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Article ID: 11809

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Swimming the Sunlight: A Meditation on Hillwalking

Author: Alison Leigh Lilly
Posted: August 12th. 2007
Times Viewed: 5,148

I feel the wake of your coming. The slight swell riding the wind just beyond you, the current of your approach rippling in thick waves of sunlight and storm. We meet before we meet. We move the day, and the day gives way before us.

I walked a good hour through the woods before coming to my sitting rock. The more familiar paths, closest to the park entrance a few blocks from my apartment, are thick with undergrowth and brush. I know my way through them only after weeks of exploring, recalling this fallen log here or these protruding rocks and that tangle of hanging moss that veils the next turn. Now they feel almost too familiar, the closeness of the brush hiding the cars and houses only a few yards away, but not quite masking the noise of the city, which still rises above the trees.

And so, I moved deeper.

"Hillwalking" is a technique within modern Druidry and other Celtic Pagan traditions, a form of active meditation. To hillwalk is to allow the body to interact intuitively and directly with the surrounding natural world, to follow whims and currents within the landscape.

To move through the external, physical landscape of the woods, fields and hills as an interactive and revelatory form of exploring the internal landscape of the soul. Like the stillness of traditional meditation, the on-going movement of breath and body in hillwalking helps to blur the boundaries between form, spirit and space, transforming the perception of what was once opaque and solid into that which is fluid, interwoven and sacred.

Over the course of my hillwalking practice, I have developed a few techniques and guidelines for myself:

(1) Wear comfortable, practical clothes. This might seem obvious, but for a long time I had the romantic notion of gliding through the woods in flowing skirts, a mysterious and faery-like creature glimpsed by other hikers only out of the corner of the eye.

Delicate ritual wear may be appropriate and stimulating for quiet, personal ceremonies, but such clothes cause more distractions and snags out in the woods. Instead, wear something simple and comfortable, appropriate to the weather and the sun, that will let your skin breathe in the air of the natural world.

(2) Be prepared with simple things. Hillwalking can be strenuous and dangerous, but I have found it most beneficial when it is through an area in which I feel safe and familiar. Walking through the local park, I feel secure enough to bring only a cell phone (in silent mode, so as not to disturb me but there if I need it), a bit of drinking water and sometimes a snack bar or bit of trail mix.

Beyond practical preparation, mental preparation is also important--I may notice rain clouds and decide not to bring an umbrella, prepared to experience and embrace whatever the weather becomes. As usual, it is important to use common sense and avoid situations that can cause injury or illness.

(3) Know your limits. Don't be afraid to push yourself sometimes--take on that steep trail, turn down that intriguing path though you may not know where it leads, or stop for a moment and center yourself into a more intense focus and openness to your surroundings.

I have my own drives when I go hillwalking--I try to work up a bit of a sweat, I try to always find my way back without turning around and using the same trail to get home, and sometimes I use a simple fasting technique, putting off meals until I have returned from hillwalking. These techniques often wear away at and transform my ordinary consciousness, pushing me to delve more deeply into my personal reserves of endurance and ingenuity.

But it's important to know your own limits, and recognize when your body gives your signals of distress. Water, rest and turning back are sometimes necessary.

Deeper into the park, the woods opens up again, the paths are fewer and steeper along the northern side of the ravine, and the sound of the small stream at the bottom of the hillside is the only sound except for the occasional airplane overhead or the gently mercurial jingling of a dog collar, the murmur or call of the owner almost musical in the quiet air.

I walked for a good hour through this part of the woods, imagining how different it is from the urban and suburban landscapes I've grown so used to. In the city, all obstacles are opaque--the stark, bricked walls of tall buildings, the tinted glass windows of cars and restaurant windows, the rusted metal and dulled plastic of trash bins and street signs--but what seems to be a clear path, is. The streets and alleyways might curve sharply or end abruptly, but as long as you can see where you're going, you can usually get there.

The wood is different--its overlapping and intricate weave of branches and shadow, of stray spider webs and the silk or burrs of loose, drifting seeds. I kept to the narrow footpath along one ridge on the south-facing embankment, but my eyes, themselves like seeds released into the warm air, drifted among the trees, far away across the seemingly open spaces that live within the forest, unencumbered by the roots and twigs that would have snagged and snared my body.

So strange, I thought, to be in the kind of place where my eyes might travel where my body cannot follow. And for a moment, I felt a wave of vertigo, as you might feel on a high bridge, or when gazing up into the night sky--when obstacles themselves are those things which are invisible, and the urge to step out into space surges from the soles of your feet up along your spine and pools in that center of gravity just above your wayward eyes.

Here is the rock, jutting out precariously into space as the side of the ravine slopes down into the damp belly of the forest below. Here is the rock of my body, heavy with gravity. The fingers of the wind are on my waist, wrapping me with the sounds of birds and the scents of spring blossoms, playing me like a maypole, swaying me like a sapling.

Here are my palms, fingers gently spread and holding up the sky--the sunlight collects in the recesses of my body, hot dew seeping into my upturned palms with an aching burn, sliding down my temples, beaded like jewels along my collarbone.

Here is the rock of my body, heavy with sunlight. I open my eyes on a world of misted blue; I walk across the open spaces of the afternoon air, where my body cannot follow.

As I walked home, the city blocks felt transformed--the air no longer transparent and taken for granted, the hard obstacles of buildings and moving cars alive and buzzing like fragile hives.

With every movement, my sluggish and sun-soaked body seemed to lag behind, and in that brief moment between, spirit rippled forward to meet Spirit and broke gently, like a lapping wave, on the shore of the World.

Copyright: (c) 2007 Alison Shaffer (from material originally posted to Meadowsweet and Myrrh)


Alison Leigh Lilly

Location: Seattle, Washington


Author's Profile: To learn more about Alison Leigh Lilly - Click HERE

Bio: A young woman exploring the meandering path of Druidry through meditation, prayer, ritual, magic, poetry, philosophy and "wild wisdom."

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