Lessons learned from the Coastal Path : a summer update Hiking, or rambling as they call it here in England, has always been a favourite outdoor activity. I was in the Outing Club in university; I hiked through swaths of the western US as a younger woman… I even participated in Outward Bound as a teen. But it hasn’t been until this summer that some of the more subtle aspects of long distance walking have been so clearly highlighted. Lessons that I have learned at other times in my life through various movement practices — namely yoga, marathon running (hard to believe there was once a runner inhabiting this 48 year old body!) and even the practice of Rolfing, seemed embedded into every step.
In plain terms, this summer I feel my body aging. As I set off along the Cornish coast, rather than commencing with a spring in my step and a whistle on my lips, I felt my bones, my muscles…my aches. In my mind, I heard my fear. My knee, broken 4 years ago in a flook running accident, connected to more recent hip tenderness which said ‘hello’ to the spinal surgery of 2 years ago. Quite frankly, I set off feeling broken.
Memories of darker times as well as brighter days threaded through my mind as I walked, clearing them out like cobwebs hidden in the depths of a forgotten closet. Memories, shined bright with the flame of yoga and a respect for the journey unfolding.
Like running, so much of travelling over distance by foot is in the mental attitude of the rambler. More than once I heard the conversations of fellow hikers; nervous that they would not be able to get down, or back up due to wearing the wrong shoes, the heat, or a bad knee. Many times the partner of the one with concerns were abrasive and harsh rather than patient and supportive. Of course it can be frustrating to have to be patient or encouraging with a nervous walking partner, but when that partner is yourself (which it always is), it is invaluable to stay with what’s good. A few words of praise and enthusiasm go a long way, whatever the path, whomever you’re with, because of, and in spite of, the fear. As with yoga, playing an instrument, or learning to cook, learning to understand what is in the realm of possible, and what is probably out of limits, is a part of the learned self-awareness. This year, I chose not to hang off rock faces, and my body helped me to understand that one full day of walking meant the next day would be more restful.
Any challenge, taken step by step with awareness and inner listening, prepares us for other challenges in life. They act as reminders of what is possible, when the path is allowed to emerge organically with a balance of effort and surrender; discipline and grace. More than once I smiled, feeling the presence of a divine design. The power of faith can never be underestimated.
Today I feel grateful for my body, with all its scars, experiences and yes, even pain. I’m happy to have eyes to see and ears to hear, and a heart that beats with all of the natural world.