How often have I suffered, or hurt, and faced someone telling me to ‘grow a thicker skin’, ‘shrug it off’, ‘walk away’, ‘move on’, ‘let it go’… How often have you? It’s funny that comes up so often, I think, because it is only in very rare circumstances that such words have had any value, or benefit, in those moments of pain.  I’m not complaining, and I’m not angry.  I’m a bit puzzled, though; where did we – any of us – get the idea that the proper and effective way to soothe, support, or console another suffering human being is to tell them to stop suffering? It’s not particularly effective, and definitely sends a clear message to the suffering person that they are somehow in the wrong to hurt.

I wrote about a thousand more bitter words in that vein this morning, before I realized I had ‘gone off topic’… because this morning I am considering with some interest and amusement that I am actually at a place in life where I am indeed, in some small way, ‘walking it off’, and have been since my journey dog-legged through a crisis and veered hard in the direction of mindfulness, and self-compassion.  I’m not trying to ‘walk it off’ in a dismissive way, devaluing the nature of my experience, or to avoid meeting my needs, or to avoid facing the things that hurt so much…I’m not running away.  I am walking. A lot. I walk every day, and even days when my walking is simply the portions of my commute I handle on foot, I get a few miles of gentle contemplation, and forward momentum.  How is it that it matters so much? (The walking – and the walking with mindfulness, particularly?)

One journey or another; getting from here to there.

One journey or another; getting from here to there.

There’s probably science to it; I haven’t studied it.  I do know that on my most challenging days, when my brain fights any moment of stillness, of awareness, of self-compassion, or contentment, no matter how vicious the ‘brain attacks’ I inflict on myself; once I’m on my feet, and walking, the breathing takes over, and I begin to find peace. Sure, I may indulge in some negative thinking, frustrated rumination, or angry ideations in those first hundreds of yards, but once miles start ticking away, my head clears, my heart feels lighter and my mind is liberated, my thinking productive and lucid. Generally.

This morning I am looking back on the evolution of getting back on my feet. I am observing the steps I took – real and metaphorical – that got my weight down, got me off psych meds that were doing more harm than good,  got me away from the mesmerizing mental junk food offered by the media, the networks, and the cable companies. Got me away from a job that was killing my soul. I took steps – and a lot of them, most of them, were real steps – feet on pavement, feet on earth.

I felt real pride the first time I walked 10 blocks to the nearest grocery store – most of it uphill – after years of being sedentary and sedated.  I felt a sense of accomplishment when I was able to visit the big farmer’s market on Saturdays; for so long I had been so uncomfortably heavy I just couldn’t walk far enough to do it.  I kept at it. No car. Everywhere I could reasonably go on foot, I planned the additional time and didn’t take transportation.  I stopped asking friends for rides places. The weight kept coming off.  The milestones, and achievements of small goals, kept adding up, and the benefits have never stopped being rewarding. Beginning to commute on foot was a really big deal – and choosing to relocate to housing that put that within reach was one of the best things I have ever done to ‘take care of me’.  I’ve been ‘walking off’ the weight for a while now. It’s steady, effective, and gradual.  It requires commitment, consistency, and a hearty application of verbs, and it does work.  It only makes sense that eventually that process would take me further… parks… trails… getaways… sanity… wellness.

One step after another.

One step after another.

I had forgotten how much walking can also free my mind. A camera, some landscape, a journey… and the world becomes a wide open space, a distant horizon, a broad vista, and it’s different when it is more than a trip to the store.  The hiking I have been doing meets a lot of varied needs for me, and practicing mindfulness matters. Storming off angrily and furiously walking an aggressively paced lap or two through residential neighborhoods and retails spaces doesn’t have the same power to bring peace and healing as mindfully walking quiet remote trails, content and aware, and I’m glad I rediscovered that.

Wide-eyed and mindful, there is value in every journey.

Wide-eyed and mindful, there is value in every journey.

I’m spending this year, 51, walking Oregon trails. I’m making an effort to ‘walk away’ from my chaos and damage, and taking a gentler pace through my experience. I’m learning to treat myself kindly walking challenging trails; taking a walking staff or trekking poles, instead of risking injury by ignoring injuries I’ve already got, planning, being prepared, being aware.  I’m shrugging off drama, and ‘moving on’ from my trauma… by moving on; setting goals, trying new trails, exploring the unknown in real places as well as within.  I’m taking progress, growth, and  healing ‘a step at a time’ – literally.

Every path leads precisely where it takes me.

Every path leads precisely where it takes me.

I’m not sure when I really started down this path, as a thing all its own… was it the 5k last fall, on that dreadful rainy, stormy day?  That was certainly an achievement, and it encouraged me to walk farther, more, and more often.  It was a good next step from commuting on foot.  Trips to the beach and my partner’s recent camping/rafting trip definitely got me excited to take yet another step… and unexpectedly it has become a weekend practice to grab my gear and head for the trees, somewhere, for a few hours, quietly walking. Since that first hike with my partners – Cooper Mountain – I’ve also hiked Tualatin Hills Nature Park (through which was my original commute on foot, and a very emotionally safe feeling solo hike), and some of the trails of the Audubon Society Park. I’ve got Sunday hikes planned ahead for most of the summer, and two solo camping trips over weekends.  Friends and family already recognize my enthusiasm and commitment to this new activity; they recommend places they have been and enjoyed, and places they think I would enjoy, myself. It’s a point of connection between many coworkers, and I. I feel engaged, and involved in my life, and enthusiastic about each new adventure.

Life's curriculum isn't always about 'the hard stuff'.

Life’s curriculum isn’t always about ‘the hard stuff’.

Meditation. Walking. Healing. It sounds too easy, and if someone would have suggested it decades ago, I don’t know that I would have been sufficiently open to take it seriously, or to give it a fair try.  Still… I’m taking steps.  I’m moving on.  I’m… walking it off.

One possible future... and one beautiful now.

One possible future… and one beautiful now.

Today is a good day to plan tomorrow’s hike, and to smile and remember other hikes, and other good days.  Today is a good day to embrace what has value. Today is a good day to take another step. Today is a good day to change the world.