Nowadays, for many, walking in nature has to be a discipline and a practice. In previous eras it was a necessity, but now people can go weeks or even months without any contact with nature.
The best way to explore our natural landscape is to go alone. Anywhere will do, but the further from traffic, people, and buildings, the better.
Often the natural world has remained unchanged for generations. Even if the landscape itself has altered, the elements of nature – earth, sky, the changing weather, still exist as they did for our forefathers.
The benefits of a regular ‘nature practice’ are many.
When we go into nature we escape from other people; it is people that cause us to harden our identity into someone they can recognise as unchanging. Without the reinforcement of other people we are free to drop our egos and our conditioning and spend some time in just ‘being.’
The presence of trees, grass, and flowers, which do not speak or seek to persuade us of their opinions, can encourage the walker to do the same, to let go of the need to project anything of our ‘selves’.
The gentle rhythm of breath and footsteps can lead to a quietening.
In the quiet of nature we are more inclined to listen – not for anything in particular, but to sense our surroundings more intensely. The wind, the direction of the sun, the ground under our feet, the buzz of insects, the cry of a bird. It is surprising what insights these can bring.
Many people are hardly ever alone and are afraid of being alone in a remote location. We are lucky in England that predators are few, but we can still use the fear of being alone to our advantage. It makes us more alert, we become more like what we are – an animal in the wild.
In this alert state, with our senses open, we are at once both bigger and smaller – we are in an expanded condition, yet small in comparison to the immensity of nature and its longevity.
There are special places in the landscape that people have sought out for generations – a spring, a lake, a mountain top, a particular tree. These are places of pilgrimage. The English term ‘pilgrim’ originally comes from the Latin peregrinus (per = through and ager = field or land), someone on a journey. Often the sites have been marked in some way, but you could always find your own resonant spot, and mark it yourself.
A regular journey to the place you have chosen will mark that place for future pilgrims, even if there is nothing externally visible – very much in the way that continual journeying across a field wears a footpath. The process of doing this regular practice, alert to the changes of seasons both inside and outside yourself, is the transformative thing.
Honouring the landscape in this way, by your particular and decisive presence, connects you to all the others who have done the same, those from before, and those that will come after you.
When your time is over, the traces of your practice will still remain.