When we are in a new city, or mountain valley, or country, we find it easy to reside in the present moment. Every detail around us is new and exciting. Foreign street corners speak in dreamy song; morning dew along our backcountry trail radiates a celestial presence so new, we mistake ourselves for being under a different sky. We are mesmerized – engulfed in each moment. We find the subtle beauty in those around us. Whether street vendors or pigeons or crashing waves, we eavesdrop as though opening our ears to prayer. When we travel, we do this naturally. Because we have set the intention to discover newness, whatever it may be. We put our expectations aside, and instead approach our wanderings with curiosity. We are outside of ourselves, interested in what every turn has to offer.
The mindfulness practice of aimless wandering is a way to bring these dreamy, traveling inspirations into one’s everyday life. In many forms of meditation, we place our attention on our inward experience, such as our breath or the sensations arising in our body. When we aimlessly wander, we usually move through space (although the practice can also be done sitting), and let our senses be the focus of our thoughts. We take things in, just as they are.
We connect with our inner child: naturally curious, inspired, unassuming, amused, and connected.
So why is aimless wandering a helpful practice, and how do you do it? Aimless wandering is helpful in that it grounds us in the present moment. It helps us appreciate the world around us, it slows our thoughts down, it gives us a break from anxiety, depression, worry, and stress, and by engaging our curiosity, we find ourselves naturally inspired. We may see a spike in our creativity, playfulness, and gratitude. And at the end of it all, we are guaranteed a different perspective.
There is practically no wrong way to aimlessly wander. Simply focus your attention on your senses, and explore! Take a walk. Pause to examine the things that catch your eye, your ears, or your sense of smell. Maybe you are pulled toward the swirly pattern of bark on the neighbor’s tree. Feels its texture! Let it remind you of something. Then let your thoughts go again, and keep wandering. Sit and watch the world when a bench or patch of grass calls your name. Step into a store you’ve never thought of exploring. Smell the smells. Pretend you just landed in this neighborhood from another planet, and you are seeing earth for the first time. What baffles you? What makes sense to you? What draws you in, and what repulses you? Be curious, and then let the thought go, and continue moving, without needing to draw any definitive conclusions.
Wander for ten minutes on your lunch break. Wander after work, knowing you’ll end up home eventually. Wander with the dog, an equally inquisitive companion. Wander alongside your partner and family, detaching and reattaching like seaweed in the rocking tide of your curiosities. At the end, share with each other. Or journal and paint what you felt. Or just continue your practice, perhaps sitting on your porch, watching the leaves quiver in the wind.
If you are interested in some of my wanderings check out Valparaiso, Unbound, collaborative prose published in Twine Magazine. This piece is a collection of writings by three women, including myself, and explores the wanderer’s paradise of Valparaiso, Chile.
Rachael is a writer and psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado. Her practice, Atacama Counseling, uses creativity, empowerment, and feminist psychology to explore issues of abortion, sexuality, and sexual empowerment. Through her writing Rachael enjoys merging grit and vibrancy to bring voice to the silenced corners of women’s experiences. She is currently working on her first novel, “Valparaiso, Barefoot”, about a girl’s struggle with depression, mania, and sexuality in Chile. Follow @rachaeluris on Twitter.