brief meditation on hillwalking last month, I thought I'd expand a little on the practical aspect of the technique. For those of you who've been following along in the "Texts, Traditions and Truths" series, don't worry, I still have Part III in the works and it'll be up soon. In the meantime, here's a bit about the movement-meditation practice known within some Druid traditions as "hillwalking."
"Hillwalking" is a technique within modern Druidry and other Celtic Pagan traditions, a form of active meditation. To hillwalk is to allow the body to interact intuitively and directly with the surrounding natural world, to follow whims and currents within the landscape. To move through the external, physical landscape of the woods, fields and hills as an interactive and revelatory form of exploring the internal landscape of the soul. Like the stillness of traditional meditation, the on-going movement of breath and body in hillwalking helps to blur the boundaries between form, spirit and space, transforming the perception of what was once opaque and solid into that which is fluid, interwoven and sacrd.
Over the course of my hillwalking practice, I have developed a few techniques and guidelines for myself:
(1) Wear comfortable, practical clothes. This might seem obvious, but for a long time I had the romantic notion of gliding through the woods in flowing skirts, a mysterious and faery-like creature glimpsed by other hikers only out of the corner of the eye. Delicate ritual wear may be appropriate and stimulating for quiet, personal ceremonies, but such clothes cause more distractions and snags out in the woods. Instead, wear something simple and comfortable, appropriate to the weather and the sun, that will let your skin breathe in the air of the natural world.
(2) Be prepared with simple things. Hillwalking can be strenuous and dangerous, but I have found it most beneficial when it is through an area in which I feel safe and familiar. Walking through the local park, I feel secure enough to bring only a cell phone (in silent mode, so as not to disturb me but there if I need it), a bit of drinking water and sometimes a snackbar or bit of trail mix. Beyond practical preparation, mental preparation is also important--I may notice rain clouds and decide not to bring an umbrella, prepared to experience and embrace whatever the weather becomes. As usual, it is important to use common sense and avoid situations that can cause injury or illness.
(3) Know your limits. Don't be afraid to push yourself sometimes--take on that steep trail, turn down that intriguing path though you may not know where it leads, or stop for a moment and center yourself into a more intense focus and openness to your surroundings. I have my own drives when I go hillwalking--I try to work up a bit of a sweat, I try to always find my way back without turning around and using the same trail to get home, and sometimes I use a simple fasting technique, putting off meals until I have returned from hillwalking. These techniques often wear away at and transform my ordinary consciousness, pushing me to delve more deeply into my personal reserves of endurance and ingenuity. But it's important to know your own limits, and recognize when your body gives your signals of distress. Water, rest and turning back are sometimes necessary.