I have written in the past regarding the difficulties I have had “staying present” to the trail. My mind would get stuck in some endless loop of worries, narratives, thoughts and concerns that often pulled me away from my time in the wilderness. I would be lost in some past experience or future anxiety; my thoughts raced everywhere but on the trail itself. My 2016 trip had some of that, but much less than the past. My daily practice of meditation has quieted (but not tamed) the wild beast.
Part of my practice on this trip was to deliberately take time in the morning to practice lovingkindness meditation, something I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living describes the practice
To practice lovingkindness meditation, we begin with awareness of our breathing. Then we consciously invite feelings of love and kindness towards ourselves to arise, perhaps remembering a moment when we felt completely seen and accepted by another human being and inviting those feelings of kindness and love to re-emerge. . . . Then perhaps saying inwardly to ourselves simple phrases that you can make up yourself, “May I be free from inner and outer harm, may I be healthy.” After a time we can then go on, if we care to, to invoke someone else, perhaps a person we are close to and care deeply about. We can hold the person in our heart as we wish the person well: “May she (he) be happy, may she (he) experience love and joy.” In the same vein we may then include others we know and love. (page 214-215).
I see this as a form of intercessor prayer and have adapted it to my own meditation practice. On the trail each morning, I would invest time reciting the following prayer, starting with myself,
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be strong and alert.
May I be filled with the Holy Spirit.
I then expanded the prayer to my family and to those I know. As the hike went on, my circle of names grew wider and wider: the thru-hikers I met, the trail crews clearing trail, the National Forest administrators and staff. Often I ended including the whole creation.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:7-13
Each morning, after my time of prayer, I discovered that I was centered and at peace. I could actually be present on the trail through the rest of the day.
What forms of prayer bring you peace?