Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reflections on a Path

This is an adaptation of a presentation I gave for the Larimer Workforce Center.  If you would like me to give a similar presentation to your group, I'd be happy to do so and revise it to make it relevant for your group's purpose, obviously, many more metaphors can be drawn out of this. Better yet, let's go take a hike together and experience it for yourself!

I’m about to tell you a story, but it’s not really my story.  It is your story too.  And it is not really about what you think it is.  Imagine you are setting off on a journey, a path, your particular path.  What is happening as you prepare for your journey?  Are you nervous?  Excited?  Calm? What are you experiencing?

I lock each door of my car one by one, making sure it is secure to protect my wallet, cell phone, and laptop I’m leaving behind.  As I pass through the gate, I stop and set my intention: right now, I’m going to leave the stress and to-do list behind, and just be present with the hill and what it has to show me today. 

As I set off up the mountain, I notice my body still stiff and mind still chewing on things.  I guess my intention doesn't just automatically make itself so.  Oh well.  I’m still carrying my keys because I don’t have any pockets, but I don’t want them. Do I really care about what is in the car anyway? I decide to find a rock to hide them under. Got to remember where I put them on the way down. (Or do I?)  
Now I’m free.  I’m carrying nothing.   Just a pair of Vibram Five Fingers on my feet and some thin layers of clothes.

I pass a group of hikers and I’m breathing hard.  I don’t know how much I really feel like running today. The hill is steep.  I haven’t run trails or hiked much this year, so I’m questioning my sanity for choosing to do this today.  It would be easy to turn around still, I’m quite tempted, but I keep going.

I wind my way up steep and rocky switchbacks.  Carefully placing my feet so don’t hurt my exposed toes.  Breathing harder, I’m approaching a woman with a dog.  I’m concentrating so much on getting oxygen and foot placement that when I look up to see where she is at I stumble and stub my toes.  Ouch!  But as I pass her she says, “Good morning.”  And it is. 

No matter how hard I try to step carefully, every now and then I step on a rock that digs right through these thin soles right into my tender foot.  But it is worth it.  I don’t want to be numb; instead I choose to experience everything around me.

I’ve been numbing for years, but I’ve learned that by keeping myself sensitive to it all, the joy and bliss I feel when things are smooth and soft are so worth the occasional pain when I trip or stumble.  And the risk of being so exposed helps me to be more careful, more aware, more alive!

As I continue picking my steps up the hill, my body and breath are falling into sync. My arms, my torso, my legs, my feet, my lungs, and my mind are all working together now and I’m feeling great!   As I near the top, my lungs are telling me that they can’t keep up, so I compassionately slow my pace to almost a walk to let them replenish my oxygen.  But my limbs continue to move freely, propelling me up the mountain much more efficiently than when I walk.  I have momentum and the help of all the different parts of me working together, which helps when things get tough.

I approach a junction.  I have no plan, no watch, just a couple of free hours with which to explore the landscape.  Yes, the outer landscape, and the inner one too.  I choose the path that will take me up and over the ridge and across the road to the water rather than staying on the same lateral path.  As I make my way over the ridge, and down the hill, I notice the joy that comes as I’m picking up speed going downhill.  It is both scary and fun.  I have to place my feet carefully still, as there are plenty of rocks, and I’m going downhill fast.  Finding all the soft spots for my feet, letting gravity pull me down the hill, it feels so good!.  A huge smile grows on my face. I could trip and fall at any moment, and I come close several times, but I keep going, doing my best to be in partnership with gravity. It all falls into place so perfectly and I’m giddy with joy.  I wonder to myself if trail running on steep rocky terrain isn’t a sure path to instant enlightenment!

As I make my way along the trail near the reservoir, the path is narrow and steep.  One trip or misplaced step and I could tumble a hundred feet down the sheer ridge into the water.  My gaze looks up from time to time to enjoy the full big picture view, but mostly I have to keep focused on where I’m stepping as it changes so fast! The path is mostly smooth, so I keep going, running full speed ahead.  I feel confident that my practice of careful footwork in the rocks will keep me on the trail. 

As I get closer to the inlet, I hear the water lapping up on the shore.  It calls to me. So I take a break from my running to scramble down to the water and sit by the shore.  I sit and practice mindfulness for a while.  Feeling my heart pounding, lungs bellowing, the winds and the dampness caress my skin, the cold rock under my butt, hearing the gentle waves kissing the shore, watching the patterns and colors in the ripples of the water.  My breath and my body become still.  It is a nice contrast to the brisk movement of the rest of my morning – kids, email, driving, running.   But my body starts to chill, so I decide to set off running again.
I make my way back to a junction, and this time I decide to go a different way.  A way I’ve never gone before.  It brings me right back to a junction I was at before.  I didn’t even notice that trail as being a choice when I was there last. 

I keep going and the trail seems to end.  But then I noticed it just changed.  And there was a sign even showing me which way to go!  All it took was to hop a barrier and the surface became smooth and easy.  But today this flat paved road was not my path, so I turned back to look for the way that felt right for me.

Right around the corner could be a nice smooth downhill, a steep rocky one, or a grueling hill.  You never know until you get there, and then you just enjoy the twists, turns, and surprises that are thrown at you.

If I go left, I head back down to the car, but I’ve already been right.  I’m not quite ready to be done yet, so I go right and enjoy the trail again.  Now that my body is more warmed up, I feel even more precise and enjoy the trail even more!  But I don’t know how far I will go.  So I keep running.  Eventually I decided I had experienced enough for today, so I turn around.

As I make my way back to the parking lot, the trail is smooth and fast, but there is one last small uphill stretch right at the end.  “It figures,” I think.  “That is how it always is.”  But I’m not angry about it, I just continue running.  Feeling my lungs, my body, my feet contact the ground.  The really, the trail is sometimes steep uphill, it sometimes levels out, it sometimes is gradually downhill, sometimes it is going down so fast it is scary, sometimes it is flat and boring, sometimes it is smooth and comfortable, sometimes there are lots of rocks and obstacles.  So I just keep running, knowing it will end soon, and I’ve done my best. 

Oh, and what I didn’t mention, is this whole time the path was talking to me.  Saying, “It’s just like life you know, this run you are on. All these things you are struggling with out there, I’m showing you how to deal with them. You are doing it beautifully, right now.  Just keep doing it out there too.”

This particular journey is coming to a close.  We don’t get to take anything physical with us, but you can choose to take with you some new knowledge, insight, belief, or feeling.  What have you gained by reflecting on this journey?  What have you gained by reflecting on your individual journey?  What new thought, idea, or feeling are you taking with you today, that will help you as you set off on your next journey?  What do you want to carry with you on the next segment of your path?

What do you think?  Better yet, what do you feel?  What do you experience?  Let's continue the conversation.  I'd love to hear about your path and how this has impacted you.

Chuck Hancock, M.Ed is a National Certified Counselor and a Registered Psychotherapist in the state of CO.  He has completed comprehensive training in the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a mindfulness mind-body centered approach. Chuck guides individuals and groups in self-exploration providing them with insight and tools for change. He also incorporates nature as a therapy tool to help shift perspective and inspire new thought patterns.  He can be reached at or

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