This spring, the water in Murray Canyon* is higher and faster than I have ever seen it. Heavy rains have washed parts of the trail away. To reach Seven Sisters Waterfall you need to follow a trail that goes from one side of the creek to the other. This entails crossing the creek multiple times on rocks or forging through the cold water rushing down from snow capped mountains. Either way, over the rocks or through the creek, you need to pay attention to get from one side to the other safely.
Each time I walk up this canyon, I am thrilled by its grandeur: tall palms, huge boulders, and barrel cacti hanging onto rock cliffs. This year, however, I am afraid of falling between the rocks and annoyed at getting my new boots wet. I soon get accustomed to hiking in wet boots and cold feet and begin focusing on each step in the creek and on the rocky trail. However, as the brain is inclined to do, my mind wanders from wondering about what we will have for dinner to work needing my attention.
When I trip or fall, I notice that I have been lost in thought. Sometimes I just notice I am not present and bring my attention back to my steps, the rocks, the water, and the beauty in which I am walking. Over and over again I return my attention back to the present moment: this step, this breath.
This practice of returning is the same whether we are walking, writing a blog, talking with others, meditating or living a day. Notice when you are lost in thought or have an impulse to say or do something. It is the noticing, bringing ourselves back to the present moment, that enables us to choose where to put our foot, decide what we want to write, discern what we want to say or what we want to do.
Without returning to the present moment with awareness, we are driven by unexamined and mindless impulses of a wandering mind. We are safer and are likely to cause less harm to ourselves and others when we are in the present moment or bring ourselves back to it when we are not. My experience is that returning awareness to the present moment needs to occur over and over again in each minute, hour and day. When you practice returning, you develop new pathways in the brain making it easier to return and not get lost in thought in the first place.
* Murray Canyon is in the Indian Canyons of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians on the southern edge of Palm Springs.
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