• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Welcome to my Tuesday feature designed to get you moving in a different direction, shake up your daily or weekly writing routine. Later, you can return to your writing with a shift in focus.

Shift #5: Take a Hike

I take daily walks with my dogs and I’m always working something out in my head on those walks: the next editorial task for which I’m responsible, readying work for submission, timetables for choosing a publication line-up, how everything fits together with the tasks I share with my family. These aren’t necessarily peaceful walks. They’re get-everything-straight-in-my-head walks.

Several years ago, I took a writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg.  She had us do a walking meditation as part of our day. We used a walking track inside a retreat center while we thought about how we placed our feet on the floor, matched our steps to the rhythm of our breath, and let go of all thought. I found this exercise excruciating. Thought bubbles rose to the surface as if I were a pot of rapidly boiling water and my burner setting was stuck on high.

Some time after the Goldberg workshop, I went to northern Minnesota on vacation with my family. We hiked part of the Superior Hiking Trail at Oberg Mountain near Lutsen, Minnesota. I realized at some point on the trail that, hey, my thoughts were actually in the present moment. I let go of all the mundane things I usually thought about and focused on the trees, flowers, rocks, glimpses of Lake Superior, my family members who were with me, and the things on the trail that would break my ankle if I stepped wrong. Sure, this is why people hike. But I was happy to realize that this, for me, was probably the closest I would get to the feeling of the walking meditation Goldberg taught. Hiking without worrying about anything but staying on the trail was my thing.

For a walk or a hike to work as a way to shift my own focus, it has to be on a trail I don’t normally follow. The unfamiliarity requires me to pay attention to my surroundings. If I don’t have time to find an unfamiliar trail, then I go out at night with my dogs. Darkness changes everything and I have to pay attention in a different way. Either choice is enough of a shift to help me see things differently when I return to my work.

So, this week, try getting up out of your chair and heading outside. Walk somewhere unfamiliar. Find yourself in a new place. Make up your own route.

Here are some resources:

Lake Superior Hiking Trail Association Urban Hiking Appalachian Trail North American hiking trails

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