Walking Portage Bay
Walking a neighborhood for the first time is a great way to expose one's mind and senses to relaxing, healthful stimulation that fulfills your responsibility as a human being to keep your self mentally and physically nimble. Along with reading widely and learning new skills, exploring a different area expands your horizons, stimulates the senses, and sometimes enhances one’s ability to be ever mindful. You don't have to travel far or seek out the exotic to derive and retain great benefit from exploration of new environs. I had a chance to do this on a recent trip to Seattle.
The neighborhood I explored, called Portage Bay, is dramatically different from the flats of the San Francisco Bay Area peninsula. There are hills, some quite steep, and numerous narrow, rough lanes; roundabouts; and divided streets. This dearth of long, flat, wide straightaways ensures that motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists share the road. I found most people on the streets to be very accommodating toward those with whom they were sharing the road, regardless of their chosen mode of transport. Most of the time, drivers yielded at intersections to let me cross even though they did not have stop signs.
I visited in November, during the start of the wet, cold season. Though it was overcast and rainy and misty the entire time I was there, the lush greenery popped at every turn. Perhaps it was the glistening wet surfaces or that the light attenuation was less than I expected. Nonetheless, the colors were bright and attractive. Ferns, Pacific Madrones, cascading evergreen shrubs, and moss were prevalent and assertive parts of the scenery. I was also captivated by the quality of the light occasionally breaking through the clouds and reflecting off the wet plants and surfaces.
The terrain lends itself to rock gardens and a few homes have this form of highly textured landscaping instead of lawns of grass. This adds eye catching variation to the gardens in the neighborhood. For these steep properties, the eye level view from the street is not of the front of a structure, but rather of a hill or wall garden with plants sprawling across and nestled amongst moss covered rocks. The variety of neighborhood gardens gives the area the look and feel of a park.
As I walked the wet streets, I encountered ever changing terrain, including hills, curves, paths through parks, and stairs. This variety meant that I was constantly having to change how I stepped and where I looked. Being forced to look in different directions and from varying elevations meant that I saw more of my surroundings and was forced to pay attention to where I was going and what I saw, ensuring that I was more mindful and present. In general, I find that new surroundings facilitate mindful observation.
I also spent time with my eyes cast toward the waters of Portage Bay, taking in the boats moored at and chugging to and from the Seattle yacht club. There were often watercraft coming and going through the Montlake Cut, to and from Lake Washington. I was mesmerized by this motion, which appeared slow and leisurely in the distance. I found that, while watching the boats, it was possible to drop down into a mindful state and stay there with little effort.
I do think that to get the most out of exploring a new environment, one should do so non judgmentally. I try not to over compare the environment I am exploring to what I see most days or have seen in the past. I just let the my mind absorb and integrate the new surroundings. When comparative thoughts inevitably arise, I let them happen and don't try to stop them or chastise myself. I try to simply observe those thoughts in a detached manner, let them skip across my consciousness, and allow my mind to settle gently back to the present. This walking meditation is a welcome change from sitting practice and the perfect active mindfulness training.
My experience walking the Portage Bay neighborhood of Seattle was intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually refreshing. After several strolls around the area I felt energized, more connected to the world, and more often mindful of my surroundings. I will enjoy using my mind’s eye to revisit the flora and views from these meanderings.