Presence Outdoors: Sitting and Walking

As the weather has turned lovely here in Seattle, my daily practices have changed in two ways. I am meditating outside in the early-ish morning and I am choosing to exercise by walking outside instead of treading inside. Both changes are inspired by the desire to be a little more present with nature and the world I live in.

Morning meditation allows me to sit with the sounds of my neighborhood creatures. I notice the different types of songs being sung by the birds, from short and sweet rhythms to the sharp twang of the crows. I notice the swish of wings taking flight nearby. I hear the scuttling sound of squirrels clattering up a tree. I feel the breeze as it initiates out of one place and rests in another. On a chillier morning I open my eyes 30 minutes later and notice the slight steam of my breath. These are sweet, sublime moments that I look forward and that connect me to the world outside my home, bus or office.

Walking offers visual details of nature, from a brisk perspective. I plug in custom molded earphones which shut out the less pleasant sounds of the outdoors – mainly traffic. I select a either a podcast (design, technology or a Buddhist talk), an audio book (say Freakonomics, or Blink), or music — and start my pace. It takes 15 – 20 minutes to walk to a bus stop a mile or so away. When I disembark in the city, I get off a mile or so away. On the evening ride, I might get off 2-3 miles from my house which takes 45 minutes or so to cover. While walking and listening, I’m noticing the world around me through sight and smell. I’m noticing my neighborhood, what’s flowering, whose about to have a yard sale, what house is going to be replaced by the latest clump of townhouses.

Right now the walking form of exercise is far more compelling then treading in the basement. Yes, it takes 2-3 times longer, but I enjoy the time so much more. Exercise doesn’t feel like a chore I have to complete; rather it’s a bit of an adventure and a way to increase my awareness of the world I inhabit. Our lives – and the weather – are in constant flux. I know that both of these practices are working for now, but at some point will transition back indoors. And even this is a good reminder of staying present.


My friend Cass quietly started a blog last year. She informed me of this several weeks ago and I began to follow her posts. I’ve been reading many blogs on many topics since 2002 or so, but have never blogged myself because I didn’t believe I had anything worthwhile to add to the public forum. Yet, I am a diligent digital consumer and a firm believer in the power of the web to connect. So whether my words are “public” — or more of a method to organize and synthesize my ideas and thoughts — the moment has come to extend my persona to the web.

I’ve named this blog “Designing Presence” because the words describe two practices I’m engaged in: meditation and design. I’ve been a designer for quite awhile; a meditator for just over a year. As my meditation practice has grown deeper and taken root, I’m beginning to see how it impacts the whole of my life, including my profession. Through the conscious act of blogging I want to share how meditation is touching my design practice. How deepening my awareness of the moment helps me to develop deeper empathy for my user experience work — for instance — or helps to still my mind so that a solution to a problem has the space to spring forth.

I also want to notice how meditation is designing presence in my daily life. I recently attended my first (five day) silent meditation retreat taught by Heather Martin. One idea she discussed is this: We get “better” at what we practice, and each day, each moment we are practicing our lives. So what am I practicing today? Compassion? Curiousity? Judgement? Impatience? I find this to be a powerful way to conceptualize how thoughts and emotions shape experience each day.

Meditation grounds me in the awareness of the moment; Over time the practice is translating to the rest of my life that unfolds “off the cushion.” How? Well that’s one thing I want to blog about.