The following article by West Coast Community member, Margaret Bradford, is the second in our series about Right Livelihood.
Healthy Steps Hiking
About 11 years ago I began thinking about what to do for my livelihood. I had retired from my teaching job but was getting only 1/3 of my retirement and my mortgage had suddenly cost 4 times more than it had since I bought the house. I had been tutoring children but I needed to make more money. I was 62. For years I had wondered what work I could do that I would really enjoy doing. I remembered Joseph Campbell’s pronouncement, “Follow your bliss.” I knew I liked to practice Dzogchen but no one was going to pay me to meditate. I had a master’s degree in psychology but had not had time, having had a late life child and an illness, to get my license to practice.
I love nature and gardening. I find being in nature healing and I love to hike. I decided to ask the local adult school if I could teach a hiking class. They were a bit hesitant but did put it in the catalog for the fall of 2002. I had 15 students the first semester. I planned different hikes in the open space near my home. As people began coming to the class they invited friends to join and soon there were more than 20 people. We walked at that time 4 to 6 miles.
People that came were from all different circumstances. Some had lost a loved husband or child. Some were retired and looking for something to do. Some were recovering from illness or psychological trauma. Some were couples who wanted an activity to do together. Gradually everyone got stronger and we started to hike 7 or 8 miles. For the people who didn’t want to do more miles I started a Tuesday class. They hiked the 4 miles. Some wanted to do 6 to 7 miles and I started a Thursday class to accommodate them. The Wednesday group started going 8 to 10 miles and hiking steeper hills. Now I am working three days a week.
I introduce the history of the place where we are hiking at the beginning of the class. During the hike we look at wildflowers or eatable wild plants. All seasons in the hills and along creeks are beautiful and inspiring. We hike rain or shine. There were a few rainstorms that were especially memorable. Windblown and drenching wet we took refuge once in a winery. We had a great meal and no one got sick. Sometimes we called ourselves “The Gourmet Hiking Group” because we often eat out at local restaurants after the hike.
Once I was asked to organize a trip to the Copper Canyon in Mexico. We had so much fun that after that I was asked to organize many foreign trips including Costa Rica, the Yucatán, to see the Mayan and Aztec ruins, Panama, Peru and the Galapagos. We also went to New Zealand and hiked with local groups. It is great to be with people we know and like on a trip. Our regular hikes have become further away too. Sometimes we have hikes in national parks or state parks that are 21/2 hours away. We have been known to camp or stay in a motel and hike more than one day.
The adult school started charging a great deal for the hikes so I started my own business called Healthy Steps. I still have 3 groups. People stay with the groups because the camaraderie is special and supportive. Close friends have been made and people do trips together outside of the hiking group. Some of us formed a book club and we have lively discussions about different aspects of life.
I have heard people say that they have stopped their medication for different ailments because they are so much healthier. Some feel that the group has been invaluable in supporting them in a crisis. People feel that they have changed their priorities and their life is transformed. Retirement has been made fuller and richer for others. One of the people in the group described what the group has meant to her:
I used to think that taking a walk along the Acalanes Ridge each evening just before sunset would help me keep my feet on the ground. I proudly set my goal at reaching 10,000 steps a day, but somehow my perspective was all off. I thought that simply getting my cardiovascular exercise was a good way to deal with stress and that simply being out in nature would keep me in touch with my small place in this vast and beautiful world. Now I can laugh at this faulty foothold on reality, this old vision of me against the world. Joining Margaret's Healthy Steps taught me how none of us stands alone against the world. By walking with Margaret's group, I have come to have a more important perspective. Together we nurture one another. It is in being with others as we pass through the hills and valleys of life, that we are uplifted.--Linda Johnson
"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety." James Baldwin
We spoke about how a hike into unknown areas even in our local open space can be a metaphor for this change. It is not really safe always to go on the rugged trails we go on. There are rocky places to fall, steep slopes, rattlesnakes and ticks. We are often challenged to finish a particularly strenuous hike. We persevere and although exhausted feel more complete. Once a bull came out of a thicket and knocked down one of the hikers, a shy man, who became instantly famous. When people face challenges together they feel closer. When we enjoy the meals and trips together we also feel a strong bond and feel nurtured by the mutual sharing of our stories....
Being with these people these eleven years, hiking and traveling with them over time, gives me a renewed sense of how I can benefit others and have an enjoyable way to cope with my circumstances. I have a better sense of my place in the world and a renewed self respect. I needed these feelings to help my Dzogchen practice even though I don’t have as much time to do formal practice. This is a bit strange perhaps. I think I needed more balance and joy in my life as well as on the cushion. Now I try to be present while I am living more fully.
Margaret Bradford is one of the founding members of the West Coast Tsegyalgar Community and Baja. She is a long time student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. To learn more about Healthy Steps Hiking, visit