In the last months I have been struggling with feelings of stress. Some of the ‘big questions’ have been popping up for me, and they keep my mind busy in moments when I could be finding rest. What is the meaning of my life? What is my place in this world? What is my purpose? These questions are bugging me for answers. So let them bug me.
Important as these questions are, they cannot really be answered. These types of existential questions are here to carry along. And so I did, this morning.
As I am writing this, I just returned from a long walk in the forest. It is autumn now, my favorite season. I love this season because it invites me to slow down and turn inwards. The days get steadily darker. The weather turns colder and I collect a few more layers of clothing around my body, separating me just a little bit more from the outside world. Other people tend to stay indoors more, creating more peace and calm on the normally busy streets of Amsterdam. By staying indoors, they invite me to come out. It’s the natural transition from the hussle from the summer to the slumber of the winter. And it’s the perfect moment to turn back onto myself. To catch a breath. To connect with myself.
I started my walk just after waking up, and my mind was all over the place. I was checking messages on my phone, felt annoyed with the sound of a car driving by, and was that a little stone in my shoe? Honestly, I was hardly experiencing the sensation of walking at all. And then, just as I entered the forest, a man walking the other direction greeted me with a big smile and attentive eyes.
Gravity. The feeling of my weight settling into my feet. The realization of how quick my steps had been.
Am I in a hurry to get anywhere? No, the path is the goal. I continue my walk, thankful for this brief encounter. But now, just a little bit slower. Just a little bit more mindful of my steps.
I look around me. The treetops have just a few leaves left and what remains is a stark yellow. Yellow, just like the path I am walking on. It’s a carpet of leaves. And as I feel the leaves crackle under my feet, I carry my existential questions along. As if holding hands with them, I cradle the questions in the somatic experience of my body.
Thoughts keep popping up. Did I respond to the message of this one friend already? When will I go climbing again? I should probably make a reservation with the gym right now. Oh shit, I think I just missed the sign for the route I wanted to follow today.
I turn my attention back unto the sounds of birds around me. I hear a woodpecker close by. The smell of pine fills the air. I stop to look in the direction of the sound. I feel something sharp in my chest. A part of me is asking for attention, and I place my hand close to the sensation. Trying to approach the feeling with soft curiosity. With presence. The feeling softens, as I give it some attention. I start walking again, mindful to keep my steps slow.
The sun is still low in the sky and some golden rays shine through the trees. I get out my phone to take a picture. The picture does not look anything like what my eyes are seeing. I see I received a message and my thumb moves to open it. Then I remember where I am. The feeling in my chest is sharper again. “Where is this attention you promised me?”. Right.
I feel my face relaxing further. My attention returns to my chest. The feeling reminds me of a little boy hiding under the covers in his bed. I imagine sitting on the edge of this bed. I am here for you. A hand appears from underneath the sheets. I hold the hand. There is no need to talk. Just presence.
I continue my walk, while mentally holding the boy’s hand. The sense of gravity hugging me to the earth increases. My mind clears just a little more again. I feel just a little more alive than when I started my walk. I feel a sense of freedom, as I take in the beautiful rays of sun and walk along my yellow carpet.
This is the essence of my questions. This is what it means to exist.
I slowed down.