I had a rare moment recently. I had a day with no clients, no meetings, and my kids were busy doing summer activities. I had a day to myself and was determined to do something for myself, so I took my dog, Jane, on a walk. One of my favorite places in the entire world is the Richland Creek Greenway, and it is literally in my backyard. So, I put Jane on her leash and off we went.
It was a beautiful day, and I was trying my hardest to appreciate it, but all I kept thinking about were the reports I needed to write, the appointments I needed to reschedule and the events I needed to get my kids to on time. It was starting to be a bust. Instead of enjoying this walk I was taking for myself, I was thinking about the time it was taking away from other things I should have been doing. I started to feel anxious.
Being aware, I caught myself thinking about my negative thinking, so I started to become still or at least brought my mind to stillness. I started to listen to the sounds around me. I heard a bird chirp and the crackle of a branch as a squirrel shimmied along. I smelled the soft scent of honeysuckle and the perfume of the woman walking by. I looked at the cottony clouds in the sky and really noticed the cerulean blue of the sky that particular day. I heard the swish of my shorts as I felt my feet touch the sidewalk and the wind softly caress my face and bare skin as I walked on.
I started to feel a lightness that I hadn’t experienced in a long time and realized I was no longer anxious. In fact, I couldn’t even get my mind to go there anymore. No matter how hard I tried, I was in such a state of sheer relaxation that I could no longer absorb any negative thoughts and my anxiety completely dematerialized.
What I had done on my walk is practice what I teach clients to do on a daily basis. It is called mindfulness, and it is one of the most powerful tools we can use to help others in psychology. Unfortunately, I often forget that I have this tool myself and I too often let anxiety and worry get the upper hand. I forget the simple premise that you can’t be anxious if you are relaxed, and this is what happened to me on my walk. I was so in tune with nature and so relaxed that I could not focus on anything else that wasn’t in my immediate presence and that I could not experience with my own senses. And the best part about mindfulness — we all have the ability to practice this technique at any given moment. It is completely free since it is part of our own unique capability as humans with functioning brains.
We also have the gift of nature, and I wonder how much we humans take this gift for granted. I often find myself on social media seeing pictures of wonderful vacations in faraway places and feel that in order to be relaxed, I must go somewhere special and far away. The basic truth, though, is that I have the power to go on a mindful vacation anytime by simply stopping and becoming aware of my present environment. And, in my humble opinion, there is no better place to practice this than on a beautiful Nashville greenway, simply taking a walk.
Aimee Dukes is a licensed psychologist practicing in Nashville and a partner at Nashville Psychological Assessment and Learning Associates. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at Vanderbilt University. She earned a Ph.D. from Tennessee State University and a M.Ed. at Vanderbilt University. Dukes has expertise in the areas of assessment and cognitive behavior therapy. Her favorite subjects to teach at both the undergraduate and graduate level are social psychology and marriage and family. Dukes lives in Nashville with her husband, a songwriter, her two children and their family dog.