There are some podcasts I have memorized the introduction to. Some phrases that stick out when I listen. One is "we had to believe in impossible things" on the Ted Radio Hour podcast. Another is, "taking time to be more fully present" on Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations podcast. Sometimes I say the words out loud, as if I say them loud enough it will be true for me, too. Or maybe it's like singing along with the lyrics of my favorite song: There is pleasure in knowing the words and repeating them.
Sometimes when I am hiking or walking, experiences bring me into the present. They do not cost anything, and they bring me a lot of joy. It could be because I am a freelance writer, often working alone. It could be because I am a sensitive person. I like to think it is because I strive to pay attention and better myself by opening my eyes, vulnerably, to the world around me.
It was with this eye towards being present that I hiked Mission Peak this past Monday morning. I was researching it for a trail description on Modern Hiker—hiking slowly, taking pictures, and trying to identify new-to-me birds and plants.
My first encounter was with an older man. He was coming down the trail as I was coming up. We both paused and said hello. He lamented how hikers were not paying attention to the "quiet" of the mountain. He told me a paraphrased quote about being still in your heart enough to listen to the birds sing. I tried to find it, but have not had any luck so far. Then, in a slightly embarrassed way, as if he felt he had been talking too much, he quickly wrapped up his dialogue, put his hands together in prayer, and said, "God Bless You." I smiled and said, "God Bless You."
I had another memorable encounter on my way back down from the summit. A young woman in workout gear, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, was leading a fuzzy grey puppy—maybe a young labrador—up the trail. I smiled and bent down. I put my hand out so the puppy could sniff me, and he tentatively moved away. I kept my hand steady so he could sniff me when he was ready. Then, all at once, he was in my arms, yipping and snuggling, burying his nose into my shoulder. He turned around and sat right in front of me so that I could give his back a good rub and scratch. I stood up after a few moments, not wanting to hold up the hiker. But before I left I made eye contact with her and said, "Thank you." I'm sure that puppy loved the attention, but it was a lovely gift for me to have that interaction, too.
Many other small moments made me feel happy and present on Mission Peak. Seeing wild turkeys trot through the grass. Watching a calf getting milk from its mother. Rising above a cloud inversion at the summit. I usually find at least one thing that gives me pleasure on each hike—spotting a familiar fern, watching wildlife, or sometimes just a friendly greeting. It happens too on my neighborhood walks when I meet new dogs and their owners, or see grandparents playing with their grandchildren on the playground.
I believe there is a gift that we give to ourselves by being present. The present is acceptance. Not of what we wish will happen or what will be, but what is. The reason why I keep going back—keep going outside—is to escape the things that pull me out of my body. When I am present, I allow myself to live in the moment. I look around. I recognize what is here and now. It is a statement of acceptance. I am me, in all of my lumpy shapes, in all of my beautiful imperfections, like the curving of a fallen maple leaf. Like the frayed edges of a mariposa lily.