The forgotten value of sauntering.
Saunter: To wander or walk about idly in a leisurely manner. —Webster's Dictionary, 1913
Full disclosure: I admit to the following (anyone who knows me will read this with a jaundiced eye):
1. I have a basement filled with outdoor gear. Some have described it as "The Museum of the Evolution of Outdoor Recreation Equipment."
2. I have a reputation for being prone to "death marches." A former girlfriend once threatened to initiate a class-action lawsuit involving all those who had unwittingly joined me for a "modest" hike, only to realize hours later that the trailhead was nowhere in sight and the sun was setting.
3. I am generally not associated with new-age thinking—although the "competitive yoga" events they used to hold at the mall did sound intriguing, though oxymoronic.
Anyway, with those admissions out of the way, and if you're game for perhaps the most challenging outdoor activity you've ever engaged in, vámonos!
First, you're going to need the proper gear: sensible footwear, clothing appropriate for the season, and bear spray if you are in the same place bears may be sauntering.What you do not need: cell phone, field guides, GPS, GoPro, iPod, mountain bike, binoculars, skis, running shoes, friends, partner, dog, kids, a plan.
I think you get the point. This is not about gear. It's not about testing your physical prowess. Or positively identifying birds and flowers. Or lending an ear to a friend in need. And definitely not about capturing images for your next Instagram post. Unless you wear glasses, there should be nothing between your eyes and the surrounding landscape. And nothing in your ears to blot out the sounds of the universe. Though it may sound dreary to make a steady diet of solitude and silence, in small portions it can reveal great awareness—what some call "sacred presence." More on that later.
Just Do It
This is really about you. Okay, I said it. Label me selfish. Or a flake. But it's my opinion that we don’t take enough time to reflect on our own true nature and its place in the bigger scheme of things. The yogis (spiritual leaders, not picnic-basket-snatching bears) call it "self-awareness" or, hold on to your seat, "universal consciousness."
God knows it can be a challenge. Again, ask my friends if they associate me with walking idly in a "leisurely manner." But maybe it’s a sign of getting older, or wiser, or more spiritual (probably not the latter). I'd like to think that it's because I've become more adventurous. I mean, what is more adventurous than taking "a most fabulous journey inside your head," as the musician Anton Newcombe put it? That's the most wondrous element of sauntering.
Carrying It Out
As noted above, you don’t need no stinking plan. Maybe you had a bad day at work. Or an argument with a friend. Or made the mistake of watching the news. These are all perfect set-ups for a saunter. Even better, maybe you were feeling so good that you called in well and didn’t even go to work. Good day or bad day, every day is a perfect day for sauntering. Mainly because it's not about what is swirling outside of you. It's about discovering what's going on in you.
There are a number of ways to prep for a saunter: deep breathing, meditation, an Old Fashioned—whatever helps you ward off the petty tyrants that distract us from the here and now. Perhaps most important is making a pact with yourself that you will walk with humility, which is no small feat. But as C.S. Lewis said, "Humbleness is not thinking less about yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less." Humulis, the Latin origin of humble, means "of the ground." Walking with humility is being like the earth. That's a good mental place to start your journey.
Right up there with that daunting challenge is resisting the temptation to identify, compare, and judge everything that passes—flowers, birds, people. Appreciate, admire, even love, but don't get bogged down in them as objects; rather, focus on the miracles of being that they are. Intense awareness is rewarded with intense wonderment, even a hint of the mystical. And mystical experiences are never boring.
And finally, don't try to do any of the above. Trying can jinx the whole trip. Just quiet the mind, be receptive, and see what happens. You won't be disappointed. But you will be surprised. I guarantee it.
The Bozeman area offers a plethora of great sauntering opportunities. They range from your back yard to Peets Hill, the Bozeman Pond to Mount Baldy. They can be the very same places you have been to a hundred times before. But without electronics, misbehaving dogs, or your power-walking friend, they can take on a whole new reality.
Keep It Real
Saunterer extraordinaire Henry David Thoreau mused, "I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it to myself, than share a velvet cushion with others." But even Thoreau would sneak into town to hang out with his friends. I'm not advocating that you turn anti-social and quit hiking, skiing, biking, hunting, fishing, and hanging out with friends and family. But on occasion, when it feels right, say adiós amigos,and strike out solo for parts unknown, if even for just the amount of time you'd check Instagram. It will do you a world of good. And that will do the world good.
As Rumi, the Sufi mystic asked, "When will you begin that long journey into yourself?" Sauntering could be a good place to start.