Nathan Peterson

Looking Up (My Daily Walking Practice - Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 4-part series on why, and how, I take my daily walk--a practice which has been central to my health and growth over the past decade.

Last week I shared about letting go of old thoughts in order to make space for today.

This week, I want to talk about what can happen as a result of this new space. The second element of my daily walk flows naturally from the first: Looking up.

Upon being relieved of the task of holding up the universe, I often notice two responses in my physical body:

  1. My body takes a deep breath. A sigh of relief.

  2. My eyes shift from a focused, downward position to a softer, horizontal one.

These two things happen as a response. I have not been able to replicate this experience by directly controlling my body (I've tried).

I have theories about why this is:

If someone is walking on rocky terrain, their eyes should be focused on the steps they're about to take in order to avoid falling. It's the logical thing to do, if the terrain is rocky.

But what happens if someone who has spent a lifetime walking on rocky terrain is given the opportunity to walk on smooth ground? In many ways, this is me.

Even though I walk every day on the pristine sidewalks of Oak Park--Illinois' first municipal arboretum and Frank Lloyd Wright architectural paradise--my eyes are habitually fixed to the ground, just a few steps ahead. I can easily miss the whole thing.

I am surrounded by beauty, braced for danger.

Maybe you can relate.

A peaceful, gentle December snowfall, and I am replaying a fight I recently had with my wife. My experience of that walk is anger.

The gorgeous colors and smells of fall, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the palpable anticipation of the holidays, and I am worrying and obsessing about money. My experience of that walk is worry.

The laughter of my children as they play, and I am frantically typing away on my computer, trying to "make an impact." My experience of my children playing is struggle.

Anger, worry, and struggle: my experience of heaven on earth.

What needs to change?

Is it the world? The seasons? Others?

No. It's me.

That is why I take this walk.

First, I let go. Then, in the absence of my perceived "rocky terrain," I receive a deeper breath, and I look up.

This "looking up" is not about my actual eyes. It's about what is happening inside. My eyes, in this case, are a reflection of what is happening in me.

If, on my walk, my mind is thinking about the "rocky terrain" of life, my physical body will reflect this with a "looking for danger" posture, even though I may be walking on a perfectly maintained neighborhood sidewalk on a beautiful day.

Our mind and body are interconnected. Instead of allowing this to repeatedly undermine and derail us, we can intentionally use it to our advantage.

To help our body to let go of excess stress and held pain, we can practice letting go of our thoughts. To help our mind to let go of limiting and unhelpful thinking, we can practice releasing our body. When one feels impossible, we can focus on the other. This multifaceted approach can help move us out of a reactionary state and into a more active role in our own growth.

Every day, I start my walk by consciously letting go of yesterday's thoughts. My body responds with a deeper breath, my eyes soften, and I look up. It is a powerful experience. Like waking from a dream.

What happens next is wonderful--the third element of my walk, which I'll talk about next week. But I want to pause again to leave space for you to explore.

Something to try:
If you are lucky enough to experience a shift in your body as a result of letting go in your mind--if you receive a deeper breath, or if your eyes soften and look up--just try to enjoy it. You're teaching a part of yourself a very important truth: it is okay, and good, to be here. Stay right here for a while. Inevitably, old thoughts will drag you back beneath the weight of the world. That's fine. Try again. If it's taken this long to learn how to not be here, it's going to take a lot of practice to relearn to be here. Don't rush. Every step in this direction is progress. The returns of this investment will not only enrich your life forever, but they will support all of us as we journey this path together.

#freedom #my daily walk #presence #self-awareness #self-care