Take a writer, teacher and mental health counselor who finds peace, understanding and direction in the act of walking in nature, and you have author Stephen Altschuler’s recent release, The Mindful Hiker: On the Trail to Find the Path.
On his first hike up Sky Trail in 1982, Altschuler walked with a friend through the remote reaches of California’s Point Reyes National Seashore. Conversation superseded impressions of the landscape, but subconsciously “...in the intervals between words and thoughts and laughter, the qualities of the place entered my soul, and my relationship with Sky Trail took root.”
For the next twenty years, the journeys along Sky Trail fed his spirit, provided solace, challenged his physicality and listened without rancor to his monologues on the vagaries of life. Readers are drawn into the thoughtfulness of a hiker and are given time to reflect on their personal journeys through the teacher’s self-actualization activities at the end of each chapter.
Written, at times, with an almost poetic passion, The Mindful Hiker is indeed a Zen guide to hiking. “The trail was a messenger, a map that would lead me to internal places of mystery and discovery, places of origin I had lost touch with in the workaday world of achievement, ambition, and routine. Meeting a trail that seemed to offer such treasures and allowed me a loving, nonjudgmental setting for self-exploration led me to spend a lot of time with it.”
Altschuler wanders through life along the trail, learning to understand his past, accept his present and look forward to the future. The lessons taught by reflection on the seasons, the trees, the plump huckleberries and the deer build to an inseparable need to speak out for conversation of our wild and special places. The book doesn’t preach values or beliefs or eschew the realities of modern life, but it does provide time to reflect on each.
The Mindful Hiker is at once insightful, entertaining, provoking and challenging. It is not unlike a hike along your favorite trail. Not everyone is going to enjoy the dogma associated with this book, but if you love to hike and the time it gives your to work through problems and clear your mind, you will want to give it a read. You might be surprised at what you can learn about yourself.