I love planning a trip. I will devote lots of time and energy to thinking about a trip, whether it’s a long trip across the country or a short walk in the woods. I am prone to pore over maps and books and reviews of things. Planning is a big part of the process and it gives me great joy to envision what the journey may look like. There are a lot of steps in planning.
Packing is another part that I enjoy. I have made lists for all kinds of camps and adventures. Every trip has its own particular pieces of gear that need to be considered. In addition to maps, I check the forecasts and what kinds of conditions might present themselves. I think about what kinds of layers of clothes will be needed and what might just be nice to have along. There are a lot of steps in packing.
But the real goal of taking a trip is to go. Actually setting out is the aim. That is a big step. Sometimes it is an anxious step. Sometimes that ﬁrst step is ﬁlled with thoughts about how well the planning was done, how complete the packing process was, how many things may await up ahead. First steps are sometimes fraught with a host of questions and perhaps some queasiness. Most of us usually are running through a mental checklist every time we head out.
I like to hike. Many of my trips are solo hikes in the woods. So I ﬁnd the ﬁrst steps exhilarating. I love the sense of newness that comes with exploring an unfamiliar trail. I love the sense of excitement that comes with backpacking into the woods. I love the anticipation of adventure when a journey is beginning. In a moment all the planning, all the projecting, all the anticipation comes to fruition and the ﬁrst step is taken.
I usually touch a signpost when I begin. It is just a tangible reminder that I am entering into something diﬀerent. In times past I have made note of the exact time when I do so, but I’ve discovered that I’m less likely to worry about that when the walk is going to be in the woods.
The ﬁrst step is a mixture of all the emotions that have been building to this point. I am mindful of all the things that are going on in life. I am aware of the circumstances and situations that are aﬀecting my family, my friends, and others in the world. I usually take a moment to hope that my vehicle will be there when I return, since I often hike in some remote places. In other words, there is part of me that is looking back when I start moving forward. Part of my thoughts and feelings are located in another place and on other people.
Those thoughts quickly fade as I enter into another realm. My body begins to feel the weight of the pack, the ﬁt of the shoes, the warmth of the layers, the scents of the forest. My mind releases its concerns and starts to breathe in the air of a place where trees outnumber buildings. My feet feel earth beneath them.
Part of starting a journey is ﬁnding a stride. Every trip is diﬀerent. Every trip has its own pace. When I am alone in the woods it takes adjustment. The adrenaline of starting means the pace is quick to begin—sometimes too quick. The exertion of hiking means that I usually have to catch my self and slow down after a few minutes. There is a rhythm that begins to present itself—a blend of movement and mindset that seeks balance. I feel the muscles exerting themselves in concert. I feel the various joints limbering. I feel the momentum that will propel me along the trail. Soon I have ‘hit my stride’ and the journey is moving me forward to a new place. I am more aware of where I’m heading than where I’ve been. Finding the stride is a magical sort of moment when body and breath and world and self are all coming together.
Spiritual journeys share some of those same moments. We plan and project a new practice; we anticipate how we will initiate it; we explore methods and means; we set a time to start, and then we begin. Maybe faltering at ﬁrst. We recognize that we are not ‘doing it right.’ We doubt the practice or ourselves. But having taken a step we try again. We take another. And then another. The steps seem more certain, less hesitant. The steps come easier and feel more natural. The steps gain some momentum and we may discover that we are ﬁnding something of the rhythm and balance that we had hoped for.
Like a good hike, we discover that we are ‘hitting our stride’ in this new way of being and doing things. We ﬁnd greater depth. We gain awareness. We feel momentum. We sense we are being propelled toward the destination.
In my last entry I said I was going on a journey. I have taken some ﬁrst steps in the days since. Some of what I am practicing still feels awkward, but I am still taking the next step. It may take some time, but I’m hoping soon to be ‘hitting my stride.’ I hope that you are ﬁnding your’s as well.