Walking Mindfully In The Rainforest

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In this post we'll explore the magic of meditating in the rainforest.

Penang National Park is located in the northwest of Malaysia, on an island called Penang. The climate is tropical with abundant rainfall and high air humidity.

Georgetown is the only city on the island. In 2008, parts of Chinatown and Indiatown were granted UNESCO world heritage status.

There are a lot of things to see and do in Georgetown. It's highly recommended!

From there, you can take a city bus all the way to the gate of Penang National Park. The bus ride takes about 45-60 minutes, depending on traffic.

Penang Island

I stayed in a guesthouse set in a lush garden, located about 1.5 kilometers from Penang National Park.

Since it's nice and cool round dawn, I had planned to leave early. But it rained heavily all night until about 9.30 in the morning. By then, the rain had turned into drizzle.

I set out in sandals, shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. In a shoulder bag, I kept a bottle of water and some snacks for the trek. I didn't expect them to sell anything in the national park, so I brought enough water and snacks to last me all day.

My intention was to walk mindfully from the moment I left the guesthouse, until I got back. A beautiful combination of exploring the rainforest and mindfulness practice.

I walked slowly while giving relaxed attention to my meditation object. It took me about 15-20 min to reach the park.

Penang National Park

The national park occupies the very northwestern corner of Penang island. The gate is near the north coast, which features sandy beaches with large rocks scattered around.

The park offices gave a well-organized impression. There were a number of administration buildings by the gate. At the end of the registration process, I received written permission to enter the park.

It would have been possible to camp in a number of spots with toilet and shower facilities, but I only intended to visit the park over the day.

Walking Mindfully

I left the park office and mindfully made my way up the slope. There was still light drizzle in the air.

The first five hundred meters or so were paved and brought me along the coast. The walkway was about two meters wide and offered wheelchair access.

The path was only partially covered by tree canopies, so I kept getting drizzle on me.

I met two British, middle-aged ladies. They walked briskly towards the park offices while chatting away.

There were a few picnic tables by the beach, at the end of the paved path. From there, I spotted a 1.5 meter long monitor lizard on the beach. The tongue played in the air as the reptile plunged into the surf to go for a morning swim.

A wooden signpost marked the very end of the paved walkway. Here, the path split into two. The right track followed the northern coast, while the left track took you into the interior of the rainforest, across a ridge and to the western shore of the island.

As I mindfully turned left along the mangroves, the trail narrowed down to about half a meter and shot up a slope. There were plants on both sides of the pathway and at first it was a bit scary to be surrounded by dense rainforest.

Were there snakes and other reptiles lurking behind the trees?

The track was dark brown and somewhat muddy. Above, there was a green ocean of leaves, at various levels above the ground.

The Trees Of The Rainforest

Some tree branches reached out for other trees and connected the two. The rainforest was vibrantly alive. Other trees were majestic with roots in many a shape and pattern.

The snake-like tree roots crisscrossed the track and came out as much as 30 centimeters from the ground. Whenever it rained, the track transported a lot of water which eroded the soil and exposed the roots. In steep slopes, the trail looked just like a riverbed.

The colors of the roots varied from shades of brown, to beige and orange. And some of the roots were covered by green moss.

Since most of the roots looked like snakes, I mindfully chose where to put my feet. Occasionally, I stomped a foot on the ground to let the snakes know that I was passing through.

The trees were roughly 30-40 meters high. Every now and then, I could hear water droplets fall on leaves lower down. It was magical to be alone in the rainforest.

The rainforest was really damp and there were no signs of any sunlight. In the meantime, my cotton shoulder bag was getting soaking wet.

As I paced mindfully uphill, I broke out in a sweat. I could hear my own heartbeat and the sound of the rainforest.

The crickets in the rainforest sounded most odd, the intense buzz reminded me of angle grinders and dental drills.

It was hot walking up the slope, so I mindfully unbuttoned the shirt. Now, the air felt cool against my skin.

A few meters ahead of me, a butterfly paused on the track only to fly off as I closed in on it.

The Rainforest Was Vibrantly Alive

The rainforest was vibrant with life. Wherever I looked I witnessed plants with fresh shoots, in shades of pink and red. What a refreshing sight. The leaves came in all shapes and sizes. Some of them were round, others were long or covered in devilish thorns.

A wind gust caused water droplets to fall, and it resounded as they landed on the ground. It's inspiring to be mindful of the magic of nature.

In certain areas the sound of insects intensified. It was like entering another room, with a different orchestra playing.

With the shirt unbuttoned the chest was starting to get cold, in the damp air. So, I buttoned the upper part of the shirt.

Large colorful butterflies flew in both directions along the track. I paused for a moment to enjoy the show. It's really beautiful to be mindful.

Along the way, the wet trail had changed from a light to medium gray, to a natural clay color. Then, to what looked like golden sand. The color reminded me of sand stone.

At times, I heard a leaf falling. And as I walked mindfully along the path, I gave relaxed attention to my meditation object. The concentration was getting steadfast and I felt alert. I truly enjoyed the stillness of the rainforest.

Out of the blue, while making my way past a bamboo grove, I spotted a 20 millimeter long ant on a branch. I was quite used to the big red ants in Thailand, but this one was at least twice the size.

It was black, aside from the last part of the body which was dark red. The giant ant moved mighty fast, and I was thinking about how badly it must hurt to get bitten by an ant that size.

The drizzle had stopped and I hoped there wouldn't be more rain. In the distance, I could hear the sound of rippling water. Could it be a creek?

I was starting to feel some discomfort in my left calf. It was the onset of muscle contraction. So, I stopped for awhile to stretch my legs.

Most of the time, I passed through terrain with steep slopes. Sometimes it was dense jungle, other times airy rainforest.

As the sound of flowing water grew louder, a sharp ray of sunlight pierced through the tree canopy.

The Rainforest Creek

Now, I could see the pristine creek. The sound of the running water echoed between the large-rounded rocks that sat in the riverbed. The rocks had been weather-beaten and were covered in green stains.

It was almost impossible to hear other sounds while by the loud creek. It was like being in a separate room from the rest of the rainforest.

I watched how the sunlight and the reflections of plants played in the clear water. The combination of the sound and the playful movements of the water, were deeply inspiring. It felt like I were in paradise.

Just as I sensed that I was growing attached to the place, a large butterfly landed near me. My mind hungered for natural beauty.

The water slowed down as it flowed under the narrow bridge, that I used to cross the creek. Mindfully, I soaked in the divine presence while standing still for a moment.

Walking Along The Rainforest Track

As I walked mindfully down the track, the ambiance of the creek was taken over by the intense background static of the rainforest, largely made up of the sound of insects and birds.

The rainforest was still really cool and damp, but the warm sunlight pressed its way through the tree canopies. Finally, the sound of the creek had completely faded out.

The width of the trail varied between 0.5-2 meters. It was a really pleasant trek through the national park.

Clusters of small plants made me think of sea plants. There were also some massive plants measuring about 12-15 meters across, it must have been palms. They were about 4 meters high with cactus-like branches.

Nature At Work In The Rainforest

Some leaves were discolored as if they had been stained with rust. Nothing in the rainforest was 100% perfect, yet it's a true expression of harmony.

Then, I heard an amazing bird that sounded like a pinball game.

In some patches the sun was able to cut through the dense rainforest to heat up the ground, while other sections were still really moist and cool.

As I mindfully motioned past a large plant, I stopped briefly to enjoy the sweet honey-like scent.

Dead trees were still standing, here and there. The rainforest is such an inspiration.

Something surprised me more than anything about the rainforest. Repeatedly, I saw leaves of all sizes moving back and forth in the wind. It taught me how vibrantly alive the rainforest is.

Then, I heard a noise from the bush. And for a short while fear came over me...

There were layers upon layers of decaying leaves on the ground. The colors varied from stark yellow to orange, red and brown.

Rotten tree trunks and plant material could be seen hanging in the air, and on the ground. I noted that light green vines grew on both healthy and decaying trees. Moreover, there were plenty of decomposing palm leaves and ferns around.

The trekking was hard work, even when carried out mindfully at a gentle pace. In places the track was almost like an obstacle course; balancing on logs, climbing up and down steep sections that were crisscrossed by tree roots, that came out as much as 30 centimeters from the ground.

Ahead of me, bright sunlight shone through the tree canopy and was absorbed by exotic-looking leaves. I really enjoyed being mindful of how the air temperature fluctuated along the path. A cool patch could become warm, in a matter of steps.

I smiled, when I heard the singing frogs down below.

A couple of meters from the trail, there was a beige tree without bark that had a green vine climbing up its trunk. What a nice contrast.

As I reached the top of the ridge, the sound of moving branches made me look up towards the tree canopy. After awhile, I spotted some dark-gray monkeys. I stood still while giving relaxed attention to what I perceived with my senses.

The monkeys grunted as they crossed the track, about 15 meters above the ground.

When I moved on, I got caught in some sticky spider web that crossed the path.

Walking downhill, I became aware of fatigue in the thighs.

The golden sand on the track, I reflected, made the rainforest even more exotic.

Along the path, many hikers stepped on roots to make the trek as effortless as possible, which had flattened the beautiful hardwood.

The track cut a natural path through the rainforest. Sometimes it was almost straight, other times it curved its way through the dense jungle.

In some places huge trees had fallen and blocked the track. Most of those trees had a handful of floppy lianas hanging along the trunk. The woody vines are sometimes called air roots, because of their ability to absorb moisture from the air.

Decomposing Trees

I came across a huge tree trunk that had fallen across the path. The wood was really moist and almost completely decomposed, with plant roots growing on it. That made me think of what Goethe wrote, "Death is the trick nature plays for abundant life."

The fallen trees reminded me that everything is impermanent - nothing lasts forever.

In the far distance, I picked up the sound of crashing waves. I had probably trekked for a good hour and should be getting close to the end of the trail.

The path had narrowed down and the overhanging plants, with water droplets on the leaves, brushed against my side. As an exquisite butterfly flew past me along the trail, my subconscious coined the expression, "Butterfly highway."

The terrain dropped steeply as I got closer to the coast and the sound of the waves grew louder. It was uplifting to have reached the end of the track.

The Beach

The last few hundred meters brought me through a section where the path was really winding. Finally, I took a mindful step onto a large rock that was just a few meters above the sea.

There, I faced blinding sunlight and a steady hot breeze. Not to mention the smell of seaweed. The beach had coarse sand and large rounded rocks. I gazed out over the ocean and put my damp shoulder bag in the tropical sun to dry.

About 30 meters overhead, I spotted a scouting sea eagle. Even though it wasn't much more than a meter across, the bird looked truly majestic as it soared in wide circles.

The white head stood in sharp contrast to the black wings. Suddenly, it descended almost vertically in a tight bank. What a skillful predator!

It was really hot in the sun, so I moved over into the shade of some trees. I drank some water and slowly made my way back into the cool rainforest, that offered protection from the tropical heat.

Mindfully, I walked up the ridge.

Mindfulness Tips

It's best to be alone when walking mindfully, and it's a good idea to set out in the early morning while it's still cool.

It's safer to walk along a track than to venture off into the jungle without having a path to follow.

Take occasional breaks to practice sitting or standing meditation. That makes it easier to meditate, since it calls forth balance between concentration and mental energy.

Walk slowly down the trail and observe every impression as it impinges on your senses.

Give relaxed attention to your every step and the sounds around you.

To be mindful, means to give relaxed attention to your meditation object. For example, the sensations in the souls of your feet or what you see or hear.

It's truly rewarding to walk mindfully. It calms the mind and is emotionally soothing.

While practicing mindfulness, give part of your attention to what is going on around you. Look out for potential dangers such as snakes and large holes.

Also be mindful of your fear, as the rainforest closes in on you and you hear noises from the bush.

Finally, bring plenty of drinking water and snacks. Dried fruits make an excellent snack.

It's really inspiring to explore the rainforest.

Best of luck!

Related:   Mindfulness Explained   Walking Meditation   Mindfulness Tips

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