“What impact do you wish to have on the world?”
The only other instructions were:
(1) be by yourself, and
(2) see if nature tells you anything.
I’ve written here how I came to understand, through this exercise, that how I walk is indeed how I live, and also how two words came to me that sum up the impact I want to have on the world.
An unstructured walk in the woods
This retreat was held in a very peaceful setting in the southeastern United States. A combination of farmland, ponds, prairies, and woods. You really had a variety of options in terms of where to “go outside”.
I just started walking. But where was I heading? Was I going to sit down somewhere to ponder the question I’d been asked, or just walk the whole time? Would I walk briskly or leisurely. And then it started to hit me. This little 40-minute assignment was very similar to life itself. Not too many instructions. Just go out and “be”. How unstructured!
Very similar to life: not too many instructions, just go out and “be”
Not knowing how this was all going to shake out, I just kept walking, putting one foot in front of the other and noticing the direction I seemed to be taking as I did that. It felt like my feet just knew what to do without me having to think about it. It was liberating, and also interesting to watch. Where would my feet lead me next?
My feet knew what to do—it was liberating and interesting to watch
I ended up walking in a grassy, long, fenced-in area. I remember thinking that I couldn’t see to the end, and didn’t know if there was a gate through which I could exit if I kept walking in the same direction. I noticed that the curiosity I had for continuing in that direction was greater than any stress I was feeling about not knowing what I’d do if there weren’t a gate at the end. Turns out there wasn’t a gate, so I jumped the fence and kept walking. No biggie.
Then I found an empty bench in the middle of the woods (yes, this was a pretty neat place where we had the retreat—let me know if you’d like to know where it is). Seemed perfect to sit down and “consider” the question we’d been posed, so I did.
Not sure what was appealing about it, but I wanted to go there next
After a little while, still sitting down on the bench, I noticed in the distance an area that seemed to be a clearing in the woods. Something about it was appealing to me. Not sure what it was, but I felt like I wanted to go there next.
There didn’t seem to be an obvious path to get to the clearing. In fact, it was basically wild brush, waist-high, all the way there.
I decided to get closer and, little by little, the steps I needed to take to get through the brush and to the clearing became apparent. By simply heading in that direction, the path I wanted to take basically “lit up” for me.
The path “lit up” for me and I was exactly where I needed to be
As I took each step, I was aware of where I was, where I was headed, and how it felt. I just stepped carefully and deliberately, and stopped whenever I felt I needed to. No rush.
When I finally got to the clearing, it took me a minute, but then I experienced a very clear awareness about where I had just come from and where I now was, and realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. And then the two words came to me:
That’s what this clearing represented to me. It made me feel welcome. Like all the steps I’ve taken before arriving at this spot have naturally led me there, and I was was exactly where I was meant to be. I realized that I want to be just that in the world: a welcoming presence. That’s the impact I want to have.
My main point for this post is that sometimes the way we approach a seemingly simple, limited-scope activity can reflect how we approach life in general. And if we notice how we experience that limited activity, especially if it works well for us, we could give ourselves valuable insight into how we might want to also experience life in general.
How we experience a limited activity may be how we experience life in general
For me, that walk in the woods served as a valuable reminder that I rather enjoy not having it all figured out before I start walking. I don’t need to plan it all out. I value improvisation. The curiosity of seeing “where my feet will lead me” outweighs the stress of not knowing where that will be. The walk reminded me that if I trust, I’ll end up exactly where I need to be. I just have to try to enjoy the stroll.
And as a bonus, I got some clarity on the type of impact I want to make on the world. Certainly being a coach aligns nicely with being a “welcoming presence” for clients, so that was welcome confirmation that I’m on the path that’s right for me.
I’d love to hear what has become more clear for you after taking a walk—in the woods, in the park, on the beach, downtown, or anywhere else.