In this exercise, you will spend about ½ hour in one place giving your full attention to each of your senses, allowing each to shift naturally between sensing something specific and sensing more peripherally, before you then bring them all together.
I like to do this after I have found a fresh trail that I want to follow. I consider that the animal might be close so that I need to be at my sharpest. Sometimes it actually is close, in which case, it pays to be very still and keen. Many are familiar with this type of sense meditation: feel free to adapt it as you like. The important thing is to have full awareness while drawing zero attention to yourself. Later, we will move with awareness.
The “posture of attention” is actually dynamic. In fact, it is essential that it be fluid and flexible. Though this exercise asks you to remain in one place, feel free to move very slowly, to turn your head, stand, squat, and so forth. The principle for now is that less movement allows more feeling in the body of being attentive in the way that we must be when, later, we start moving on the trail.
Close your eyes, and take a moment to allow whatever is on your mind to drop away as it can. Open your eyes and take in the world. Include in your awareness all that is in the periphery of your vision. When you notice movement, allow your eyes to focus as they will on the source, and then return to a peripheral view.
After a few moments, do the same with your ears. Let all the sounds of the landscape come to your ears as a blanket of indistinguishable sound. Try it with your eyes closed. Give up for a moment any locational sense so that individual noises blend together, and you are surrounded by a symphony and a cacophony, letting the sounds of birdsong and traffic and wind and creaking trees combine. Then allow your ears to focus on particular sounds and to locate them. Hear those particulars, track them in space, and return again to the many noises of the overall landscape, going back and forth gradually from one to many to one again.
Turn to the experience of your body, feeling your whole skin and all your organs and whatever sensations are happening over the entirety of your physical self. Give your awareness to all of it, your feet and legs, belly and back, arms, head, all of it. Then notice sensation as it happens in particular places. When we are trailing, we need to be hyper-aware of the wind. Give it your attention now. Then return to other feelings in your body. Include your sense of how your feet are on the ground and what is required to stay in balance. Feel your whole body, then its parts.
After a time, notice the scents that come into your nose and how opening your mouth and taking air over your tongue may affect your sense of smell. Let the scents come in a wash. Then, like a sommelier with her nose buried in a glass of wine, untie the knot of scents that come in any overall smell, so that if you smell the shampoo from your shower this morning, you can pick out the floral part of it from the little bit that smells like diesel fuel or that can of old tennis balls.
Finally, bring all of your senses together, letting some take in their peripheral experience while others focus on particulars. Do this with the idea that the animal you are trailing may come into your awareness from where it moves very quietly in the shadows. Do it with the idea that your alertness may prevent you coming into a dangerous situation with a Grizzly or a Cougar. Remember playing hide-and-seek as a kid, hiding and not wanting to be caught, how alert you were to sound and movement? This is like that.
As you practice trailing, you will feel your body slot into this level of awareness as you move on the trail.
When you journal today’s trailing session, please note for each of your senses your experience with the shift between peripheral sensing and sensing something specific. Note as well any especially vivid sensory experiences that you had and which of your senses, if any, seems sleepy to you and in need of awakening.
© Nate Harvey, 2015