I’ve really been enjoying getting out on my walks recently. I’m in a small town in Western Australia called Jurien Bay, which is about two and a half hours drive north of Perth. I’m working and saving some money before the next big adventure in the country, probably up somewhere like Darwin to poke around the national parks up there.
As you may have guessed from its sea-side name, Jurien Bay is blessed with the turquoise Indian Ocean on its front doorstep. There is a 6km walking path running along the beach from the central park in Jurien Bay, which is a perfect place to exercise.
The other morning, as the sun shone in the freshly scrubbed sky after a day or two of heavy rain, I hit the path. At first I was deep in thought about x, y, and z. After a while, however, I realised that these concerns had rattled their way around my brain and escaped out into the air, like a trapped fly making a mad dash for an open window.
All this walking has brought to mind two other instances where I found myself zoning out completely whilst out on a stroll.
The Milford Track, New Zealand
For one magical summer I was lucky enough to live and work in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand. This is home to the famous Milford Track, a multi-day walking track that takes you through the stunning scenery of the Clinton Valley, up over the McKinnon mountain pass and finishing up in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Milford Sound, “Piopiotahi” in the Maori language.
I worked for a company that offered guided walks along the Milford Track and accommodated their guests in luxury lodges along the route. I lived and worked in one of the lodges for six months and so the Milford Track was my back garden for daily walks. Out in the remote bush of Fiordland National Park it was not difficult to lose myself (figuratively, not literally) on my strolls through the dense, peaceful forest.
Alone, there was only the presence of the tiny, inquisitive bush robin to distract me, or the gurgle of the Clinton river flowing past. On overcast days following bouts of heavy rain the valley echoed with the roar of the waterfalls tumbling down distant cliff faces.
Such an ethereal, otherworldly place.
The forest glows green; ferns, mosses and lichens abundant, damp and cool.
Peace. Silence. A fairy tale world to experience in solitude.
Praia do Amado, Portugal
Although this was hardly a walk in a sense of lacing up your boots and getting out of the house for several hours, this occasion is still stuck in my mind as my go-to example of how I felt in ‘A Moment’.
I was road-tripping around Spain and Portugal back in 2015 and my friends and I wound up at this tiny little beach on the western edge of the Algarve. To say that this spot was idyllic was an understatement, and it was just the perfect place to pull up the campervan, pop-up the deck chairs and spend a couple of nights.
My friends and I set up our spot on the beach with towels, books, cameras and a supply of G&T (well, this was a holiday after all!) and I took a solo wander down to the waters edge.
I was only gone for a short while, walking first one way along the beach then retracing my steps and walking up to the other end of the cove.
Yet, in that half an hour or so I felt so revitalised it was as if I had just walked for hours.
With the sun on my face, the breeze tugging at my hair and the cool water on my sandy toes I felt my mind erase all thoughts, niggles, emotion. I was an empty shell of fresh space.
If you want to see more from Portugal, check out my post on the wonderful places we covered on our road trip, plus some tips about places to check out if you wanted to get off the beaten track in Spain.
The Sound Of Silence
What all three of these locations have in common is how the background noise is minimal and pared down to simple, natural sounds. In the forest there was the sound of water rushing by in the river and birdsong; on the beach there is the swell of the ocean; and on my sea-side path in Jurien Bay there is the crashing of the waves and the blustering of the wind.
All other noise is cancelled out. I’m far away from cars, phones, the urban rush.
Is it unusual that walking has brought about in me such feelings of complete calm and mindfulness? I don’t think so.
There are a lot of studies out there that highlight the virtues of walking and the psychological and physical benefits it has, such as improvements to your mood, levels of anxiety and depression, self-esteem and making healthier diet and lifestyle choices.
I’m struck by how incredible it is that your mind is capable of emptying of all thought and emotion as you walk.
I’m empty. I’m blank. And it feels so cathartic.
In this chaotic world we live in, with visual stimulants bombarding us by way of social media every waking moment of our day, our minds are never at rest. We are constantly thinking, worrying, analysing, arguing, searching, weighing-up… We may make a conscious effort sometimes to be mindful, in yoga or in meditation, but it can feel a little contrary. Like you’re trying too hard to relax.
On these three occasions, however, I did not have to try. A total immersion in my surroundings allowed me to access a level of calm you’d have to be a zen master to tap in to.
Walk For You
So what’s all this about, Meg, I hear you ask. What are you saying?
That you should leave your phone at home with all other distractions and lace up your trainers? Yes.
That you should carve out some time to leave the mental clutter behind? Yes.
That you should take a walk, solo, and spend time listening to your own breathing and the sound of your feet on the earth beneath you?
A thousand times yes.
If you liked this, take a read on my thoughts about remembering to nourish yourself on your travels.
How do you feel when you walk? Are you like me and can lose yourself to a sense of total serenity or do you find you dwell on problems? Have you got a favourite place you like to walk? Share your thoughts with me.
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