My favorite hikes are the surprising ones.
The ones that showcase all the wonders of God and nature in all their glory. I especially love hikes that move through unexpected changes in terrain, and hidden pockets of landscapes and environments you’d never see unless you took the time and energy to walk to this exact spot.
The world is a really beautiful place if you allow yourself to notice.
This weekend, my husband and I went out and hiked a trail we’ve driven by about a dozen times since we moved to Colorado. We didn’t know too much detail about what to expect, but we were wowed in a whole lot of ways from the very start.
As we set off from the trailhead, we were first treated to the sounds of the river rushing with snowmelt and recent rains. We then started an ascent into a pine forest above the river, crunching through typical Rocky Mountain red granite pea gravel. After a short section there, we descended back down toward the river, now a little calmer, and stepped off the scrunch-scrunch of rocky path and onto a soft bed of soil and pine needles and leaves – the quiet underbelly of a lush forest.
Instantly, I noticed the absence.
Just two steps into this space, I noticed the absence of the crunchy path. No sound beneath my boots. How different, how lovely, how revealing. I’m already a seasoned noticer, but I was acutely attuned on this path, fully sensing all around me in this quiet.
The fresh smell of spring, the almost metallic tang of the rocks around me. The slight changes in temperature and humidity in the air. A breeze at our backs. The rustle of grass, tweets of birds. But more than any of the nature around me, I noticed myself.
In the absence of my audible footsteps, I noticed my thoughts – or in this case, rather, the lack thereof. I noticed the absence of so much panic. The absence of anxiety. I noticed the absence of pressure, distress. The absence of care, if I’m honest.
It got me thinking about the power of noticing the absence, and what happens when you do.
So often, we’re encouraged to notice the presence. Notice the presence of all these things in nature. Or the presence of stress or anxiety. Notice the presence of people, support, feedback. Notice the presence of options and privilege.
Rarely, though, are we urged to notice the absence. I suspect it’s because we’re often conditioned toward more, which means fulfillment. And absence is taken to mean less, disappointment, failure. Certainly, an absence could mean those things, but not always. Either way, absence can mean an unexpected kind of freedom and enlightenment, and what an opportunity for clarity and meaning in that reframe!
As we quietly strolled along this path, and in my complete absence of anxiety for the first time in weeks, I couldn’t help but think about all the ways to notice absence, what it can mean, what it reveals, teaches. Like, noticing…
The absence of worry.
The absence of attention, or distraction.
The absence of connection, of people – especially when or where it previously existed.
The absence of trust, or faith.
The absence of discretion.
The absence of editing, or filter.
The absence of silence.
The absence of authenticity, of humanity.
The absence of joy, of fun.
The absence of shame, guilt.
The absence of doubt.
The absence of feeling.
The absence of effort.
The absence of perfection.
The absence of flow, of direction.
The absence of thought.
The absence of desire, of want.
The absence of drama.
The absence of judgment – especially self-judgment.
The absence of time.
The absence of energy.
The absence of fear.
The absence of attachment.
The absence of pain.
The absence of resistance.
If you’ll notice, you can interpret any of those things in any way that speaks to you, learn exactly what you need to learn as you reflect. That’s the art of noticing as a skill. And certainly, it’s a skill worth practicing. But as you do, I think you’ll find it a worthwhile endeavor to begin noticing the absence in addition to the presence. What happens there can be magic.
I mean, when I think about all the wisdom and experience to be gained in this life, I just don’t think it’s always in the filling. Sometimes, it’s in the emptying. (Consider examples like Buddhist monks.) And when I think about gratitude, I don’t think it’s only about noticing what is. It’s also about noticing what isn’t, and being grateful for that too.
Because really, isn’t it actually the absence that we’re so often after, after all? Well, it’s there, more often than you think, if you allow yourself to notice it.
So frequently, we’re on this quest, looking for answers. And maybe, if you’ve already looked for them in presence, it’s time to look for them in the absence. Sometimes, it’s the best, maybe the only, way to shed some light on our challenges and find a way through. A lot of the coaching and guidance I do with clients explores noticing the absence. If want to know more, email me or schedule a free discovery call below.
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