27 Jan Mindfulness Walk With a Dog Named Charlie
I’m writing a chapter of my book while out on the Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island in Ucluelet, where when the sun shines it is the most beautiful place on earth, and when it rains, it rains sideways. My only responsibility in exchange for staying in this beautiful quiet house is to walk my brother and sister-in-law’s dog Charlie while they are away.
Last night it rained so hard that Charlie didn’t even want to go out the door to pee this morning. But I remembered that this was the day I had to put the garbage out on the street, so I pulled on my rubber boots and my brother’s big Gortex jacket with a hood over my pajamas, and out went the garbage…and Charlie, who realized that the rain had lightened and looked eager to go. So, after a quick change out of the pjs and with coffee in travel mug, off I went down the trail after her.
Mindfulness was on my mind, and I decided to make this my mindfulness walk. I have a friend who walks this way for an hour every morning along the ocean. It is his meditation, and he says it completely transforms his day. My previous walks by the ocean on this trip have been with another friend and her dog, so have been full of conversation. The only other solitary morning walk I had was my second day here and I was continually thinking I’d meet a bear (I know, they’re probably all hibernating by now, and I am with a dog who’s been known to chase them away!) or that I’d get lost on the trail (although this dog is a local and she knows the way – I just need to let her lead.) So, today that’s what I did. Which way, Charlie? And I followed, and noticed. The rain stopped but the waves were bigger than ever, crashing into the rocks. The rain forest I walked through was full of every bright shade of green you can imagine. My mind would start thinking (as they do) and I would pull it back to the present and be mindful of every step, every sight, and every sound. I heard the call of a bird I’d never heard before and glancing up to see him, I saw an enormous eagle circling above – the reason for his cry. It was a magnificent, mindful walk. Different than any other I have taken here this past week. And my day has been much more positive and productive because of it.
Mindfulness is a simple process of tuning into our surroundings and being aware of how we are responding to them. It is sadly a place we spend far too little time. This is unfortunate, because of the abundance of benefits that mindfulness can have on our health, work performance, engagement in life and on the cultures within which we work.
Barbara Frederickson, author of “Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life” (2009) and numerous other researchers recommend developing a mindfulness practice as a way of increasing the positive emotions in your life and curbing the momentum that comes with negative ones. In the early ‘80’s, Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a form of mindfulness called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that helps people to manage chronic pain.
Researcher Ellen Langer says that “mindlessness” (the opposite of being mindful) is one factor that contributes to burnout, lack of engagement, fatigue and conflict, all of which are common challenges in today’s workplace. She tells us that burnout rates are higher in workplaces where there are rigid mindsets and narrow perspectives (part of what she describes as mindlessness.) Her work has shown that most of us travel through our days in a ‘mindless’ state for the most part, seeing the present from the past. We are trapped in old mindsets, thinking about past conversations, or worrying about how something will turn out, and in fact many of us “just aren’t there” (in the present) most of the time.
In one experiment carried out by Langer and colleagues, members of an orchestra were asked to play a piece twice – once how they normally would, and the second time, mindfully, meaning that they were asked to notice new things about what they were doing as they played. An audience rated their enjoyment of the piece both times, and the rating was much higher when the piece was played mindfully. Moreover, the orchestra members also personally enjoyed the experience more the second time.
According to Langer, developing a mindfulness practice personally, or better yet, a mindfulness culture at work, can increase productivity, innovation, leadership ability and satisfaction. It does this by keeping you in the present, which keeps you engaged. Kabat-Zinn says it also has profound benefits to your physical and psychological well-being.
Developing a mindfulness practice is one way of increasing the positivity in your life, which as it increases to certain levels can send you in an upward spiral of creativity and flourishing.
As I begrudgingly pulled on my jacket and boots today to head out in the rain, little did I know how mindful this walk would be, and how beneficial it would be to my mood and my day. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this. Thank you Charlie.