I feel each step landing at a different depth in the snow, the earth below uneven, unpredictable. The gentle effort my legs make as they adjust to the ground along the way feels therapeutic to my less active winter body. My boots squeak and crunch on the snow beneath my feet, and I stop for a second to notice that I am the only one making sound. Standing still to absorb the silence, a rare gift in this city, I see my breath leave my body in a cloud of vapor, dissolving into the air around, becoming invisible again. Within seconds, a bird interrupts with a song I’ve never heard before. Smiling, I begin to move again, knowing I am not the only crazy bird out here. As my thoughts trail off, thinking of birds in this climate, or why any creature with the potential to flee to warmer weather chooses to stay here? My mind wanders to where I would go if I were that bird and I catch myself stepping hard, as I’m jarred back to the present moment. I realize my mind has wandered and my steps felt like they clashed with the ground, tension starting to build in my neck, shoulders and jaw. I redirect my focus to my breath, pulling cold air in through my nostrils, feeling it disappear into the warmth of the rest of me. Directing my breath to create a bit of expansion with my inhale, and then a softening with my exhale, I bring myself back to the present moment, back to what is here and now. Redirecting the focus back to how I’d like my body to feel: strong, present, engaged, and I continue walking. I take that next step and feel the cold air come in..
Walking in the winter feels different for those of us who don’t resonate with this climate. I’m not one for winter sports and would prefer to wait for you in the lodge, with a warm beverage and a smile. I usually planned my winter escape to somewhere warm, perhaps near the ocean and, even if the trips were long, they rarely felt like they were long enough. It often (always) felt like I came back with a rebound effect of an even stronger aversion to winter! With the ease and comfort of travel absent the past couple of years, I felt forced to reevaluate my winter experience. Did I have to live near a beach to feel like I was enjoying life? What was I truly seeking? Was I required to leave to find it? I never read Wherever You Go, There You Are but the title kinda gives it away, yeah?
We experience life through our senses, most requiring an outside stimuli (smell, taste, touch, sight and sound) to engage with our brain. Other senses, such as balance, feeling our bodies in space and time, how we sense pain and feel hunger or thirst, are engaged through an internal focus. In this ”mind-body connection”, our brain and body are in constant communication with each other, whether we are paying attention or not. Yet, we live in a world where we’re continually receiving information from outside sources. News, social media, entertainment and opinions of others, our physical environment, what we look like in a mirror, visual cues of social acceptance, and those quantifiable markers of “success” such as our stuff and things, all create our reality around us. It probably doesn’t help that our big, beautiful problem solving brains are often focused on problem solving, the future, our goals, retirement, what’s happening this weekend or what happened yesterday- anywhere else but here. Left unchecked, this constant assessing, planning, replaying and fast forwarding can leave many feeling fatigued, anxious and depressed. This makes connecting with other people difficult and can lead us to feel less human, less alive. We become so used to this state of being and it often isn’t until we’re derailed with pain, sickness or disease that we even notice.
To embody all of our senses is to engage with what makes us human. The beautiful thing is that our internal senses are always within us, and only require a shift in attention to bring them into focus. The more we practice and learn to truly hear ourselves, the more we become an active participant in our lives.
Instead of, for example, thinking I need to change my external environment to avoid the discomfort of winter, could I shift perspective? Could focusing on the present moment shift my internal environment to one of peace, contentment and knowing I have all I need in this life?
This experiment is rather new for me, and although my brain has not compiled the data into a formal review for me to assess, I have noticed a world of difference. My body feels more engaged and connected to nature, which I formerly felt impossible in winter. My emotions feel less reactive to outside stimuli, or things I cannot control. I feel more appreciative of what is, rather than what could be fixed or changed. I notice that, when a sensation arises in my body, I have a much easier time interpreting what that means to me. My overall sense of self has shifted and I feel a stronger relationship with myself than before. This will most likely always be the season in which I daydream and procrastinate on some project by searching for airfare deals just in case, however I know I don’t have to relocate to find what I’m seeking.
To join my experiment and practice with me, bring awareness to how you feel. Take a walk, regardless of the weather, without earbuds or checking your phone so you can bring full awareness to the present moment. Notice how the ground feels beneath your feet. And how your legs adapt to the changing environment below. Feel the air come in through your nose, notice where it goes in your body, and feel it leave again. Notice when your breath is holding tension somewhere in your body or when your mind is racing. Redirect thoughts to what you’re feeling and give yourself permission not to criticize when your mind wanders; Your brain is just doing what it’s programmed to do. In this state of mind-body connection and the senses engaged from the inside, outside stimuli is reduced. This is a great time to connect with what you really need, perhaps even asking yourself simply “what do I truly need in this life? Or even just today? ” And see what comes up for you. When we let go of the world outside and embody our senses fully, our lives become our own. Becoming embodied is living your life from the inside out.
Written by Tribe Club Member, Sarah Evans