Taking a Mindful Walk


June 29, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Saturday morning I took a walk, for a class assignment in noticing things.

I noticed this guy, for example, venerating a leaf.

I noticed this guy, for example, venerating a leaf.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking a course in Mindfulness and Creativity. I was told to remember this was not a power walk – as if that were an option I had ever entertained.  I do have an app on my phone that maps my walk and does an approximate rendering of caloric intake (which feels like a coupon for a free dessert), so I turned that on, but I’ve never been one of those fast and focused walkers. Not like the ones I see going around Lake Calhoun in spandex and high rise Barbie ponytails, sometimes with weights in each arm.

“Amble, pause and explore,” we were told. Those are power words to me.  Though I am not really sure that I did quite enough ambling.

At Home with Tiger Lillies

At Home with Tiger Lillies

I begin on the street I had lived on for three years, in my friend Katherine’s condo.

Technically the “street” is an avenue, though to me that seems a grandiose description. I took a recorder, and talked to myself as I walked. It used to be that when you saw someone doing that in the city, you figured they were hearing voices; now it attracts little notice.

I take a good look at the façade of the building, the cluster of tiger lilies in front, the fur trees, one with some brown in the middle. There are benches out front, and last week while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up for breakfast I deadheaded all the peonies. Perhaps it was my imagination, but they seemed relieved.

I wonder again what those purple, bell-like flowers are called.


They look familiar. When I took what the kids came to know as my “prayer walks” when we were on vacation every summer up in Eagle Harbor, in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, I found myself eager to know the names of things:  the fir trees, the wild flowers, even the rocks on the beach:  greenstone, agate, quartz.

It occurs to me that I could take a picture.  I regularly forget I have a camera on my phone.  When I go home, I look the flower up. One I read the scientific name, Campanula – better known as Bellflower (duh) – I realize they are familiar because I have grown them in my own garden.  I knew the names of many perennials then. These names are more blocked than forgotten. I want that knowledge back.

I see more than one mulberry tree.


Hard to see the berries on this one. But they’re there.

It is difficult to know why people plant mulberries; they’re what my father would call a “dirty tree.” Birds love them; but birds rarely pick the branches clean; and they grow so fast it is difficult to keep them trimmed.  No one seems to harvest the berries, which are supposedly good for wine, and jam. The branches that hang over the sidewalk make a mess on the concrete, and if you’re not careful, you carry that mess in the tread of your shoes.

I pass the storefront where the old Butter Bakery was.

They’re over on Nicollet Avenue now and I’ve been there, but it’s just a little too sanitized for me. I like the feel of this one better, capping the end of my street, between Present Moment Herbs and Books and the soapy smell of the Laundromat. I peer inside at the mural no one sees anymore.

A section of the old Butter Bakery mural, seen from the outside.

A section of the old Butter Bakery mural, seen from the outside.

I have never browsed in the Present Moment. This needs to be done, but not now.

Oh Paula.  If not now, when?

I walk up toward 38th Street, intending to loop around by my old apartment.

The one I lived in as a graduate student, before I was married. The one I survived a tornado in with the man who would become my husband. When I first moved in with Katherine, I felt a wave of nostalgia, seeing that place so close. It represented new love and the last of my independence, all at the same time. It made me feel young, and almost like a student of things again, until I told Katherine about it, and when I lived there, and she said, “Yeah, I was three then.”

So much for feeling young again.

It is interesting, listening to the recording, how many sounds I did not notice when I was walking and talking.

The neighbor hammering on his porch. The backgrounded birds. The traffic noises that I filter out without realizing it. The airplanes.  As I continue, the recorder in my hand, my arms gravitate to my sides, and I forget to speak in its direction. Often I can hear my footsteps better than I can my own voice.

I suppose that means something, but I do not know what. Fortunately I do not have to create a story now. I just have to pay attention.



30 thoughts on “Taking a Mindful Walk

  1. frankregan17 says:

    I’m also taking a mindfulness course it is amazing how long a walk takes when you realise all the things there are to see and hear.


  2. Debbie H says:

    This is really lovely and peaceful. I’m also undertaking a project of trying to notice things and posting a photo each day of just ‘everyday’ things. Since starting this, some of my readers have said they too are taking the time to notice things around them as well – it’s nice to be able to think and see things instead of our normal running ragged through each day. Good luck!


    • Thank you, Deb. Given the week I had, and how long it has taken me to get to this post’s comments, I need all the luck I can get… And your photos ARE lovely. Such simple things, like squares on a floor, can bring such pleasure.


  3. Norah says:

    Thanks for taking me on a mindful walk around the neighbourhood. It is interesting the things one notices. I would need to be mindful for I am not very observant of “things” otherwise. I loved seeing the mulberry tree laden with berries. When I was a child there was a huge mulberry tree a few doors over from me and we were invited to feast upon the berries whenever we wished. We often filled bowls of the berries which my mother would bake into pies or make into jam. They were particularly delicious with ice cream. But you are right about carrying the stains away on shoes – we had mulberry stained everything. But we didn’t care! The treat was worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if mulberries have different degrees of sweetness to them in different climates. I thought perhaps the berries were too tart for eating, like the thimbleberries we’d see in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. They made great jam, but these days who finds time to make their own jam? So the berries drop to the ground. Perhaps people should put a kid’s swimming pool beneath them, take off their shoes and make mulberry wine….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Isn’t it the little things we discover that can sometimes be the most rewarding? A little shop here a beautiful garden there. I’m now going to go hunting around our village. Lovely post.


  5. woodbeez48 says:

    What a lovely idea to help your writing! It’s funny how much more you see when you walk. I love photography for this reason too but hardly ever take the time now to just walk and take photos. I should try that again soon :)


    • I actually felt a little guilty about the photo-taking. In the recording, I can hear myself saying – “now Paula, are you being mindful and noticing things for their own sake, or are you illustrating your blog post?” But I do understand what you mean, Julie. A ramble with a camera can be a lovely thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. daphnecybele says:

    That purple flower is a type of campanula. http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/475/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Judith Post says:

    I have a big, overgrown, perennial flower bed, along with a few smaller ones. I have an abiding love for daylilies and Asiatic lilies. They give so much and expect so little in return. Roses are fussier–but beautiful. My friends snub “ditch lilies,” but I admire them.


    • “Ditch lilies?” Well, heavens. I think your friends are missing the point. Personally I am far happier enjoying a garden that requires minimal care; the biggest issue I had was figuring out how to plan for year round color and interest. Even in winter, this can be done. I’ll let those with more time than I have tend to fussy beauties.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Judith Post says:

        I have both reblooming daylilies and “ditch” lilies, and I love them all. Like you, I want lots of beauty with minimum fuss. Plus, my ditch lilies survive when nothing else will. I have to give them credit for that. My gardens look pretty good from spring to frost, but never thought about winter. I hibernate, just like my flowers:)


  8. stuckinscared says:

    I really enjoyed your mindful walk Paula… you portray you experiences so vividly I could have been walking along beside you… I wish i had been :)

    I often forget that i have a camera in my phone, though am making an effort to remember lately, and actually, Iv’e been pleasantly surprised by some of the shots. Not quite up to the same standard as my camera delivers, but not bad… and of course, with pic monkey even the poorer shots can be bought up to an acceptable standard.

    The images above are gorgeous, Paula… I thoroughly enjoyed this post :) x


    • Thank you, Kimmie! A trip home or so ago, on the plane, I was pulling things out of my under the seat back, looking for a book or something, and accidentally left my camera in the seat. I’m very bad at going back to lost and founds, and when you lose something on a plane it seems especially hopeless anyway – who knows what lost and found it will end up in. So now all I have is my camera phone. But at least now I’m not always forgetting to bring the camera to special occasions.


  9. elainemansfield says:

    It’s reliable therapy. Take a walk and look carefully at what’s there rather than listening to the constant barrage of words and feelings cycling and recycling through my mind. I walked with a friend last week. The evening sky was luminous. He didn’t notice. I pointed it out. He glanced up and kept right on talking. I paused to look at Venus and Jupiter, but soon gave up. Meditative walks need to be taken alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that is very true. There are some friends you can walk quietly with, but they are few. Lately there’s been a movement to bring more exercise into the workplace, and people are now talking about “walking meetings.” Aargh! I am with Thoreau: I have no walks to throw away on company.


  10. jan says:

    You’ve inspired me to take a walk! Bless you!


  11. I like Elaine’s comment: It’s reliable therapy. :-) So true. I love walking, espcecially when I’m truly “there” and paying attention to everything around me. Great post.


    • One of our class readings was from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, from her section on Walks. I skipped it at the time, because I’ve read and reread Cameron, and I thought I’d gleaned all I needed. But later I came back to it, and found this:

      Cameron quotation


      • elainemansfield says:

        Thank you for the Artist’s Way quote, Paula. I read that book more than ten years ago, but of course didn’t remember this essential point. If I paid more attention, I wouldn’t have to learn everything the long hard way.


  12. Mary Rowen says:

    Beautiful post, Paula. I walk with my pooch every day, but hardly ever pay attention to what’s around me, preferring to “space out” most of the time. Here’s hoping I can be more mindful today!


  13. Ruebi @ LHB says:

    A great post to remind us to pay more attention to the world around us and to just be in the moment (something I forget to do…Alot! Bit of a daydreamer). Loved seeing your photos too!


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