This activity is designed to help you develop your awareness of your immediate surroundings and to engage your physical senses. Although this activity is meant to be promote individual (self-)reflection, it can be done either alone or with others. However, if done with a group, all participants should individually choose their own walking/wandering directions and pace. Also, individuals should refrain from speaking to each other during the activity, for approximately 20-30 minutes prior, and during the self-reflection period afterward.
Select an area in which you can walk/wander/move about safely, comfortably, and easily. Safety is obviously important, but so are ease and comfort because you do not want to have to focus your attention on such things as avoiding traffic, getting lost, stumbling over rocks, interfering with others’ activities, etc. The area you choose could be anywhere and of any description. Don’t feel that you have to choose a place that is scenic or peaceful. You can be mindful of your surroundings, no matter what they are. Some examples are a backyard, city block, enclosed shopping area, indoor track, neighborhood street, or a parking lot.
If it’s less familiar to you, it’s a good idea to “scope out” the area ahead of time and, if possible, on/at the same day/time you plan to be there to make sure you have a sense of other activities that may be going on and/or any potential drawbacks. It’s also a good idea, even if you’re doing this activity solo, to make this an “appointment” with a set date, time, and duration. With a group, this also fosters the ability to arrive ready to not talk.
A typically good amount of time for a mindful walking/wandering session is approximately 30 minutes. So that you don’t have to look at the time repeatedly, it’s a good idea to set an alarm (with a non-jolting sound). If you’re doing the activity with a group, it’s also a good idea to have everyone meet back at the starting point at a designated time. Choose an area that’s small enough that you can traverse it at a slow or leisurely pace (possibly multiple times) within the 30 minutes.
Okay, so now you’re ready to set off! Walk silently. This may be hard, but do your best not to acknowledge or speak to other people. Even if there are other people around, think about yourself as solitary during this time. Silence your phone (let anyone who might call/text you know ahead of time) and don’t listen to music. These interruptions/distractions defeat the purpose of this activity.
As you walk, engage your five senses or whichever ones are available to you.
Sight is frequently the easiest one. Some questions to kick off your visual exploration are: What do you see above you, below you? Are there plants, animals, insects? What does the sky look like? Is there writing on walls? What is the (natural or artificial) light like? What colors are around you? Do you notice any visual patterns?
Hearing is often the next easiest. Questions include: What do you hear? Are you hearing sounds that may typically escape your notice? What types of sounds are they? Are they pleasant, unpleasant, loud, soft, etc.? Where do they come from—your shoes, a jacket zipper, cars, radios, birds, insects, weather, etc.? What are the dominant sounds?
Now, smell. This can be such a powerful sense, but we humans frequently give it little attention, unless something is especially pleasing or not. What do you smell? Where are the aromas coming from? Are they pleasant, unpleasant, neutral?
Now, touch. You may or may not reach out and touch things during this activity. This is up to you. However, you will still feel things, such as the temperature of the air on your face, sunshine on your arms, the cloth of your pants touching your legs. What do you feel on your skin? How do these things change as you walk/wander? Are you noticing sensations that you typically do not?
Finally, taste. You may be thinking that you’re not going to taste anything in particular during this activity. This may be true, but you can still be conscious of this sense. Do you still have the taste of coffee, your lunch, toothpaste in your mouth while you’re walking/wandering? Are there any of the smells that you can (almost) “taste”? How does your tongue/the inside of your mouth feel?
While you are walking/wandering, do your best not to think about other things—work, family, things to get done. This can be really hard! However, the point of this activity is to be present in your surroundings at the moment. You may have to keep bringing your thoughts back to where you are and away from other things in your life. That’s perfectly normal and can take effort, so don’t give up.
Last but not least, after you walk/wander, take 20-30 minutes to reflect on your experience and, if you like, to record these reflections in some way and/or to talk about them with others. You may wish to write things down, draw a picture or a map, or record yourself speaking. Some questions to help you with this final task:
What did you notice about your environment? Did you notice things you had not before, or did not expect to?
What were your favorite parts of your environment? Your least favorite?
What parts, if any, of your environment did you feel most/least connected to and why? (Connection could take the form of emotion, familiarity, etc.)
How did you feel throughout the activity? Did your emotions/feelings change throughout? What things inspired those feelings—an unpleasant smell, a beautiful flower, a dog barking? How do you feel now, as you reflect back?