Two years ago I took a mindfulness workshop at the University of Washington. We learned about the basics of mindfulness (being completely present, without judgment) and learned breathing tools to integrate it into our work life. One of the practices included mindful walking. At first we walked very slowly around the room without talking, just feeling the floor beneath our feet and focusing on the heel, ball, toe flexion. Then the door was opened and we continued slowly walking outside and around the block.
University students moved quickly past us, some smiling at the novelty and some without a flicker of registration. For us, this walking meditation was a way to integrate the mind and body while also calming the nervous system.
I loved it. It was my modern dance days all over again. (I once had an audition with a choreographer in Seattle who literally had us just walk across the stage and then made her decision based on that one pass.)
Since that workshop, I have noticed that young children walk mindfully all the time.
They absorb their surroundings, stopping to take in just what is in their absolute immediateness. They see an ant and squat down to get a close look. Or they hear an airplane and immediately look up and point, frozen in their tracks. They are filled with the present moment, without judgment. But how often do they really get the chance to do this without a grown-up pulling them away, or rushing them to the next place?
When children are allowed to explore by going for a walk around the neighborhood with no destination – as the leader—they get to ride their natural developmental stage with complete freedom. This is such a powerful experience! They get to act on their curiosity, experience senses and follow through with a plan.
These are all seeds that build focus, perseverance, joy, and capability.
So next time you need an “activity”, try taking a mindful walk. Leave the stroller at home. Allow them to choose the direction and see what happens. Leave the phone at home, or at least in your pocket. Take the opportunity to walk mindfully yourself, taking deep breaths, noticing your surroundings and just allowing yourself to be in the present.
When we give ourselves permission to look at the world through our children’s eyes if just for a walk, we surrender to their everyday mindfulness. When we let go of the helm and see where they steer, we can find a deeper connection to the moment and, ultimately, to ourselves.