Several weeks ago we were driving my son to hockey along University Ave, a road we have driven many times over the years. As we passed a small strip mall, I was astonished to see an old weathered barn tucked in between the mall and the sea of residential backyards that backs onto the road. I pointed it out to Marc, and he didn’t remember ever seeing it before. Obviously the barn was from the original farm, it had probably been there for a hundred years, yet despite driving on this street regularly we had never noticed it. It can be so easy not to notice our surroundings, but what are we missing?
Last week I led a SpiritWalk in the neighbourhood near First Toronto where I am the intern minister. A SpiritWalk is not a meditation walk in the buddhist style with a focus on a measured pace and the breath, but is a mindful walking experience. It is intended to tune your mind and your senses to the present moment, to encourage attentiveness to the world around you.
The emphasis is on experiencing being in the world, to the here and now, letting your attention linger on whatever catches your eye. A SpiritWalk can be done alone or in a group, but is walked in silence. We spent half an hour walking about four blocks, and then sat together in reflection for about fifteen minutes. Everyone had been struck by different things, by the shape of a leaf, the beauty of a daffadil, the arc of a round gable windown, an ant carrying a fly. It felt like a luxury of time, to simply wander slowly in this community. Some of us brought cameras and captured certain moments, others simply looked. I find the camera helped me notice a moment of light or symmetry more clearly.
Mindful walking is a good spiritual practice for grounding. It opens your senses while soothing the spirit. For Unitarian Universalists, it allows us to integrate our mind, body and spirit. Walking moves the body while quieting the mind, allowing our busy minds to slow down and let go of the usual worries. It isn’t about emptying the mind, but allowing it to refresh and focus on the present moment.
Below are a few of the pictures that I took. The number of small beautiful things was astonishing.