A Mindful Walk on Nature

The end of September is a tricky time of the year in the Washington DC area. It might rain, be cold or sunny. I guess it is all part of the magic of Fall.

I was blessed the last weekend of September. I had my kids with me and the weather was on the 70’s. Perfect weather to get out.

I usually engage them in an outdoor activity. I gave them several options: biking the Crescent Trail, hiking the Sugarloaf Mountain or hiking around Clopper Lake. I knew they were going to choose Clopper Lake because it is closer to our home, about 5 minutes away by car. It is an awesome place to hike if you live in the Gaithersburg area. You can walk around the lake, which is about 3.5 miles. You can breath nature, touch nature, smell nature, … reconnect. In other words enjoy a mindful walk.

I parked near the eastern part of the lake and we all walked down to meet the Lake Shore Trail. Immediately Titi took the lead. After few minutes he stopped and looked near a rock. He saw a small creature. I’m not sure about what he exactly was looking at. I was happy he was just exploring. I loved it. I didn’t need to say anything. Their attention became focussed on their surroundings. Their sensory system activated. There was nothing to do but walk and play with whatever they found on the path.

These were some conscious activities that arouse naturally from the two hour hike that I wanted to record, that I might used in future hikes, and that might inspire other parents. Here they are:

1) Look for animal saliva in trees

It sound gross, but is was fun. We looked at the trees cut by beavers and we dare to touch the saliva in the trunk. It was a great opportunity to talk about beavers. We discussed about where they might live, if they swim or not, and how stinky the saliva was compared to other salivas.

2) Estimate beaver bytes from diameter of trees

It was an interesting idea that came from my 7 year all daughter. We started looking at trees and imaging how many bites a beaver had to take to bring the tree down. We looked at a 40 inch tree, and she said: Well.. is like 100 bites. The we looked at a 10 inch tree and she said: I think is like 10 bites.

I was not sure about the efficiency of the beavers, but I think we were not that far away from reality. The point to be made is that it was fun and allowed us to talk about math concepts.

3) Challenge to remain silence

The rule was that nobody can talk. Just walk. We lasted like 10 minutes. It was an interesting exercise to control yourself. I know it is a common practice in mediation retreats where people can’t talk for days. I lost the challenge when I spoke to correct their direction. They were going the wrong way. They were 20 ft in from of me. I had to break the spell by saying Kids go the other way! Next time I will think about getting their attention in a different manner.

3) Try to bend a branch slowly without braking it

This action requires connecting the branch with your heart and feel when it is about to break and stop. It is a very mindful act since you need to concentrate on the pressure of your fingers and fill the branch folding in your hands. Your eyes connect to the branch and to your feelings foreseeing any possible rupture. We broke several of them. What worked best for us was bending and relaxing several times while each time bending a little bit more.

4) Talking, hugging and high fiving trees

This also sounds silly, but it was fun. Specially, my girl does it in a very natural way. For my boys it was a little bit harder. We said: Hi tree how are you? Thank you for being here and cleaning the air that we breath, for making shade, for making this place so beautiful. Then we hug the tree or just high five it. We also respectfully said Bye Tree.

5) Look for turtles or other cool animals

Walking trying to spot animals is great, because you center your attention in an idea. I think it helps thinking of a positive idea and projecting a specific outcome. Something that’s what we need to do more in our lives. Feel the outcome of what you desire. We are going to see a turtle, it is just a matter of time. Almost at the end of our trip, we spot some turtles and took a video of one of them swimming. If you have never seen turtle swimming, here you go:

I recently was in a yoga class, where the teacher was talking about abundance. And she mentioned one idea that made me ponder:

What do you have, that money can’t buy? What is so precious that it will be very hard to put a value on it?

I responded internally in my half lotus position:

Having three kids, hiking in a beautiful lake with them, living in such an awesome safe place like Gaithersburg, and all of us having the health condition to hike for two hours.

Maybe the acts of mindfulness lead to acts of gratitude!


Stop and Listen, the Path Will Show You the Way

On July 2018 I was in Tucson attending a meeting. Hot Tucson. Very hot. My flight comming back was at 11 AM on Saturday. I decided to go for a hike before my flight. There are lots of place to hike in Tucson. Tucson is in proximity to two national parks and is surrounded by five mountain ranges. It reminds me of the beautiful Bogota, where I grew up. In Bogota you can experience sunrises magically appearing behind the Cordillera of the Andes mountain range.

I head early to the hiking trail because of my early flight and the weather. At 9 AM it was supposed to be 97 °F. I woke up at 5 AM and arrived to Ventana Canyon Trailhead at sunrise. The Uber left me in the parking lot of the Lowes Hotel, a cool resort in the area. I had no map and no idea of where I was going. The night before my friend Michelle told me that Ventana Canyon Trailhead was the easiest to get in and the easiest to get an Uber to drive me back to the hotel. I just listened to what Michelle told me and I followed.

When I got off the Uber, another hiker was approaching at the end of the parking lot. A nice lady named Laura. We clicked and in seconds we became hiking partners. We both had two hours. She had a map and she was an experience hiker. I followed her. We had a nice conversation about our work, our kids and nature. I just followed.

I haven’t seen so many cactuses in my life. The climbs were steep. I think we went up 1000 ft. It had rained in the past days and the trail was not very clear.

We had to guess in several occasions the best path to take. We finally got to the top of the hill. We experienced beautiful views. The air cleared out. We felt the breeze clearing our thoughts and mind. A sense of bliss.

There are nature water pools in this trail but we never made it to the them. I think we were 5-10 min away from the first pool, where hikers can relax and can get a nice refreshing bath.


Getting lost took some of our time, We had to get back, but we had no idea how. We explored several possible paths but we continued getting stuck by a fence of cactus or deep cliffs.  After 10 minutes we saw another hiker coming. We went up and got on the path he was using to get towards us.

We had a brief chat. We told him how we have been trying to get back for a while, the steep conditions of the trail, the hot weather, the pools that we will not be able to meet…
In the middle of our conversation he said one thing that stuck with me:

If you are lost, stop and listen, the path will show you the way.

Sounds weird. Very weird. But if you think about it, it sort of makes a lot of sense. And, it is not a the trail issue, it is a life issue.

We followed his advice. After 10 minutes of heading back we got to another confusing path block. It was a very rocky place. We didn’t remember passing through this intersection. Huge rocks where in front of us inviting us to slide down over their rough surface.

We said, “OK, let’s practice”. We took a deep breath, closed our eyes for 20-30 seconds. Like breathing when doing mediation, but standing up. We opened our eyes again. We looked around and smiled. The trail was hidden behind some bushes. We continued our way back. I got on time for my flight coming back and Laura got on time to have breakfast with her husband. Happy Ending!

Finding our way with a mindful attitude is what I remember most of this trip. This goes back to the idea of being connected with our surroundings, specially when we are surrounded by nature, by the pure greatness of creation.

I think the practice of stopping an listening doesn’t only applies in a hiking path lost situation, but possibly in every situation in our life. We need to stop, reset our thoughts, our emotions, and what worries us more.

Let it go, breath it out, surrender and listen.