It was a clear sunny day with a light sea breeze – just perfect for mindfulness. But wait – EVERY day is perfect for mindfulness since that’s the whole point of it, right? Thanks to Alexandra and Key Into Australia, I was about to find out.
After meeting at the Sydney Opera House steps our group of 10 started chatting and getting to know each other as we made our way into the Royal Botanic Gardens. Nearly every continent on the globe was represented by women in a range of ages, and I recognised a few familiar faces from the online Friendship Café meetup earlier in the week.
We settled under the shade of a tree (watching out for the prickly bindis!) and took turns introducing ourselves and our reasons for joining the group. I found that we were sharing a lot of the same experiences and emotions, and not all due to Covid. This made me feel instantly welcome, and inclusive with the people I was sitting with. As my shyness evaporated, I had a feeling that the next 90 minutes or so was definitely going to be worth the trip I had made into the CBD.
For a lead-in to the actual mindfulness walk, Alexandra took us through a short meditation where we tuned in to our bodies and any sensations that we may be feeling. Noticing any physical sensitivities is a good way to start looking inwards and becoming aware of your inner self. Using an anchor such as the top of your head, the rise and fall of your shoulders, the expansion of air in your lungs or belly, your feet on the ground or your breath will assist with focus so gradually any outside influences (such as other people, background noise, being in an unfamiliar place) fall away.
Walking mindfulness is a form of meditation, so after sitting for about 5 minutes we then quietly transitioned to an individual space on the lawn to walk for the next 15 minutes. Alexandra had already explained that the idea is to mindfully walk (preferably barefoot) at a deliberately slow pace, being very aware with each step of the contact of the ball of each foot with the ground, and then with air. To help focus, we could think to ourselves “Left foot walking…. Right foot walking… Left foot walking… Right foot walking”. Our walk could be backwards and forwards in long straight lines, or in a circle with our arms relaxed, hands in front, to the side or behind us – whichever felt most at ease.
I chose to walk around a tree in slow circles, as I felt that with my path determined it would be easier for my thoughts to focus on the practice of walking mindfully. Have you ever heard of the term ‘Monkey Mind’? It refers to how human brains are naturally wired to jump from one thought to the next, from the past to the present and back again, rarely staying still for one moment. Although I had found my intended path, my monkey mind was still going in full chatter. “I can’t go barefoot, there are too many bindis. Oh no, this is more of a slope than I realised, my circle won’t be very circular… but I want to be a good student! There are people over there on a park bench, will they think I’m nuts? What are the others doing, am I the only one making circles? Stop, stop thinking, this isn’t mindfulness!”
So, you know what I did? I thought back to the sitting meditation and concentrated on my breathing. I personally find this is the best anchor for any meditation or mindfulness practices that I’m doing. As I slowly drew up my left foot, I inhaled. Paused my breath while I moved my foot forwards, and slowly exhaled as my foot made contact with the ground again. Slow inhale on the right foot drawing up, paused breath stepping forward, and long exhale as my foot made contact with the ground. I felt the ball of my foot on the grass, the air, and then the contact again just as Alexandra had said. Hey, I was doing it! And the longer I continued, the easier it became.
Gathering in a circle again, we discussed our different experiences. Some people (like myself) had done mindfulness walking before, and for some who hadn’t it was surprising how much balance is required when deliberately slowing down so far.
Becoming more in tune with our inner selves by the minute, Alexandra explained we were now going to do something tactile – hug a tree! Nature has a lot to offer, and one of the easiest ways to calm ourselves is with physical contact. I know with the current Covid situation and social distancing I’ve certainly been missing the human contact of a decent hug, and I feel that undertaking a simple activity like placing your bare feet or hands on grass truly does have a grounding effect.
For the next few minutes some of us literally did hug a tree, others planted themselves firmly on the lawn, and me – still sensitive from the bindi prickles, I decided to immerse my hands in some flowers and soft foliage. As I looked out to the sparkling water of Sydney Harbour and felt the support of the grass beneath my body, I took a deep breath and consciously inhaled all that nature was giving me, savouring those minutes of simply BEING.
Due to running overtime we had to end the session there for some people who had other events to go to, and Alexandra had ideas for continuing further for those who could. As we swapped stories of our tactile mindfulness session, some of the tree huggers (really!) shared how after a while they had genuinely felt an energy from the tree. Another felt warmth, and others a clear connection via contact.
I came away feeling that in the last 90 minutes not only had I made a connection with nature and my inner self, but also with the 10 wonderful women I had shared the experience with. Thank you, Alexandra for taking us on our mindfulness journey, and thank you ladies for making me feel so welcome to the group. I can’t wait to see you all again in the coming Key Into Australia events.
Just watch out for any bindis!
Written by Penelope Smith
Key Into Australia, 2 October 2020