I decided to add an occasional walk (working up to more frequent) in the park to my routine. Working out of the house, there are some days I don't get out of the house until late afternoon to run an errand or teach a fitness class, unless I have a scheduled business event. I figured it would be a good way to get motivated and energized for the day.
I drove over to the park (I suppose I could have run - but I quickly nixed that idea!), closed the top on my convertible since it looked like rain was a possibility and started walking briskly along the one mile path surrounding the main part of the park. There are some beautiful trails in the woods but those paths are reserved for days when I have a buddy with me for safety reasons.
My focus for my park adventure was to be more present in the moment and to practice that out in nature. As I walked about the park I noticed the variety of trees, the empty picnic tables, the tennis players, the sounds and the sights. Suddenly there was a shrill voice coming from the middle of the park off the trail. It was a woman speaking very loudly, like she was calling out to her missing dog. "Come here fella", I thought she said. Her monologue was consistent and purposeful, shaking the peacefulness of my mindful walk. She was carrying a plastic bag that swelled at the bottom. As she came closer I realized she was talking to the squirrels. She was wishing them a good morning and calling out to them with "hello's" and "come here guys" in a constant chatter. While she wandered with purpose she intermittently tossed something from her bag toward the animals. It must have been some kind of squirrel chow that included peanuts in the shell (I noticed some on the ground as I made my rounds on the trail). I laughed as I looked back at the path behind her and saw a half dozen squirrels munching away at whatever treat she had tossed. Maybe they were used to that voice calling out good morning to them, or maybe they just smelled food and came running. Whatever it was, she left a bunch of happy squirrels in her path. Her voice drifted away into the background as we moved farther and farther from each other, heading in opposite directions on different missions. I did run into her again as we converged near the other end of the park. This time I did not bristle in reaction to the sound of her voice, but was entertained by the squirrel whisperer and her trail of happy new friends.
As I walked, I realized that I had come to the park to be present and had fallen into the habit of looking only at the ground as I contemplated certain issues or situations silently in my head, checking for unevenness in the pavement or staying focused on all things low. Her voice made me look up from the path as I walked around and around the park. I stood up straighter and returned my focus to all of the beauty around me.
In yoga, we start our practice frequently in mountain pose - a simple standing pose to ground our feet into the earth, lift our hearts and open our chests. We can sometimes sink low in a pose, stare at the floor or forget to stand tall and look forward as we struggle in a pose. It is okay to look back occasionally to see where we have come from, to focus briefly on what we have accomplished (i.e. progress in a pose), but I encourage you to charge forward with conviction like the squirrel whisperer - moving forward and leaving a trail of happy people you have encountered along the way.