Gathering Life As I Go

My life now is different than it was a year ago. I moved during the pandemic; settled into a new place closer to work and surrounded in three directions by wooded hills. When I agreed to take the apartment I did not know how much I needed to be right where I landed.

I’ve spent most of the summer break here in my new home. Aside from a couple of getaway weeks in July, I’ve hunkered down comfortably in Neuwaldegg (the name of our neighborhood, pronounced NOY-Vahld-egg). To my delight I’ve found a new rhythm of movement that has helped me find a top-to-bottom joy I wasn’t sure was still possible.

Gathering life as I go

I wake up, drink water, put on my running stuff. Think
to myself what the route should be.
Schafberg, Heuberg, Exelberg, Hameau?
In any case, all routes will lead uphill.
Sometimes there's a stretch on the sidewalk before 
I can turn off and reach a trail. 
Other times, it's a walk along the periphery 
of small garden homes, now refashioned into pricey
real estate bordering on the Vienna woods. 
Houses on hillsides, a few with ridiculous views
overlooking the city.
I walk through these spaces on my way to the trails
that criss-cross these hills.
At the start I sought out marked paths,
keeping my eyes peeled for stripes on trees:
white-yellow-white, white-green-white, white-blue-white.
By now I have a handle on which trails lead where.
Each trek takes me a bit farther afield, not just up the hill 
but also down and around
until I circle back another way.
I try out the occasional unmarked trail 
and note how it links up with my familiar route.

I begin with the long walk,
pausing where I please, listening
lending my ear to the birds, bees and 
all the other life gathering itself.
I look up at trees
even though I can barely call them by name
I thank them for their shade,
I salute their resilience and adaptability.
I can hardly imagine how tired they must be 
of humans.
The paths are varied: combinations of rock, mud, roots,
gravel and packed leaves.
Weather adds variety: soggy, slippery 
after last night's rain;
parched and cracked following three days' 
baking in the sun.
I note these details as I go,
measuring changes that sharpen my sense
of scale and belonging.

While I walk, I let my mind wander.
Ideas get tossed up.
some stick 
in my mind;
others follow that dragonfly or catch me up
before I trip. I'm open to what comes
lingers and fades. 
these moments feel expansive
I savor my aloneness, the quiet, a peace.
There are few others out and about
so far, a couple of mountain bikers,
walkers, with dogs and without; runners. 
We greet each other and keep it moving.
I'm glad not to share
I am relieved of any shame
of being too slow
or too fast;
of going too far,
not far enough.
Every day I can make up my own pace;
determine my own course,
change my mind
as often as I like.
I'm giving myself this gift 
and I always make sure to receive it.

At some point it's time to turn around,
to head back to where I came from.
The route may be the same way
or the other half of a loop.
It's usually a descent
so I jog.
And as I jog I complete this puzzle 
of a gazillion micro decisions about where
to place each foot
to leap the puddle, clear the roots,
to dodge the brush, hurdle the log.
On my way down I feed my brain. 
Eyes are on high alert, 
ears attuned for potential scare.
As trails become my friends 
I can anticipate their tricky curves 
and slippery rocks.
I know I can't afford injury
so there's caution and daring accompanying
my every step.
When I work my way back to solid ground,
to forest drive, the sidewalk home
my pace is steady and pushing it
just enough
to know it's working;
I am accumulating a new sense
of self and place. 

I reach the entrance to my building
a sweaty mess and proud.
This is what it means to hit my stride.

The Uphill Climb Toward Mindfulness

Would that it were this easy.  (photo: omourya via
Would that it were this easy.   (photo: omourya via

One of my latest personal ambitions involves developing greater mindfulness in my day-to-day. There are thousands of resources out there – books, articles, blogs, groups, institutes, workshops – you name it – all of them eager to get each of us that much closer to being fully grounded in our earthly existence. Which, I will admit, can quickly sound esoteric to even the most receptive ears.

The options in pursuit of mindfulness are several but essentially all forms of mindfulness training involve practicing some type of meditation whether it is called that or not. What I am finding in my beginner’s state is that my opportunities to practice being fully present and alert are numerous and my capacity to focus and initiate that practice is remarkably weak and underdeveloped.

Here are some examples:

When was the last time you ate this way: Chewing each mouthful fully and swallowing before preparing the next bite? Try it. It’s harder than it sounds. Typically when we eat, we have tons more going on, even if it’s only thoughts in our heads. And we tend to eat on a sort of autopilot – we may taste our food but rarely do out thoughts linger there. One mouthful follows the next and in a flash we’re done and marvel at where it all went.
Try eating differently; mindfully.
Take a bite. Taste it completely. Notice the flavors, texture, how it feels in your mouth. Swallow. Only now prepare the next bite. Repeat the process.

In my brief experience, when I try this I usually make it through perhaps two bites in a row before my regular thoughts highjack the process and I’m back to shoveling in food without registering what I am doing.  It’s amazing how often I need to call myself back to the practice. Yet even that, the practice of calling myself back to the practice, is itself a practice. (Welcome, esoteric voiceover…)

Walking or jogging
Getting outside to walk or jog would seem to offer another chance to develop this new habit. I used to run competitively and my recreational, just-trying-to-stay-trim running therefore tends to be freighted with more baggage than necessary. What a golden opportunity to strive for groundedness!
For several strides I can focus on my even and relaxed breathing- in and out, in and out, and before you (and I) know it, I am despairing my lackluster effort, cursing my less than helpful nutritional habits of late…even as I keep the same steady pace.

I see and appreciate that my road to mindful living will likely be a steep uphill climb at this stage. Effortful, humbling, and elusive are the words I associate with the process right now. And if I understand the underlying premise of mindfulness training, right now is the only time of any relevance.
Right now is the only time we can change anything.

Guess I’ll go chew on that thought for a while.