Mantras and the Mind, Mantras and the Body

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“Wherever you go, there you are.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Buddha on trail

The mind, ah the mind…As one hiker said, “I realized at the end that it was all about the mind.” It was most beneficial to hold a constant, continual positive perspective. Thoughts of “I can’t,”or “I’m scared to death” would surface…and then, in a split second, I let it go. One just could not hang there, because one could implode, and become a detriment, sliding down a slippery slope. The negative complaining angle was just not an option, otherwise it was time to get off the trail. I could not control my mental chatter, but I could direct my attention elsewhere. The following words applied well: “Instead of always being the plaything for our negative thoughts, moods, and temperaments, we become their master” (Matthieu Ricard). The focus was on what we were accomplishing, what we COULD do. Meditation occurred in stillness and in walking, allowing for spaciousness within.

There were sayings from Buddhism, and sayings just because, that were part of my daily walking meditation. They were my refuge from the mind chatter, allowing for attentiveness to sounds or quiet, canyons or forests, all around me. Here were a few examples of purposeful sayings that guided me:

“Body impermanent as the spring mist.”  This reminded me that the aches and pains were temporary. Healing was intrinsic in the body, allow the body to do its thing. 

“May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be kind. May all beings be generous. May all beings be wise. May all beings be safe. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be gentle. May all beings be awake.” (This helped me handle being out of contact with family and friends. It also helped as I heard of fellow hikers facing personal and trail struggles.)

“Oh happy blessed day 
Oh happy blessed place
Oh happy blessed time
Oh happy blessed path
Oh happy blessed opportunity”
From “An Auspicious Day”by Gautama Buddha. What a sweet way to willingly welcome what would unfold. 

“Squeeze. That was my reminder to follow my P.T.’s directions to tighten my glute muscles when I hiked up something. The whole idea was to have tight glute muscles be my natural way of walking without even thinking about it.)

“Ah, this, too…” was used when a reaction started to burst forth, like ‘fuck’ in difficult or unwanted situations, such as realizing, as I tumed a comer, that a huge set of upward switchbacks was ahead, or losing my knife, or when I left my sunglasses in the snow in Evolution Basin. I said it infinite times, often accompanied by a deep breath.

“Be here now because I’m not going to be here again.”

I chose to not use an Ipod while on the hike. When again would I choose this kind of opportunity to train both body and mind??? To walk all day with me and my mind??? I had approximately one hundred and fifty days to practice. The operative word was YES. The trail was very demanding, requiring one to gawk only when stopped, and walk with eyes on the trail immediately ahead. Breathe in, breathe out…attending to one’s every foot step.

My mind roamed, jumped to conclusions, created stories…and wandered…and…wondered…and certainly followed tangents of thought. Over time and days I found that my thoughts became more about my present experience, and not about past. Future thoughts usually had to do with food, where to camp, how other hikers were doing. I got to practice observing the thought appear…and let it go, again and again. When people appeared in my thoughts, the mind talk emerged as a story, because I was out of contact, and any mind chatter was based on conjecture. So I’d let the thought go and give gratitude for that person or practice tonglen. Pema Chodron says this about tonglen: “Tonglen, or exchanging oneself for others, is another Bodhichitta practice for activating loving-kindness and compassion. In Tibetan the word tonglen literally means ‘sending and taking.” It refers to taking (breathing in) the pain and suffering of ourselves and others into one’s heart opening, and sending (breathing out) out happiness, relief, or comfort for that person and for us all.

This practice of returning to my breath occurred hundreds of times daily while hiking along, attending to every step. Minutes, seconds, hours would go by, when I would realize my mind had wandered every where and I would start all over again, returning to the breath. Why hundreds of times a day? It was because the trail, too, was life, my life. It became more common to find comfort in just being, without expectation or anxiety or frustration or fear…more so with familiarity and ease.  

According to Phillip Moffat, “As the mind becomes happier, your ability to focus becomes stronger. This in turn enhances the feeling of well-being.” That well-being took me from one moment to the next, one step after another.

To go for the totality of the trail experience, we had to be detemined, have vast mental strength, and like all athletes, experience a shift in the psyche, and be a little ‘whacked.'

Thanks to Mark for the photo

Here's the introduction and index of Bev's Pacific Crest Trail stories

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