Precious Autumn

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

This week’s spiritual practice is to pause, notice, open to the beauty of autumn.  Last week there were some glorious fall days with azure skies and tangerine leaves, leaving me amazed and delighted as I walked the dog.  It was impossible not to see the intense colours, so strong and alive in the sunlight.

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Pause, Notice, Open is a simple practice that brings us into the moment.

Go out for a walk around your neighbourhood or a local park, during the day, in sunshine or not.

Pause, breath slowly and deeply.  Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. How are you feeling? Take a few moments to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice, after checking in with yourself, look outwards.  Look at the vegetation around you, at the trees and shrubs, even down at the ground. Try to keep your eyes “soft”, let your eyes roam about you and then return to whatever tree or shrub captures your attention.  Look more closely, study the leaves, look at the light.  Move around to see the tree from different angles. Take photos if it helps you focus.

Open:  Once you’re satisfied with the looking, stand still and breath deeply.  Look a little more, take the experience into your body, and offer some gratitude out in return – to the trees, to life, to God, whatever works for you.  Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your walk.

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The chalice, freely offered…

“There is an art to wandering. If I have a destination, a plan – an objective – I’ve lost the ability to find serendipity.  I’ve become too focused, too single-minded. I am on a quest, not a ramble. I search for the Holy Grail of particularity, and miss the chalice freely offered, filled full to overflowing.”  Cathy Johnson, On Becoming Lost

For the final SpiritWalk this month, simply wander. At some point in your day, decide to take 15 minutes for a SpiritWalk. Even an indoors walk can be rewarding. Stop what you are doing, ground yourself in your breath, then simply start walking slowly, looking around. Who knows what you might see when you pay attention?

Life is All Around

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” Henry David Thoreau

This week, go for a SpiritWalk in nature. Be aware of all the creatures that live around you. Go quietly and slowly, looking around you. Stand still for a few minutes. Birds and animals that shy away at people’s normal pace may come out when you go slow or even stand still. Few of us will be as privileged as Thoreau, but you might be surprised by some of your bird or animal neighbours. Blue jays, cardinals, voles, mice, squirrels, robins, chickadees, rabbits, raccoons, merlin hawks, bats, seagulls, ducks, snails, ants, and one fall, wild turkeys, lived in my old uptown neighbourhood in Waterloo.  When I sat quietly in the backyard, there would be so much life going on around me. Birds flitting and chirping, rabbits tentatively hopping out in the early evening, unafraid if I sat still.  I felt refreshed by the reminder that life goes on all around me.

If you feel like you aren’t noticing any creatures, take a good look down at the ground. You might see spiders, ants, beetles, and snails busy going about their lives.

As always with this spiritual practice, centre yourself before going on the walk.

Be still and take some deep breaths, let out any tension from the day, shake out your arms and legs, stretch your neck, and straighten your spine.  When you feel quieter and calmer, take one last breath before you go.

When looking for the wildlife that lives in urban spaces, I suggest not taking a camera, at least the first time you try this SpiritWalk. If you want to remember the creature, take the time to tell yourself some of its details like colour, shape, sound. Careful observation will help you remember the details, and make it easier for you to identify the animal next time.

Walking into Day

“It is not talking but walking that will bring us to heaven.” Matthew Henry

This week’s SpiritWalk is about seeing your home place in a new light. Go for a slow mindful walk at a time of day that you aren’t usually outside. That may be early in the morning, as dawn breaks, or late at night under the stars. It may even be at noon; instead of running errands at lunch time, take fifteen minutes to explore the area around your workplace. Bring fresh eyes to this everyday area. How is it different at this new time of day?

SpiritWalk Practice

Before leaving, sit quietly with your eyes closed and your feet firmly on the floor. Breathe deeply and slowly.

Feel your feet on the floor.

Get up, in silence, and go outside.

Walk slowly, glance around you, up above, down below.  If something catches your eye, stop and examine it.

Look at the sky. Notice the clouds, or the stars, or the colour of the sky.

Look at the ground. Notice the sidewalk, the cracks in the concrete. Notice any green life that is growing.

Take your time to see all that is around you. Pay attention.

When you return inside, sit quietly for a few minutes in reflection.

 

Walking with Spirit

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?

SpiritWalk

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.  Continue reading