Getting your mind right can do wonders for a hike, and for your perspective on all the stuff you’re hiking to get away from. I always sorta suspected as much, but I found just how true it is this morning on a hike at the park across the road.

Hiking and going with the flow

This insight actually germinated last week, when an editing assignment introduced me to two concepts familiar to yoga fans: flow and mindfulness. Flow is central to yoga — all that oneness with the universe and such. Setting out from the trailhead gets us into a natural flow without our even noticing it — trees, birds, breezes and such remind us we’re all paddlers in a river called life. Getting your flow on is the prerequisite to becoming “mindful,” which basically means being in the moment, paying attention to everything that’s happening and accepting it: no snap judgments, just taking life as it comes.

Doesn’t this always naturally on a hike? Sure, but it’s the exception, not the rule. How far down the trail are you before you’re thinking about how everybody seems intent on driving you barking mad? And how many times have you overheard passing hikers talking fervently about their careers or political preoccupations?

Hiking is a great way to work things out — I always come home with a headful of ideas for saving the world or shaking loose a few bucks. But I never gave much thought to my mental state. I just did whatever came naturally.

Which brings us to this morning: Instead of fretting my hike away, I made a concerted effort to focus only the moment and shut out all distractions. Within seconds I heard a bunch of bird songs I hadn’t noticed before. I began to notice the stress seeming to drain out via my fingertips. It became far easier to concentrate on the physical act of walking in the woods.

My editing assignment was an article to help personal trainers use mindfulness and flow to get gym clients more focused on their workouts and less diverted by distractions. The idea is that when you’re on your 13th rep and your biceps are burning like hell, it’s useful to think of nothing beyond listening to your body’s exhaustion signals and finishing the 14th rep.

But as with everything yoga-inspired, flow and mindfulness are universal, and universally beneficial. I say that now because within minutes of my mindfulness experiment, I had one of those lightning bolts of insight that I really needed six months ago.

The insight was this: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life lashed to this computer keyboard. Half my life is plenty. Humans evolved to walk upright in a wild setting. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.

A few weeks back I read a delightful diatribe by a guy who calls himself Johnny B. Truant who charged his readers with a simple challenge: get out in the world and do epic shit. Well, my idea of getting epic is figuring out how to get people to pay me to hike.

I even tagged myself Hiker for Hire on my homepage and penned a piece called Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Hiker. I figure people have personal trainers, so why can’t they have personal hikers? If that doesn’t pan out I’ll move on to something else.

So now my business has a goal beyond paying for groceries. It’s to get me to a place where my office moves from down the hall to down the trail.

Mainly all I really want is to be able to help people get to that place I arrived at this morning, where 30 seconds of concentration on nothing beyond the experience of being in the woods becomes a catalyst for helping figure out what we want from life. Worth a try, wouldn’t you say?