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Measuring Mindfulness: Seeing the Leaves & Lessons Along the Way

Updated: Oct 16, 2023


Hiking
Hiking

On a recent Saturday morning, my daughter and I decided we wanted to go on a hike...or what she calls "an adventure". That’s partly because we like to try new stuff and partly because I get us lost - but I digress.


On this cool, Fall morning we wanted to find a new hiking trail. We are fortunate to live in the Sierra foothills of Northern California so we have a lot of amazing places to choose from. We agreed that picking our trail had to have two components:

  1. It had to be a new adventure

  2. It had to have lots of colorful leaves

With that, we browsed the list of trails and found the perfect spot, packed our gear, and hit the road. On the way up the hill we encountered rain, then hail, and with each crazy shift in weather my daughter got more excited, “This is going to be awesome!” and I began to wonder what crazy adventure I got us into. A few wrong turns later (see, I told you) we wound down a long dusty road to the trailhead finding ourselves sitting in a quiet, colorful, and breathtaking forest.

The color of the leaves jumped out everywhere - deep red, yellow, orange, and gold. The sunlight cracked through the trees just enough to shine a spotlight on nature’s seasonal show. I was like a little kid pointing out “Look at this one, and that one, wow!”. Almost immediately I found myself immersed in the experience - something I was unable to do before.

Almost immediately I found myself immersed in the experience - something I was unable to do before.

I’ve always struggled to slow down and be present, but I’ve been working on it for years. About a year prior I was a chaperone on my son’s 6th grade camp and we went on an amazing hike in the Fall that seemed to affect me the same way. Not sure if it’s the time of year or the colors or the weather, but that was a turning point for me to get really intentional about being present.


So, I recommitted myself to a routine that included daily meditation (well, most days), reading on the subject, and practicing in both my personal and professional life. This was not easy work for me, but it was important. COVID, oddly enough ended up being a catalyst to help me stay consistent with my routine. But at the end of the day, I’m a Type A achiever and slightly competitive (especially with myself) so I wanted to know how I was improving. Or was I? How do you even measure mindfulness? That’s where the hike comes in.


As we walked the winding trails for hours, I was lost in thought (not on the trails for once). I was not thinking about work or my to-do lists or even what was for dinner - just experiencing what was right in front of me at that moment. We saw and heard things we had not before. We talked about how cool it was to experience that together: listening to a tiny waterfall in a creek, a bird in the trees, even the sound of a leaf falling to the ground. 

Finding amazing leaves
Finding amazing leaves

Driving home it hit me - I had been able to immerse myself in mindfulness for hours in a way I had never done before. I didn’t have to try or think about it, I just did it. I was there, for the whole thing and loved every second of it.


Then over the coming days, I noticed the noticing. Everywhere I went I looked for the leaves. Of course, this is not the first year the leaves have changed, and we live in a gorgeous area with color changes but I never noticed them like this. Every drive down our street or to the store or wherever - I can see the leaves. They stand out as if they’ve become micro-reminders of mindfulness.  


They stand out as if they’ve become micro-reminders of mindfulness. 

So, how do you measure mindfulness? I’m not sure counting leaves is the solution, but there are a few simple questions I’ve found to help me check in along the way:


Can you be present for extended periods of time?

When you are finally able to be alone or relax, allow yourself to enjoy the moment - all of the moments. Make it a game if you have to when you step into that space that you are all in.


Do you have Micro-Mindfulness triggers?

Find a way to build in tiny reminders to your world to pause for that second to remind yourself you are here. Some like to create routines to create that moment, others have small reminders like a bracelet or picture or handwritten note - right now for me, it’s leaves. Whatever works!


What are you talking about?

This one caught me by surprise, but a great way to monitor mindfulness is to be aware of what you are talking about. Are you talking about something that happened or might have happened? Or are you talking about the experience you are having right now? It’s the sentences that start with “this is…” and followed by a description of what you are experiencing. Try using that present tense more to help you stay present.

Hiking with my daughter
Hiking with my daughter

I should point out that measuring or even quantifying mindfulness is not the goal. In fact, you could argue it’s the opposite. However, for those doing the work to improve sometimes it helps to find those guideposts to let you know you are on the right track. These are a few questions that have helped me. 


Wherever you are on that journey, I hope you get a chance to see the leaves along the way. 


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