Most everyone has heard of walking as the ultimate health booster, cardio enhancer, stress reducer or even as meditation. Out of a need to improve my own health, I have taken up a daily walk practice and have experienced all the above and more,but like any activity pursued consistently in earnest, the benefits come with unexpected surprises and life enhancers. The standout benefit here has been a simple return to the unadorned mundanity of everyday life.
Yeah that’s right. An anticlimactic,humdrum return to the seemingly tawdry, quotidian foot in front of the other existence that stares us in the face every day. Sounds like a downer? It’s not.
Like many, my initial reasons for starting a walking practice were and still are health driven ones. What health in this exercise has come to mean however has broadened. The usual things that a accompany a new activity came along for the ride– moderately sore muscles, beneficial fatigue, the pre dawn arisal filled with grogginess as my body acclimates to the routine. The enthusiasm that comes with anything novel carried me through this,but as the walk became more a part of daily life things got more interesting.
First, it’s hard to be consistent. That’s no revelation for anyone reading this,but the actual grind of being consistent with any practice is something we all encounter. Indolence, rationalization, life concerns real or imagined are all reliable buffers we all know well and yes aching muscles have their say. It didn’t take long to notice that each day had it’s own signature in the qualities of the walk. Each day was different,each walk unique. The feel of the weather, body sensations, energy levels, internal dialogue and more presented a different mood or field of experience each day. My vitality and enthusiasm varied greatly even as I made progress. Again, no revelation here, but the catch was I had to come to accept myself as I was each day(and I still wrestle with this) and let the walk just be the walk. In other words the consistency here is coming to be in the doing and not so much in the performance imbedded in expectations,success or failure.
I could for example “zone out” and let my mind run from one thing to the next and then gently come back to the immediacy of what I was feeling with each step and sensation. Where is my breath? My weight? My spine? What about the spaces in between each step? Each shift in attention would bring about an immediate change in the quality of the walk. Movement could be smooth,choppy, restricted,natural, large or small. Changes in attention introduced subtle inflections and surprises, searching for that natural effortless gait. Of course it rarely came. On the “choppy” days I would try to recreate the smooth performance of a previous day in memory often to no avail. It felt contrived honestly, and I had (and still have) to come to accept the state of things as they are. On days where I tired faster I would cut the walk short, slow down and take the time to hear chirping crickets, the sound of distant traffic, or the smell of coffee brewing as I passed the local coffee house. I got to experience the change of season, steamy humidity and dog poop. After each walk I would return home satisfied with my walk. Or not.
Perhaps it’s becoming apparent that this whole thing can become a meditation on acceptance. Each walk, each step, each breath carving out a unique tapestry in our experience deceptively hidden in the simple doing of it. In an earlier article I tried to communicate the great value of what happens when we put our attention to a practice of some sort. It doesn’t matter what it is,only that we come back to it. This sets us on a collision course with the simple mundanity of of our everyday lives where the treasures of presence, essential knowledge, insight, humility and of course, Love have their being. By keeping the cauldron on the fire so to speak we give time for the slow cooking so necessary to extract what is most essential to our lives, so that we may live it as examined rather than unexamined.
There is something in us that resists this call to self observation and attention as if we doubt or fear the claim that something of value will arise from it. The unadorned mundanity of it seems to promise little or beckon to nothing in us or to us,and the challenge of each type while differing in the obstacles presented and experienced, seem daunting, and so we keep pulling the cauldron off the fire before it boils. But if we persist the phantasms,images,reactivity and emotions that distract us and siphon off our vital energy have less a foothold on us and they begin to be seen for what they are — shadows that issue from a point that does not need defending or clings to separation.
We are reminded by many wisdom traditions that this realization is always at hand,that any vehicle will do,and so we need not feel judgmental upon ourselves or discouraged by the journey’s tedium. How comforting then,to know we have everything for the journey, lacking nothing, the cultivation of discernment that leads to good guidance whether from a good teacher or from our own inner prompting will come about as we try to keep the cauldron on the fire.
And so I walk