Enjoy Each Baby Step
I live on a hill about 1400 feet above sea level. To give an idea of the incline, the city at the bottom of the hill, two miles away, is at approximately 700 feet. I set an intention recently to be more active on a daily basis, so the steep incline in front of me is seen as an exciting challenge. The beginning of my exercise routine is easy, pleasant, and relaxing. I step down the hill gently and quickly; my breath is free; my gaze is up through the trees, at the blue, cloudless sky. My body feels light and strong at the same time. My arms swing loosely at my sides. My mind is able to drift into a state of gratitude, as I realize that I am surrounded by nature, in a healthy body, with an open heart.
I walk down about a quarter of a mile where a voice signals inside me, “remember: you still have to go back up”. I acknowledge the message; assess how my body feels; and decide I can go further. Another quarter of a mile down the hill, the signal is louder, more insistent, and includes “turn around now”. This time, I listen to my instinctual cry and I turn around.
Before I start back up the half-mile trek, I take a moment to scan my body from head to toe. I sense that while walking down hill, my shoulders were broad and pushed back. I stood tall and the majority of my body weight lay upon the heels of my feet. I adjust my center of balance and take my first step back up the incline. Instantly, I’m aware of the contrast in difficulty between cruising down and climbing up the slope. Now my shoulders are forward; I seem to only be able to look down at the ground in front of me; and my weight sits on the balls of my feet.
It doesn’t take long for me to grow weary. I realize that I’m kind of far from home and the only way to reach my destination is by walking up a steep hill, without water. Sweat forms on my body and worrisome thoughts enter my mind. I am in anguish over how long it will take me to get back home. What if I get a headache from the heat and exhaustion? Will anyone drive by to save me if I collapse from fatigue? The more I torment myself about the difficulties of this endeavor, the harder it becomes.
But then, something happens. I shift my thinking back into my body. I notice that the back of my legs tingle with activation. I take note of that and imagine the area healing. I visualize the muscle being massaged and woken up by my activity. I acknowledge that this sensation is the reason I set the intention to be more active in the first place. I understand that my fears were focused on something distant from me (my end destination), which was causing me to miss out on experiencing anything real about the individual moments.
So, instead of agonizing over how many thousands of footsteps I would have to take before water could quench my thirst, I shift my attention to the feeling in my right foot as it makes contact with the paved street. Then, as my left foot touches ground, I notice how multiple muscles in my leg allow this action to happen. Then, I observe how my fists are clenched. I spread my fingers wide, loosen my shoulders, and address any and all areas of my body that seem tense or uncomfortable. I release all tension with my exhale. I grasp at life energy with every inhale.
I pay attention to my breath, making sure that it is harmonious with my body’s motions. I scrutinize how far apart each step is, matching the left stride with the right. I create a rhythm but maintain focus on the individual beats. Each step presents a new piece of scenery in front of my eyes. Birds chirp and sing while bugs and bees buzz overhead and around me. I take each moment as it is. Everything that is real in each moment is fully available for me to experience.
I hold fast to consistency while adapting to the variety of every passing second. Eventually, I become fully preoccupied in the present moment: where I am; what I’m doing; how I’m doing it; and why. And then, before I know it, I’m home, celebrating how easy that was; excited to do it again the next day. I check the clock to see that my one mile hike up and down a really steep hill took just a little over fifteen minutes. At the end of it, I am comfortable, resting, and rejuvenating in the solace of my home. The fear-voices in my mind initially shared horror stories of exhaustion and fatigue. Not only did I avoid struggling up the hill, I was able to embrace each moment and enjoy every labored step.
Stepping back to look at a bigger picture, I now attempt to apply this philosophy to all of my life goals. When I think about a particular dream or goal (it could be a healthier diet; a financial goal; something I’d like to accomplish, etc), I stroll lightly down to the valley floor, building the dream piece by piece in my mind. When I’m ready to do the work, I turn around and prepare myself for the long, arduous flight up the steady incline. I avoid being discouraged by the thousands of steps I must take in order to succeed, by simply directing my focus on one baby step at a time. I tred lightly, with a soft and open heart, and a smile on my face.
I notice the end goal, and set my course towards that destination, but I do not dwell on how I will get there, or even when. I am present with the unique moments as I move through them. I pay attention to my pacing, as I do not want to charge up a steep hill only to be burned out. I let each moment express itself to me as it is. I observe it; I welcome it; I return gratitude. Before I know it, I am at my destination, looking back at the joyous journey I took in order to manifest this dream. It will not have been a struggle, because of an understanding of how to avoid suffering, by simply choosing to be happy.