I hadn't expected my New Year's resolution to taunt me so early in the year, least of all not while gingerly picking my way through snow and ice and mud. But there it was: "BE PRESENT," my resolution all but shouted at me.

In my book, resolutions and goals are different animals. I like to think of goals as domesticated cats, you train them up as best you can, and at least sometimes, things fall into place and they manage to obey. (Or at least fool you into thinking they are.) Resolutions? Well, these are more like the feral cats you lure into your backyard with a can of cat food, keeping your body and breath still as they approach. You know that the slightest inadvertent movement is likely to send them scurrying away despite your best intentions, and so you think of ways to trick them into getting what you want.

I have a wheelbarrow load of 2016 goals related to health (mental and physical) and writing, but only two resolutions:

  • be more compassionate 
  • be present.

Another way to think of this is resolutions are mass nouns; goals, count nouns.

Incommensurate. Immeasurable versus measurable. Water versus rice.

Over the weekend, when the year was new enough to warrant diaper changing, I took two walks as steps toward two 2016 health goals. (Goal 3: Be out in nature 5 times a week; Goal 6: walk at least 2 miles every day...)

The beauty of Albuquerque winters is that in just a short drive one can go from walking along the Rio Grande in shirtsleeves to walking snow-packed trails in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains clad in fleece. When I got to Elena Gallegos Open Space, I asked the ranger whether the parking lot was full (having arrived there in the afternoon during the 'heat' of the day). His sardonic chuckle should have clued me as to what was to come.

I planned a short meandering walk to the Pino Trailhead bench, not a hike up the trail, and so left my hiking backpack at home. I hold the distinction of being the only Girl Scout at my summer camp to have chronicled my camper days in excruciating Thoreauvian detail, so it should come as no surprise that my pack contains not only a first aid kit, water, snacks, matches, emergency Mylar blankets, flares, a mirror and a whistle, and always at least one book of poetry and a notebook with several pens. Currently my pack holds Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, as well as local Albuquerque poet Liza Wolff-Francis's recent book Language of Crossing. (Goal 8 on my list for 2016 is to read more poetry -- this one is a twofer, listed under both mental health and writing.)

I didn't reckon on how quickly I would be forced to 'be present' as I left the paved part of the trail and stepped onto what looked like a slightly damp version of the dirt path I always trod, but was really mud with gravel sprinkles. As my foot slipped forward on the banana peel disguised as mud, I caught my balance (grateful for all of those tree asanas in 2015 that strengthened my core and balance -- Goal 4 last year was 'Do more yoga'), tightened up my spine and tensed up my anterior tibilias muscles as I stepped on more mud, glopping forward with each step in my waterproof vegan hiking boots.

One of the things I like about hiking is that it is a way of being meditative without having to sit still on a Humpty Dumpty ankle that rebels against Buddhist or yogic meditation poses held for more than several minutes. The rhythmic movement of alternating steps mimics familiar moves that happen on autopilot (think repetitions of Sun Salutations or driving home from work), the quiet of hiking by myself on a well-known trail allows for the inward turn to observe the parade of thoughts marching by, and the demand to attend to one's breathing as the trail climbs echo the familiar practices of meditation and stilling the monkey mind. (Mine mind is a barrel of monkeys, methinks.)

Walking on mud and ice and slush and snow obviates this meditative turn, replacing it with being very present in the moment. Watchful, even. (A different sort of meditative practice.)

No more is this painfully obvious when the person 50 feet in front of you on the trail plants her broken tree branch pole in the snow, steps forward, and pratfalls backside first on slushy mud! Fortunately, her laugh indicated that she and her sense of humor were unharmed. 

So there I was, attending attending attending to the present.

Hiking as chess match.

Step right onto the snow that might be covering a layer of mud or left onto the slush that may be blanketing a puddle of water? Turn around now since going uphill is doable, but going downhill as the temperature is dropping with the sun may be my undoing? Step off the trail entirely when fording the mudstream appears too daunting, or forge through the mud and test-drive the waterproof boots to see if the new duct-taped patch holds? (It did.)

But now a conundrum.

If playing good chess requires the ability to see deep into the board, what of this mode of being present? Can one really *be* present if the next few moves (hiking steps, in this case) are already manifesting in one's mind? And here I pause to note the challenge of figuring out just how does one reconcile claims about the present (this! right! now!) and the temporally extended present, which I will leave to the philosophers.

Agility of the mind and body: a little walk'll do ya...

Happy New Year, Fixers!


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Comment by JeSais on January 5, 2016 at 4:30pm

LOVE this post.... and this:  " Can one really *be* present if the next few moves (hiking steps, in this case) are already manifesting in one's mind?" makes my brain hurt... not unlike when I start to think about the time/space continuum.   What is present anyway?  


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