The Benefits of Wandering

forest bare

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”

― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

At the school where I teach, the idea of wandering is instilled early on in the kids we teach. In part, it honors one of our mentors known as Grandfather Stalking Wolf. Stalking Wolf was an Apache scout and the person who mentored the famous tracker/writer/teacher Tom Brown Jr., and who himself wandered the Americas for 63 years seeking knowledge.

The other part is that when you have the mindset of a wanderer, you learn intuitively, through your own experiences, that the earth is friendly and supportive. There are two schools of thought about wilderness survival. The first is fear-based and, in my opinion, takes Stalking Wolf’s philosophy and throws it out the window. It teaches that nature is out to get us and is a dangerous place and that we have to somehow “survive it.” Our idea is quite the opposite and I get positive feedback all the time from folks that once saw it as “scary and uninviting.”

So, understandably, nature and wild places can be scary to people who are unfamiliar. The practice of wandering starts to break down that fear and let’s the wanderers learn for themselves that the fear is almost entirely an illusion. Sure, you can step in a hornet’s nest, fall off a cliff, and even get attacked by a wild animal if you’re not aware of your surroundings, but as I explain to the kids and adults I teach, they have lived through the biggest danger just by arriving safely to class in their cars.

They are a million times more likely to get injured or killed by doing something they do several times a day, day after day . . . driving. Nature is safe folks! Most people are transformed by this simple exercise, especially the youngsters who don’t have a lot of preconceived beliefs. It gives many people a different experience because most of us are used to rules, deadlines, and all sorts of limits on where we go and what we do and say. It’s very simple and you can pretty much do it anywhere. It’s called intuitive wandering and here’s how it works.

Go to your favorite spot and instead of having a plan, just settle into the moment. What do you see, smell and hear? Now, what is calling? Which direction are you being pulled? You see, we are so used to using our minds to direct us that it’s completely natural, or so we think, to follow a path, read a sign or follow any other directions.

We were doing this once as a group and one lady wandered off and came back with a great story. She followed her intuition and it led her right to a tree that had an old cable wrapped around it. The cable was choking the tree. The class was amazed by this but I can tell you that it’s happened to me many times. Just let your ideas go and see where your body wants to go. It’s actually really fun and people always seem to discover something interesting.

As you practice more and more, you realize that, while following your intuition and just wandering, you become more aware of everything. You tend to walk more slowly because it’s new and foreign. You have to negotiate things like fallen trees, creeks, bushes and other things and it makes you pay attention. People have described it like a meditation where their senses are heightened. They see more, hear more and smell more. Something instinctual appears and after we knock the dust off our new found sense, we realize that it’s a real part of us that has always been there. It takes focus, courage and trust but it will enhance your experience of life and the life around you. Try it anywhere and see what happens. Oh, by the way, we cut the cable off that tree and everyone felt a sense of relief and joy—especially the tree.

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