Friday, 14 September 2012

Alpine Walking Mindfulness

This is the Col de Salenton, 2562 metres. By the time I'd reached it, I was ready to be buried under this damned great cairn thing, but lunch and a little light ribaldry from the rest of the group got me back on my feet. A few of us then went up le Mont Buet, but your correspondent and the rest headed downhill. Tricky descent at first, nasty steep chaotic rocky bit, then beautiful path down the valley to the road, via a delightful refuge.

We walked three very long days, very beautiful but it all made new demands on my stamina. Not much time for mindful meditation, and on many sections of the path, too much vigilance needed to let the feet find their own way. But my ways of staying in the present, which I pass on to you in case they ring any bells or might be of any use, were these:

1. Stop conceptualising what you're doing. It's no help to keep thinking "this is twice as far as I've ever walked in Snowdonia," or "we're at about 1900 metres, so, Good God, that's another six hundred metres of ascent, that's more than half the height of Snowdon and I'm knackered already, how can I..." etcetcetc. No help at all. Especially if you're walking with more experienced people who know the way, you can drop all that stuff, it's in the head, not on the path.

2. Don't keep looking ahead at the objective (the col, the peak, the refuge, the lead walker) because it encourages "why isn't the damned thing getting any closer?" And that may make you hurry beyond your capacity to do so.

3. I know this is contrary to the usual meditative way of staying in the present, but do let your mind run on if develops a train of thought, and a repetitive tune in your head can also help.

4. Stop anticipating pain and exhaustion, and this may mean consciously letting go of tense neck or shoulder muscles. If you're OK at present, you're OK, just keep doing it. Trust yourself to keep going. You'll know if you really can't carry on, and the rest is mostly just fussing yourself up.

There's loads of practical stuff too, of course - stop and drink when you want to, don't worry about being first or last, etc, mostly common sense. But the inner workings stuff had a lot to do with my being able to make it OK.

These feet, this path, here and now, one step at a time.

I don't mean it to sound like an endurance test, it was hard going sometimes but it was  - bloody marvellous! And much of the time it was all very here and now, a simple life for a few days.


  1. "it's in the head, not on the path" I like that.

  2. It's not easy, is it, separating what's a head-driven distraction or illusion from what is out there, where you are right now. I find walking very good for that, and so ultimately a kind of meditative as well as physical exercise. Though there's nothing very mindful about blisters....which happily ~I was spared on this occasion.