The Joy of Purposeless Walking
I come from a family of walkers. Even back in the 1960s, when most people considered going out for a drive to be a leisurely Sunday activity, my father took us out on walks. Unlike most kids in our neighborhood, my sisters and I walked the mile to school, rain or shine (but not uphill both ways …). As a family, we spent summer evenings walking to the Ohio River to watch the barges and the occasional steamboat glide by. My mother walked three miles a day well into her 80s. We never rode an elevator when we could climb the stairs.
So when I started practicing Insight meditation in the 1980s, I took to the walking meditation right away. I found myself antsy during sitting meditation, but being aware of walking grounded and calmed me.
All too often in our busy lives, our relationship with walking consists of short jaunts from the house to the car, the car to our place of work, or some other purposeful endeavor. We rarely walk simply to walk, and to enjoy the process.
A recent article posted on BBC’s online news magazine espouses the benefits of what they call “purposeless walking.” Authors and artists wax poetic about the well of creativity they access through walking without an agenda. Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, says of walking, “Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking.’”
This brings me back to walking meditation. While it is a specific practice when you are on a meditation retreat, walking meditation can easily be taken into everyday life. It’s really simple.
Here’s how: You can walk around your block, on a pathway in a park or in the woods. It doesn’t matter where you walk. Begin by standing, closing your eyes, and becoming aware of the sounds in your environment. Take a minute or so just to tune into the sounds. Let them move through you and feel where they resonate in your body.
Open your eyes and begin walking. Continue to allow sounds to wash over you as you feel your feet as you lift each off the ground and place it in front of you. Feel the pressure in your foot as it makes contact and how that pressure changes as you push off to propel your other foot forward.
It’s really all about awareness, feeling the sensations in your feet and legs, and taking in the sights, sounds, smells, the feel of the wind or sun on your skin. Even if your walk is just around your block, you may be surprised at the new delights you discover as you traverse familiar territory. Take time each day just to walk, and enjoy where your feet can take you.