Mindfulness Meditation

Days of COVID and William James

On Friday it started with the sensation of having to clear my throat over and over again.  By Friday afternoon it was a sore throat; not severe, but noticeable.  On Saturday morning it was a slight fever and a sore throat, prompting administrations of an at-home COVID test (negative result).  By Saturday afternoon and evening the fever was troublesome but the sore throat had passed.  On Sunday morning it was the nasal congestion and the fever that suggested a second at-home COVID test, this time positive.  A visit to the nearby Urgent Care confirmed the diagnosis.  Since then soup and tea, rest, and William James have been my prescription.  Fortunate for me that my version of COVID appears to be “mild to moderate;” in other words, annoying but tolerable.

And who better to spend sick-time with than William James!  His work remains transformative to my field, mental health, and has been transformative for me both personally and professionally.  A list of his contributions to the field of Psychology and Philosophy would take up several pages.  If you are interested in reading his work I would recommend these essays (and a book) as starting points:

  1. “The Will to Believe” (available online for free at many sites including
  2. “Is Life Worth Living” (

These two essays in their entirety may be more than you want to read.  So my third recommendation will make this easier for you.  My current reading of William James is in an excellent new book titled “Be Not Afraid of Life: In the Word of William James,” edited by John Kaag and Jonathan Van Belle.  Excerpts from these two essays and many more are included in this book, along with introductions to each reading from the editors.  It is a fine way to begin getting acquainted with James’s philosophy and psychology.

The title of the book is derived from the final paragraph of “Is Life Worth Living:”

“These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

I have found this to be true throughout my life.  What I believe shapes my reality and, at times, creates my reality.  For me, shaping my belief has come down to a simple but profound insight: “As I hear myself speak so I come to believe.”  Gandhi speaks wisely of the consequences of managing your thoughts in words that, I suspect, William James would have strongly endorsed:

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”

That’s all for today.  With COVID comes fatigue, so I think I’ll return to my reading and my tea for now.

Mindfulness Meditation

Walking With Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau died in May of 1862 from tuberculosis.  One month later his essay “Walking,” which proved to be one of his most beloved, was published.  It opens with these words:

“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil–to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”

I retired from my private practice as a Pastoral Counselor in October of 2021.  I decided to take a slower year, making few decisions regarding the course of my life, recognizing those decisions that life makes for me along the way and simply navigating whatever pathways emerged in time.  I was not disappointed; life has a way of filling open spaces without my help.  During this past fifteen months I learned much about myself: that I love to teach, engage in conversation, read, contemplate what I’ve read, but most of all that I love to walk in the woods.  I learned that I feel most alive, most myself, when in awareness of being “part and parcel of Nature.”

Yesterday was a fine example.  White Clay Creek State Park ( has miles of trails through pristine forests.  The Lenape Trail winds its way along the creek, then off into the forest, across a field and Fox Den Road, doubles back to the forest and eventually circles back along the creek and to a parking area.  After hiking four or five miles I returned to my car refreshed and tired at the same time; a glorious combination of feelings.

When I started walking after my retirement it was with the intention to generate aerobic exercise.  At my age (turned 68 last October) that matters, at least to me.  But during the year my pace of walking has slowed without my consent nor my intent; it just slowed down.  My walking became my mindfulness practice, or at least an important part of it.  I wasn’t certain what was happening until I read Thoreau’s essay again, especially its second paragraph:

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.”

When I go a sauntering I see things that I might have missed otherwise.  In the winter woods the grays and browns dominate.  Much of the tree bark is silvery; lacking leaves this is the prominent feature one notices throughout the forest.  Hidden among the tree trunks are the Christmas ferns, looking as alive and green as in the springtime.  Then there are the holly trees, boldly green with red berries and hungry birds feasting.  Looking across the canopy of trees the tan leaves on the Beech trees still cling, adding a contrast to the silver and gray of the tree bark.  The cedar trees too; verdant throughout the winter.  Lacking leaves the wind stirs more easily and sounds carry across the forest, mostly birdsong, occasionally squirrels digging for nutty gold.  

I find myself walking slower and slower these days, not from fatigue but from wonder.  It’s perfect.  There is no need for human activity out here.  Sounds of machines left far behind; occasionally another walker, sometimes with a dog, passes by.  Smiles come so easily out here, greetings, sometimes conversations, spontaneous, often of things that matter.  I am relaxed now, mindful, awake.  I leave the forest refreshed, ready to be with my loved ones again.  It is like returning from a voyage to a far away land; much to talk about, people you long to see.  Yet I’ve only been gone for an hour or two.

I have always avoided making New Year Resolutions.  But this year I’ve made one: to live a “Thoreauvian” year.  Reading his essays again, finding another wonderful biography (Laura Dassow Walls’ “Henry David Thoreau: A Life”), savoring a paragraph from one of his essays and then contemplating it on a walk or a meditation.  His spirit fills me.

This Holy Land Thoreau speaks of is found within.  The journey is to the inner regions of mind and spirit.  It reminds me of the Japanese poet Basho and his travel journal “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”  Basho’s journey to the “Deep North,” like Thoreau’s to the “Holy Land,” is an exploration of interior spaces: the mind, the heart, the spirit.  In these times I experience silence; sometimes for just a moment, sometimes for many steps, many breaths.  In his book “Thoughts in Solitude” Thomas Merton wrote:

“To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.”

Silence has a best friend called Listening.  Sigurd Olsen captures this well in his book “Listening Point,” an exploration of what it means to exist within wilderness:

“Only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.  Everyone has a listening-point somewhere.  It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.”

Walking and Silence.  Listening; finding Nature, the wilderness, within.  These are my intentions for this year, maybe for this life.  This is my journey this year.

During the past year I have not posted on my blog.  I was not certain whether to continue writing or not.  I’ve decided to post again, to see if I have something to say that may be worth saying.  I was concerned that any desire to post may be driven by personal pride, hubris.  Again, from Merton’s “Thoughts in Solitude,” there is a warning about this sort of pride:

“When I speak, it is a demand that others remain silent so I alone may be heard. When I am silent, I hear my true self and reach my soul. When I am silent, I hear with a caring heart. Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything because we have said everything before we had anything to say. . . . .”

I will be posting again this year.  I intend to do so in response to my sauntering, and from a place of silence, and from what I have learned by listening.  My hope is that my words will be useful, caring, from my true self.

You can read Thoreau’s published material, including “Walking,” at this website: