Instead of "lions and tigers and bears, oh my," think "herons and egrets and 'gators, oh my." Yesterday's walking meditation was on a 2 and 1/2 mile boardwalk through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida. Preserved by the Audubon Society the sanctuary consists of 13,000 acres of pristine wilderness dating back 500 years and includes the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.
Signs requesting quiet appreciation of the flora and fauna, including no cell phone use, were posted. I suspect for many it was a natural response to lower one's voice, almost to a whisper, and to slow one's pace as if processing up a church aisle. That was not the case with everyone, however, and at first I was irritated with those who did not seem to get the message. I reminded myself, however, to refocus my awareness to what was underneath human sounds.
I discovered layers of sounds. People talking. People whispering in respectful tones. The sounds of cameras chiming as they were turned on and then clicking with each picture. Eventually, the nonhuman sounds became more apparent. The calls, ranging from chirps to squawks, of unknown birds who remained unknown, for I rarely spotted what I heard. A scuttling small raccoon peering out from underneath ferns, and green or brown anoles slipping along the the bark of the Bald Cypress. Dried alligator leaves sounding like paper as a soft breeze maneuvered over and through them. An occasional leaf dropping. At home I would suspect a squirrel on the move, but instead I wondered panther or alligator?
Later our friend asked if we heard jets as we walked. Not at all. I had dropped to a lower level of sound and consciousness.When I taught T'ai Chi, I often started the class with a walking meditation. Walking slowly in a circle, I suggested even a slower pace. How slowly can you move and still maintain balance? Heal to toe with each step. Slow the steps. Slow the breath. In and out. Relax the shoulders with arms slowly at your sides, letting them swing only as the breeze moves them. What felt different in the swamp (I can't believe I was in a swamp!) was instead of letting go of thoughts, one less thought with each step, I asked my heart to see more, hear more. Be aware. Be awake. Pay attention.
I noticed the lichen graffiti, red and white , on the boardwalk fence. The strangler fig wrapped around bald cypress trees, like petrified lizards and snakes entwined around trunks and branches. The occasional polka dot of non green color, a purple or yellow blossom. Bromeliads tucked in crooks of branches looking like nests for prehistoric prowlers.
I pushed the pause button within myself often. Be aware. Be awake. Pay attention.
Henry James said, "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost." I tried, but I knew I was not receiving it all. Not only was I not knowledgeable enough to know what I was seeing or what it was possible to see, but I was also not fully awake and aware. Being fully awake is a lifetime practice. I was grateful for the practice time.
How are you practicing being fully awake? What is waiting for you to notice?