One of my own phrases came back to haunt me this past weekend, “Expect the unexpected” … Or rather, “Suspend expectation.”  (Mind you, I’m sure I’m not the first Yoga teacher to utter those words!) I’d do well if I took these words and embraced them on a regular basis myself … If this was a daily mantra to which I turned. I know as a yoga teacher I’ve said this to my students many a time in class, “Suspend your expectations of what you think your practice … this particular asana, should be, and simply allow it to be what it is.”  So much of our suffering, angst, worry, anxiety stems from a situation, person, or an interaction not meeting our expectations. And two things in my life — hiking and yoga — repeatedly, and continually, remind me of this bit of wisdom.


Old cemetary on the John B. Hudson trail in Arcadia Management Area, RI

This past weekend provided, once again, a situation where this lesson could unfold.  Myself, my boyfriend and a dear friend decided to take advantage of the newly-lengthened day and good weather and take a short ramble through part of Arcadia Management Area in southern RI, starting at 4:30PM.  We planned to do a particular trail and loop and figured it’d take us about 60-90 minutes, so not a whole lot of extra gear or packing was required, and we’d be done well before dark.

Now, I’m a very experienced hiker and there are certain things I always, always, always pack — a light, some food, water, extra layer of clothing, first-aid kit and emergency blanket — regardless of where I’m hiking.  (I learned that the hard way — see for how “Yoga Saved Our Lives”.) However, the day unfolded into a bit of a rush to get out of the house, and I didn’t double check that I had my headlamp.  I did throw in the trail mix and some chips (thinking I wouldn’t need either since it was to be a short hike.) Remember, however, the lesson is, “Expect the unexpected.”

Now, I could draw this out quite dramatically, but I’ll spare you and shorten it down to this — we misread the map.  And when we ought to have been looping back to the trailhead and our car, we instead walked in completely the wrong direction, ending up miles from where we needed to be.  When we passed a trail sign proclaiming “Penny Hill”, a niggling began in the back of my head that just wouldn’t leave me alone, so I said I needed to look more closely at the map.  I did and discovered that we were soooo not where we thought we were! And there was no way we could retrace our steps through the woods and get back before dark.  Ooops and Yikes!

The gift of that day was that we were hiking in Arcadia — there are plenty of dirt roads crossing the land and we were able to hook up with one of them. This was a good thing because we discovered we didn’t have light amongst us beyond one cell phone, and it was close to the new moon, so there’d be little to no natural night light.  The roads are very sandy, so they’re lighter than the trails and I figured staying on a road was our best bet.  We could see on the map that we could hook up with a couple roads that would bring us to the main road (Route 165) and then we could walk back up to the original trailhead and our cars. So, we began to walk with the purpose of getting ourselves as close to safe as we could before dark, grateful that we had the trail mix and each had packed extra layers for warmth.

And then the mind began to spin.  I found that if I started to think about anything but the present moment, I began to worry and slightly panic.  I am who I am, and especially when it comes to hiking, will feel the need to take responsibility — my friends’ and my own safety rested on my shoulders. (THAT, of course, is ego and that’s another topic for another day.)  Then, I’d catch myself, take a deep breath and remember that we were doing the only thing we could at the time — we were walking along the only reasonable option — the sandy road.  So as I walked, my mind danced with my breath … Mindfulness and worry danced around each other.  I found that when I consciously practiced mindfulness, the worry, the angst and the potential panic receded and I was able to keep walking, understanding that we would be fine … Everything would unfold exactly as it needed to.  When I stopped being mindful, then the dark would rush in (even before dusk fully set in) and I would project my thoughts into a place of fear and blame.

So in the middle of this unexpected hiking experience, I was also re-experiencing the profound and important lesson of mindfulness.  My two loves — my two challenges — of hiking and yoga, peeled open another window to allow me to witness the power, and weakness, of the mind. My breath, my heart, knew we’d be fine.  My mind was what worried. And the interesting thing about it all is, I suspect that my companions kept their individual worries in check in a similar fashion, spurred on by the concern of not contributing to the problem — to helping be the strength in our wee group — so that we might all walk out of the dark woods.

I know life is an ever-unfolding experiential lesson.  And this past weekend simply illustrated the beauty and the gifts to be had by suspending expectations and allowing an experience to open and unfold.  The hike was beautiful and lovely.  The company divine.  And the gift of the experience will last as long as I remember to breathe, suspend my expectations and allow any given moment to unfold as it needs.

Shanti,shanti. Namaste.

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