One of the pleasures of visiting a foreign city can be the opportunity to meander through its streets, without much purpose except to look around and discover what is there. Everything is new and exciting, and we may have a list of tourist attractions we want to see but are actually just as happy wandering down a narrow laneway and coming across some hidden gem which stays in our mind long after the trip is over.

We can also do this where we live, of course, and probably do from time to time. Yet in our daily routine, we are usually busy getting somewhere. Little children are natural ‘meanderers ‘– sometimes we can see parents trying to walk their young children home from school, attempting to steer them along the path while the child wants to go in every direction except the straight line home. As we grow older our behaviour becomes more focused and goal-orientated, and this is important, of course. We don’t want a life in which we are aimlessly drifting, never fulfilling our potential or contributing to our families and society. Yet rushing relentlessly towards our goals without stopping to ‘smell the roses’ will also lead to problems. Apart from the stress caused by this way of life, we are also unlikely to have inspired ideas or deep insights, let alone meaningful connections with others, if our mind is always fixated on some imaginary goal post ahead of us.

Creeks and rivers have a natural tendency to meander – even in land which is relatively flat, it only takes a minor obstacle for the water to hit the opposite bank with additional force and slowly carve out a bend in the waterway. Because these bends are inconvenient for shipping, agriculture and building roads, many creeks and streams in Europe have been artificially straightened. However, it turned out the disadvantages of doing this far outweighed any benefits. The water was flowing much faster in the straightened waterways, which led to increased flooding in the area. Erosion increased, the natural habitat of many plants and animals was destroyed, and the groundwater level fell, which caused problems for nearby forests and farmers. So, at the cost of millions of dollars, some of these rivers are now being ‘un-straightened’, brought back into their natural, meandering state.

A meandering river is a good analogy for us – the water is still flowing, it ends up somewhere, but it takes its time and doesn’t just rush through as quickly as possible. Water which flows too swiftly can lead to flooding (feeling emotionally overwhelmed) and erosion (the wear and tear of constant stress on our bodies and mind). Rivers may have sections which bubble along energetically, parts where the water slows down and deep pools can form, and further along it may flow majestically and unhurriedly towards the sea. We can be more attuned to the natural flow of our energy, and allow ourselves to notice and appreciate life more, if we give ourselves permission to meander rather than rush through life.

Weekly practice idea:

Create an opportunity to ‘meander’ this week. Find twenty minutes or longer to explore a familiar or unfamiliar area as if you were a small child or tourist, using mindfulness to notice the sights, sounds, smells and feel of a place.

Anja Tanhane