Get­ting Present

Yoga Journal - - Live Well - By Jen Mur­phy

“GIVE ME YOUR HAND, and close your eyes,” urges my guide, Mario. I turn and look at him du­bi­ously. We’re barely an hour into a six-hour hike in Chile’s Huerque­hue Na­tional Park. I had taken the lead on the well-marked Los La­gos trail, keep­ing my gaze down to en­sure that I wouldn’t trip on a tree root at my speedy pace. Hik­ing, for me, has al­ways been one part mov­ing med­i­ta­tion, one part high-in­ten­sity work­out. I get lost in my own head and con­nect with my breath as I climb, my heart rate ris­ing.

Mario’s re­quest to play this game irks me, as I’m start­ing to feel a chill. But as I walk back to­ward him, I can’t help but smile. Mario is dressed like an old-school Patag­o­nian ex­plorer, down to his wrap­around Sherpa sun­glasses and over­sized pack. He isn’t more than 30, but I can tell he’s wise beyond his years—with a pa­tience and calm I envy. Mario reaches out one mit­ten-cov­ered hand to grab hold of mine.

“Now close your eyes,” he coaxes. This seems like a dan­ger­ous game, as the trail is about to slope steeply down­hill. “I won’t be able to see any­thing,” I counter.

“You aren’t see­ing any­thing other than your boots at the pace you’re hik­ing,” he scolds. “You don’t need to see to be present. You need to slow down so you can ap­pre­ci­ate the for­est.”

Like many trav­el­ers, I had come to Pucón, Chile’s ad­ven­ture-sports cap­i­tal, seek­ing adren­a­line-fu­eled fun to com­ple­ment my morn­ing yoga classes at Ha­cienda Ho­tel Vira Vira, where I was stay­ing. Lo­cated in Chile’s Lake Dis­trict, this vast wilder­ness is con­sid­ered a mecca for kayak­ing, hik­ing, and ski­ing with its crys­tal lakes, an­cient forests, and snowcrowned vol­ca­noes. Yet here I was, in one of the re­gion’s most fa­mous parks, walk­ing at a snail’s pace with my eyes closed.

I’ve known Mario less than 48 hours, and al­ready I’m at his mercy. “In the wilder­ness, trust is in­stinc­tual,” he says with such con­vic­tion that the ten­sion in my jaw and body are re­leased as I give in and trust him. In my self-im­posed dark­ness, ev­ery sense be­comes height­ened. I feel the squish of the earth, damp with snowmelt, be­neath my gaiter-cov­ered boots. In­stead of the thump­ing of my own heart­beat, I hear a dif­fer­ent ham­mer­ing. I yank on Mario’s mit­ten to pause. “Mag­el­lan wood­pecker,” he tells me. “Na­ture’s jack­ham­mer.”

Af­ter 20 min­utes of blindly nav­i­gat­ing river cross­ings and slick down­hill slopes, I’m in­structed to open my eyes. The scenery seems twice as vi­brant as it was when we’d started. As I take it in, Mario pulls out a ther­mos of es­presso. “At this rate, we’ll be lucky to be back by din­ner,” I tease. “But what is the rush?” he ques­tions, and I know he is right. Why not re­lax and be in the mo­ment?

And so I find my­self, over the next few days, ap­ply­ing the mind­ful­ness I prac­tice each morn­ing on my yoga mat to my ad­ven­tures with Mario. I scrap my orig­i­nal plan to skin up to the snowy sum­mit of Vol­cano Vil­lar­rica, an all-day en­deavor, and com­pro­mise with a two-hour as­cent a quar­ter-way up by snow­shoe. When I pick up the pace, Mario teases that my com­pet­i­tive­ness has once again kicked in, but I prom­ise I’m only mov­ing so fast be­cause of the cold. Later that day, Mario sur­prises me with a stop at some lo­cal hot springs, where we spend hours soak­ing in steamy wa­ters and gaz­ing at the sur­round­ing for­est canyon.

“And you wanted to freeze your butt off ski­ing all the way to the top of an ac­tive vol­cano?” he teases me.

The truth is, I skinned up that moun­tain the fol­low­ing day. Yet with each gru­el­ing breath on my way up and each ex­hil­a­rat­ing turn on my way down, I had a new­found abil­ity to ap­pre­ci­ate what was hap­pen­ing in each mo­ment. Rather than in­dulging my mind in its end­less chat­ter, I breathed in the crisp air, ad­mired the way the snow shim­mered in the sun­light, and shared a frozen smile with other skiers schuss­ing by. And more than a few times, I even closed my eyes.

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