My aim in the mountains is to cover terrain as elegantly as possible." Sharon Wood
Walking on or off trail in the mountains is different. Photo: Pelig Levi

Walking on or off trail in the mountains is different. Photo: Pelig Levi

I am a student of walking. My life path has been physically and metaphorically off trail through the mountains and walking in them has taught me a great deal.

Striding on a concrete sidewalk is easy for all of the obvious reasons and some not so obvious. It is solid, balanced, stable and mostly without grave consequence. All of these things are seemingly desirable. I can trust in these elements so much that some of the in-obvious reasons for the ease walking on concrete come to light. I don't have to think, focus, or be conscious of much in order to travel the route. I can look way down the street in expectation of a future event without stumbling. 

On my mountain path things are loose, uneven, unstable and often have grave consequence. Walking here requires a whole lot from me the walker. So much so that I still find myself a student of this practice that I learned in principle over 50 years ago.  What is it that I am practicing?

Each stride has a choice to be made. Walking up a mountain requires that I am deliberate with each step. I carefully choose exactly where I place my foot. If I don't select my placement my foot will likely land on something undesirable like a wobbly stone of a slippery root. I also position my foot with intention. How I step in the spot is critical. The spot may be flat so I can relax and save energy, or it may be sloped and wet so I need to grip the earth with my boot edge. I make myself solid.

Striding from my center. In order to carefully select my foot placement I have to step from a place of balance. I centre my weight over my placed foot so that the new foot or step is not committed to unconsciously.  I can stop at any point and stay in balance. My walking is not a slave to momentum, but discernment is the rule. In the core of my body is a place of stillness that is quiet and relaxed. I balance myself.

Remaining present. If I look too far down the trail I stumble because I am no longer present with what is happening. Eyes cast on the summit or a future goal take my attention away from balance and discernment. I create stability.

I was built for traveling where there is no path. Walking here helps me be solid, balanced, and stable in a chaotic world fraught with ramifications. Like all things walking is a practice. If I assume I am a master, I stumble. The greatest thing that walking here teaches me is humility, that all things in life are best when they come from within, and that walking is life.

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