Sole Work ? Walking the Spiritual Path

For the past several years I have struggled with getting (and staying) fit. Ok I admit it, the struggle has been longer than just a few years. As a kid, instead of playing nicely with the girls, I fought with the neighborhood boys. I attempted to join their fun and received new scars weekly in bloody games of soccer. I was always the last one picked to play on the kickball team and, as the catcher of my 5th grade softball team, I pummeled the pitcher in the head with a fast ball. Uncoordinated in team sports, I succeeded only at baton twirling which was fun but I barely broke a sweat. After failures in group sports I thought I'd try running so, a few years ago I attempted to train for a half marathon. I ended up limping home in tears and thought I'd never exercise again. (I couldn't even MOVE after that, much less exercise!)

Over the years I've used walking as a way of getting out of the house, of 'warming up' for more vigorous exercise and just to hang out with friends. This year, walking has turned into much more for me. Walking allows me to integrate mind, body, and spirit in a way that I've not experienced before. Athletes speak of being "in the zone." I see that I too am an athlete and that walking can be vigorous and can provide my body with the movement it craves. Walking has allowed me to reclaim fitness goals that I had given up on. I think I've finally found something that I can be good at and stick with long term!

"Movement in the body brings movement in the mind. It is a natural alchemy. So many of us seek this kind of movement in our lives, a fusion of being and doing."- Carolyn Scott Kortge from her book, The Spirited Walker

These days, our lives are set at an incredibly frantic pace. We have so much on our plates that we fear we'll never get everything done, and we wonder when we'll find time to do those things that bring us pleasure. Even when the world seems to be spinning out of control, walking can restore our sense of inner peace. Time seems to expand, giving us a chance to slow down, to relax, to appreciate ourselves and our lives.

Even when we are 'just going out for a walk', we are hardly ever just walking. We carry our mind around with us when we walk, so we are usually absorbed in our own thoughts. I have come to see that the sole work of walking has turned into soul work. I have even nicknamed some of my walks with particularly insightful friends 'walk and talks' where we process life together and use walking as a metaphor for moving forward in life.

And then there's walking alone which frees us up for some internal dialogue. I've learned to turn off the cell phone, take off the headphones and stop drowning out the natural world. When I allow myself to hear my own thoughts and resolve any internal conflicts, I am at peace in the sanctuary of my mind. Moving meditation, or spiritual walking is a wonderful way of grounding ourselves in our own presence.

"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right." Soren Kierkegaard

Even if our job is wonderful, our family is healthy and our future seems bright, we can lose touch with the deepest part of ourself unless we slow down enough to breathe deeply, to still our thoughts and to observe the natural world with a sense of wonder. Walking with awareness provides us with an opportunity to connect with the surrounding nature and our "inner nature". Then we are able to tend to the trinity that we are made up of - mind, body and spirit. In creating a balance among all three, we enhance the quality of all areas of our life.

Use a long walk or hike to come home to yourself. If you don't go within you'll go without!

So often we walk hurriedly, rushing from place to place in a state of mindless detachment. Spiritual walking is a form of meditation in motion. Pick a route that will allow you to practice mindfulness by fully engaging your senses. Feel the hard pavement or soft grass beneath your feet, drink in the aroma of the honeysuckle as you pass by and make a mental note of what flowers are in bloom. Notice the feel of the wind against your face. The rhythm of walking helps us to quiet our minds and from time to time we may receive inspiration or gain insight into some troubled area of our lives.

Plan a walking retreat.

You can use walking as a sort of mini-retreat. I'm not talking about going away for a week or even a weekend, unless you want to, of course. I'm suggesting that you set aside a few hours, or even a full day for an exploration on foot - far from the demands of work, home, and family.

First, choose a date on your calendar and mark it as your "retreat day." You want this day to be yours, for your personal walking adventure. Next, identify a place that you want to explore on foot. If you enjoy being out in nature, call your local parks and recreation department to request maps of your area. If you love looking at homes and gardens (one of my favorite kinds of walks), think of a neighborhood that you'd like to see up close. You want to spend your time walking, not driving so try to choose a location that's not too far from home. If you never have to get in your car, that's even better.

The hour-long neighborhood walk that I take ends in a long slope that leads to the street that I live on. I listen to my body tell me, "we can't do this, we'll never make it home." I hear my own inner demons loud and clear and then I bid them farewell using positive self-talk. As I approach the top of the hill I recount what a wonderful walk it was and how strong I am becoming. I'm glad it's over, yet I'm already looking forward to the next outing!

I am grateful for spiritual walking. For me, it is a new route to wellbeing, a merger of muscle and mind. Infusing my exercise routine with spirituality has turned a good walk into a God walk!

Diana Kennedy is the author of Living from Spirit website and email newsletter. She leads the 9:30am church service at Unity of Tallahassee where she is Ministerial Assistant. Diana is a licensed massage therapist working at All About You! Massage. To contact her, call 850-878-2130, visit http://www.dianakennedy.com, or email living_from_spirit@yahoo.com.

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