I made a decision to put on my hiking boots that day. I deliberately pushed aside my muddy running shoes and consciously chose to slow down.
Once in the woods, it was as if the forest had been bedded down for a long winter’s nap. Almost as if a switch had been flipped on the solstice, marking bedtime. Starkly contrasting with the busy transition of fall just a short month ago when the trees clung to their leaves and the air was thick with chirps and croaks of critters nearby, on this day the silence was palpable. Deafening, really. Max and I made our way gingerly through the sleeping woods taking care not to disturb the nappers. Walking more lightly and keeping conversation to a minimum. (Yes, Max is a dog and yes, we do talk. Just not then.)
In the bareness of winter, I see things in the woods I never see in the spring and summer. The clear architecture of exposed branches. Homes and nests long since abandoned. A small creek, now swollen and noisy. As I walked along the trail, I was overwhelmed with reminders of how good it is to slow down and pay attention.
The next day, my hiking boots were swapped for the muddy running shoes. I love the way running expands my breath deep into my lungs in a way no other exercise does. I wanted to move faster, to breathe more deeply. I wondered if I could pick up my pace and still pay attention? At the trailhead, I leaned forward and began to run. “Eyes wide open,” I told myself as I navigated my way around and over mud and rocks that I had effortlessly passed through in my boots the day before. I softened my gaze and fell into the rhythm of my breath. Yes, it was harder to notice the trees around me but nowhere near the impossible task I had imagined. My time in the woods this day was an exercise of balancing ease and effort, eyes wide open, seeing clearly even as I moved more quickly.
Today marks the final day of a week-long vacation from my job as a yoga teacher. As many of us know, it’s not hard to slow down and catch your breath when the demands on your time are reduced. I spent my week gazing at our Christmas tree, exercising, laughing with friends, hanging with my family, cooking good food and sleeping in. Fully indulging in soul food, paying attention to things typically overlooked. I know that Monday will bring me back to my full week of teaching and life will get busy again, kids back in school, carpooling to gym, juggling schedules. It will be all too easy to get swept up in the busyness of life and swept away with a current that was not of my choosing.
So this time, I choose differently. In the spirit of winter, this season of slowing down, of looking inward and resting in preparation for the burst of growth that is sure to come, I will pay attention. As my classes undoubtedly swell with newly-resolute yogis this month, I will truly see each and every one of them and pay attention. “Eyes wide open,” I remind myself as the pace of everyday life quickens. Taking time each day to be as still as the slumbering forest, conserving energy as necessary.
And then once again falling into the rhythm of my breath, balancing ease and effort, paying attention, seeing clearly.