Going beyond a walk in the woods is a way of being that opens you to guidance for your life. Walking in this way brings insight, awareness and deep beauty.

Consider Mother Nature as your teacher. Every time you walk out on the land, She offers gifts that are specifically tailored to you and your individual life circumstances. Most people are unschooled in recognizing and understanding these gifts. My time with Native American Elders helped me to comprehend more of the discoveries in Nature. I would like to share with you some of what I learned.

Before embarking on your walk pause at the entrance to the path and ask permission to enter. Imagine that you are visiting the home of a friend. You knock on the door or ring the bell to announce your presence and wait to see if you will be invited inside. It is the same in Nature. The difference is that you are about to enter the homes of many, many creatures. Taking the time to stop and ask for entrance does several things. It shifts your perspective to remembering that you are but a visitor here today. Pausing gives you a moment to transition from daily life to tuning in to your inner knowing. This moment gives you time to set an intention and lets the beings within the woods or land know that you are here, respectfully asking to share their space for a time.

There are many ways to do this; it can be as simple as thinking, “I would like permission to walk in the woods to experience the beauty contained here.” You can do this out loud or in your mind. I offer tobacco or corn meal because that is how I was taught to enter the woods. Each of these has the ability to hold energy or intention. I hold a small pinch of either in my hand while I pray or ask.

Now, you open your senses including your intuition or knowing. Listen for your response. Does it feel as if you are granted entrance?  If so, move forward on the path. I lay the tobacco or corn meal on the ground when I enter. Mother Earth is very welcoming in most instances, especially when you take the time to approach Her respectfully. I will caution you, there may be a rare occasion when you receive a denial to enter the woods. It is in your best interest to honor that “no” you felt or heard. It doesn’t mean you will never be able to journey there, it just means today is not a good day. I’m sure you’ve had times in your own life when entertaining visitors is best left for another day. In the many years I have walked out on the land there have only been two occasions when I got turned away. Don’t take it personally. It could be there is something happening during the time you are asking that is unsafe for you or the creatures there. Who knows? Try another location or another day. Honoring what you heard or felt about entering is part of learning to trust yourself and your inner guidance.

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Once you gain entrance walk as though your every step contains a prayer. This is what the Elders instructed me to do. Walking like this makes you mindful and fully present to what is taking place around you. Notice the landscape, the interplay of light and shadow. Listen to the song of the forest or the land. If you encounter wildlife stand still and gentle down your energy. Wait to see what they do. I always send a thought to the creatures that tells them I mean them no harm. If that is true for you too, the animal may even come closer. It may be that you are not ready to meet some of the wildlife. That’s okay; remember to include that in your asking and intention. A fear of bears is handled by including an aside in your request for entrance. Add something similar to, “Thank you for not meeting any bears today.”

Over the years I have experienced a multitude of amazing interactions. Often I will find a place and sit down. After a time the birds begin to sing again. If you are patient the animals start to go about their business. You may see creatures that are elusive when you sit still. I once saw a gray timber wolf simply by sitting still for a while.

Go with your instincts. Perhaps you feel the desire to lie down on the Earth. Try it! You might be surprised to feel an actual embrace. We are all Her children and an embrace from this Mother is nurturing and comforting. If there is a fork in the path take the one that calls to you. The one you chose is the right one for you. Trust yourself.

When you are ready to leave the woods, pause again where you entered. Offer a prayer or thought of gratitude. “Thank you for the walk upon the land and all of the gifts and beauty granted to me.” I include tobacco or corn meal in my gratitude. Now you are ready to return to your home. This is not the end if you are going beyond a walk in the woods. Recall the beings you met. At the beginning of this post I told you that Mother Nature custom-made your walk to suit you. Doing a bit of research on the wildlife that visited you will help you glean a deeper understanding of your walk in the woods.

In Native American teachings each critter in Nature carries specific attributes. Learning what those are will shed light on the gifts contained in your walk. There are many resources available for those of us who did not have Native American teachings in childhood. I recommend, “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews. He has complied understandings of different tribes into this manuscript. It is a good beginning. Taking the time to delve into Native American aspects of the creatures you came upon while on your walk will bring the insights, understandings and blessings specific to your life. You may even decide to write those things down. Keeping a “Going Beyond a Walk in the Woods” notebook can be illuminating.

I am always happy to hear your stories of such walks if you would like to share them with me. I wish you beauty and adventures on your new way of walking in the woods. Aho.

Author Shelly O'Connell

Shelly O’Connell, M.Div. is an author, artist and speaker engaging people in the discovery of their own Sacredness and wisdom. She has an extensive background in Native American Spirituality and women’s advocacy. Connect with Shelly for additional information at: www.shellyoconnell.com.

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  • GK Okuma

    Thank you for your article. I appreciate your challenge to the readers to mindfully engage with the world around us. Your ceremonious approach to entering Nature inspires instantaneous and, quite possibly, accidental respect which will inevitably influence other aspects of a human life. I am excited to practice this walking meditation on my next visit to my nearby Ma Nature…

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  • GK,
    I appreciate your comments. Thanks for taking time to offer them. I would love to hear how your application of the concepts played out on your walk! I do know as you practice them more is revealed to you. Looking forward to your sharing.