A few years ago I was driving son to hockey along 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. Obviously the barn was from the original farm, it had probably been there for a hundred years, yet despite driving on this street regularly for years I had never noticed it. It can be so easy not to notice our surroundings, but what are we missing?
For the month of May, mindful walking will be the weekly practice. Walking, moving in the world has long associations with spirituality. Spiritual walking practices include: pilgrimages, labyrinth, meditative walking, walkabouts in aboriginal traditions, and ritual walks.
For Unitarian Universalists, our version of the mindful walking experience – SpiritWalk – 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. Take fifteen minutes to half an hour walking, moving slowly, stopping to examine what catches your eye. You won’t get very far. Take a camera and take pictures if that helps you notice things. It can feel like a luxury of time, to simply wander slowly and pause, like a toddler, whenever your fancy takes you. After the walk, sit in reflection for about fifteen minutes. You might write in a journal, review the photos, or simply sit and consider what you have seen.
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.
This is a great activity to do with children as they often notice interesting objects adults miss. Choose a shorter route and stay on quieter streets or try a park, where the kids can move more freely.
In Your Neighbourhood
This week, start close to home. Walk two or three blocks from your front door. See what is in your immediate neighbourhood. Are there trees? Wildlife? What is the architecture? Notice the condition of the sidewalk.
Check a map and choose a route before you go. A route you can walk briskly in 10 minutes will take about 25 minutes in a SpiritWalk. Bring the map with you if you don’t know the area well. Knowing where you are going allows you to relax into the walk, instead of looking for signposts.
Before leaving the house, sit for a minute in silence, breathing slowly.
Leave as quietly as you can. Remember the walk is done in silence.
After 20 minutes to 30 minutes outside, find a quiet place to reflect. Consider what attracted your attention. What was compelling about these items? What did you see that you hadn’t seen before? How did you feel during this mindful walking?