Meditative Steps: Reconnecting with Earth and Essence
The overlapping motorbike horns were deafening as I made my way down the sidewalk, through the flower ladies squatting to cut stems and wilted leaves from the bouquets that spilled across their laps. The early morning haze from the rice fields burning near the northern border did little to dampen the flurry of activity as pho vendors set-up stools and hotplates while restaurateurs butchered the day’s delicacies near street gutters nearby.
My early morning walks around Trúc Bạc Lake were only one part of a larger weekend ritual. I'd pass by the Tai Chi folks who gathered like clockwork near the Hanoi heart sign and the fresh flowers lying across the John McCain memorial. After, I’d grab a bowl of pho and then a Vietnamese coffee in the Hanoi Cooking Centre ‘s courtyard with nón lá (leaf hat) lanterns blocking the sun’s rays overhead.
One Saturday morning, I skipped my regular visit to Chau Long Market where I enjoyed watching eels slither across the concrete and lobster swim in fresh water pools at the vendors’ feet. Instead, I headed to the Bookworm, an English bookstore, nestled in an alcove behind the Centre’s courtyard. It was there that I discovered a stack of used books piled on the bottom shelf. Their binding was worn from moisture, paper peeled back and half-hidden by a dried abandoned snail’s shell.
Crouched down in my best flower lady squat, I scraped the book spine with the jagged edge of my nail and read Thich Nhat Hahn’s words for the first time, “Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we must cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.” Reading those words in Peace in Every Step led me on a path toward reclamation, toward the recovery of my essence, and a new accountability for it. The art of meditative walking, as described by Hahn, invited me to reconnect to the earth, my body, to life force and flow.
Even with the bustle of an overflowing city unfolding around me, the art of walking, of observing brought me closer to real presence and expansion. Through the inner dialogue that ensued blossomed a knowing that has never left me since: to lose connection to earth was to lose my essence, leading to dis – ease and a life of living dead,“For one cannot exist without the other. Body and Mind are one.” This is the only way I know to live in full gratitude and awareness of the present moment. It is a practice that Hahn understood. As he is often quoted as saying, “The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life”. He, along with a select few, seemed to get the secret to living a soulful and robust life. It is a practice, and, as I hike the land I hold in stewardship, I’m practicing daily.
Meditative walking, as it’s described in Peace in Every Step, helped me find connection, rootedness, and gave me the ability to recognize that I was already home: “Breathing in, I have arrived. Breathing out, I am home” (Hahn). The truth is that we exist in holy communion with the earth – in each step, we have arrived home to nature, to ourselves. We are unified in our symbiosis and sacredness. Holding true reverence as we walk the earth honors this fellowship and the sacred within us. Attempts to illustrate this interconnected relationship seems inadequate, but what I do know is when I take my shoes off and my bare feet absorb the rich nutrients of the earth and sun's energy exchange, my inner being radiates vitality and light. I’m rejuvenated and ready to take on being in the world.
These days, I spend more time in nature. A seeker and explorer setting out to honor the sacredness of earth and the energies that inhabit it. Though society does not reward the impotence within us to re-wild or live slowly, we must to restore our connection to the earth’s medicine. It is almost an act of rebellion to live an intentional life that nourishes your soul. Trying to navigate a more conscious existence myself, I left a very secure and stable life in Texas to forge a new path in Colorado.
Though my life vibrates with more purpose, it’s been a road paved with uncertainty and doubt at times. Even so, during these times gratitude wells up in my chest, spreading warmth like a hot honeyed liquid, and the exhale that follows feels like it could fill the whole world. A dream manifesting into waking life so clearly connects people on the same wavelength, expanding and drawing people nearer to a heart-felt sense of synchronicity, especially when mutual purpose grounds them. This has been the case for my family as we come together to build and create the intentional life that we wish to live.
Being this close to nature – cool soil beneath my palms, I cannot help but be reminded by the motivation that brought me here to forge this new life. Hahn was right, “Freedom is not given to us by anyone.” We must practice presence daily to live free from suffering, to not be led by fear. We must dare to be brave, to choose the path that leads us back to our inner being, no matter how dark or uncertain the trek becomes.