“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
~ Helen Keller
I love going hiking with my Dogs. We go out on the local trails three times a week, and go across the country once a year to hike different terrains. My Dogs love it as much as I do, and there’s nothing better for refreshing the mind and the body than taking a walk under the open sky. However, I feel more closely connected with my Dogs, when we practice Mindful Walking together.
Mindful Walking is the instance when each step that is taken is done deliberately, with attention and awareness. You focus on the moment at hand and the ground beneath your feet. It is not about planning your next step, nor is it about arriving at a predetermined destination. It’s about connecting with the present moment, and when you do this together with your Dog, it’s about connecting with each other.
There are two types of Mindful Walking that I practice with my Dogs. The first is a formal practice, and the second is an informal practice. Doing either of these, whether together or separately, can bring you and your Dog closer to a deep friendship by sharing this special experience.
Formal Practice: With your Dog by your side, take one single step and then pause. Feel your leg lifting in the air, moving forward, and then settling down on the ground. Feel the way the earth feels beneath your foot. At the same time, have your dog take a single step as well. This may not be easy for her at first, as her natural tendency is to want to keep moving once she begins. If she tries to keep moving ahead, gently hold back on her leash and softly tell her, “slow”. Allow her to sniff the ground, as long as you are not restraining her. Each step you make, do it as mindfully as possible and with as much gentle guidance and encouragement to your Dog to do the same. Talk to her the whole time as you both engage in this exercise. Don’t have the goal of taking a certain amount of steps. Each step with your Dog is whole and complete unto itself. Even if you can only do one single step together, you are off to a great beginning. The more you practice this connection exercise with your Dog, the more steps you will take together, but don’t be in a rush. You have a lifetime together to connect.
Informal Practice: In Japan, they have a practice they call “Shinrin-Yoku”, which means “Forest Bathing”. It is the practice of walking in the woods without having a destination or a purpose. It is just the experience of being under the canopy of trees with no other goal than to enjoy the moment. This is what I will often do with my Dogs when we aren’t hiking. “Formal” hiking is different because we have a destination and a goal, whether it’s an “out and back” trail or a “loop”, we walk until we complete the trail. Shinrin-Yoku has no such goal. Often, I will let my Dogs lead the way and follow them wherever they decide to wander. I will look at what they are looking at, step where they step, follow and explore wherever their senses lead them. Sometimes, they move around a lot and other times they spend a long time in one place. It doesn’t matter. The point is to experience, in my own way, what they are experiencing without getting lost in my own thoughts. Time is not a factor, nor is distance. It is a way for me and my Dogs to connect and share this mindful experience.
Sometimes, I will engage in this practice with my Dogs when we are not in the woods, but just standing in front of our house. This can be done anywhere. Simply follow your Dog’s lead and pay attention to what she is paying attention to, without analyzing, evaluating or judging it. Just experience it the way your Dog is experiencing it.
When you and your Dog are practicing Mindful Walking together, you are sharing a deep moment of connection and experience. In this space, there is no firm division or boundary between you, and the exchange of energy and love flows freely. Each step you take together is one step closer to the ultimate friendship: Kenzoku.