This morning while hiking around Fernwood Lake, I found myself distracted, thinking about tasks to do once off trail. I wasn't present to where I was. Catching myself, I continued walking with this mantra from Thich Nhat Hahn, 'Breathing in I calm my spirit. Breathing out I smile. (inhale) Living in the moment, (exhale) this is the only moment.' Soon I began to notice what was around me. I began to notice beauty in the distance and along the path. In being present I was blessed.
So often we spend time living in the past or in the future. In the past we may linger with a cherished memory or rehash old wounds, resentments, regrets. In the future, we become absorbed by tasks to do and lists to keep. Both mindsets can keep us from living in the now.
All contemplative traditions teach that only by living in the moment, are we able to experience what any given moment has to offer. While hiking around Fernwwod Lake, I was on the the trail but not on the trail. My future mindset had me already at the trailhead parking lot, getting into my car and onto the next task. I was missing what being on the trail had to offer.
Surely looking back and looking ahead has its place. So does being present to the moment.
Hiking around Fernwood Lake, the mantra of Thich Nhat Hahn (Vietnamese Buddhist teacher) pulled me back to where I was. Soon I became aware of the smells and sights that accompanied me: the sweet smell of pine pitch, flowering dogwood, fresh mud underfoot. Focusing on the rhythm of my breath the colors became more vivid, the newly emerged skunk cabbage pulsated a neon green. And then, out of the corner of my eye, a few feet off the trail I was graced with a sighting of rare beauty, the Eastern Lady Slipper.
All this and so much more would have been missed, if not for being in the moment. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1864), famously said "In wilderness is the preservation of the world." For Thoreau, wilderness was not limited to some distant mountain peak or famous national park, rather wilderness was in noticing what was unfolding in the fields, forests and wetlands of his hometown in Concord, Massachusetts.
In his seminal book, Walden, he lived for two years on the outskirts of Concord, tending a garden and immersing himself in the seasons, sounds, smells and sights of the natural world. Thoreau would rework Walden many times over the course of his lifetime, understanding his time living intentionally with nature, as an invitation for the reader to live their life with intention too. With his work, he is saying: 'See what happens when you too stop to notice. When you too see, really see, how interconnected and wondrous everything is.'
Thoreau was all about living in the moment, noticing the plants, mammals, birds, reptiles that surrounded him. For Thoreau their home was his home too. He came to know this by closely observing the rhythm of the unfolding seasons in his own backyard and by learning from indigenous voices (he spent extended time with the Penobscot in Maine).
On the trail by Fernwood Lake, my mind became quiet, open. I was accompanied by the wisdom of Thoreau and Thich Nhat Hahn. I recalled too, the wisdom of a 3000 year old prophet, Isaiah, who said: "Listen and your soul will live". On the trail I listened, I noticed and I felt deeply what the natural world was offering me in that place and in that moment. My soul, that deep place of knowing was awakened.
May you too take time to notice the beauty and wonder that is unfolding in the moments of your day. Travel well.
~ with you on the journey, Kent Harrop
Note: You're invited to join Kent for a contemplative paddle on Lake Cochichewick, in North Andover, MA, the ancestral water of the Pennacook people. For more information go to: prayandpaddle.org