I walk every day.
When I don’t walk as much as I like to on a daily basis, I get antsy, anxious, antisocial — and a lot of other unpleasant words not beginning with a.
Now that we are all glued to some “smart” device feeding us far more useless drivel than any of us could possibly claim to need, my daily existence feels like a constant stream of words, trivia, news, information, misinformation, and junk. I seem to have less and less idea how to tune it out, let alone turn it off. Most nights I don’t sleep well, and during the day my body feels like it’s plugged into some electrical current that is burning up my peace of mind from the inside out.
We have all heard the benefits of meditation. But for some of us sitting isn’t the best way to unplug from the messy world and connect with our souls.
For me, when I finally stop, I really stop. In other words, almost as soon as I sit down, I fall asleep. So unless I am meditating in a group, every single sit ends in a snooze. Which is fine, and sometimes the best thing I could do. But aside from feeling a little respite from the buzz of daily life and my usual sleep deprivation, I don’t feel anywhere as cleansed and connected as I do during and after my daily walks.
Walking is my core meditation practice. Whether it’s a long walk, a contemplative walk, a walk to get lost, a photographic walk, a labyrinth walk — walking quiets my soul, cracks open my heart and stills my mind.
It also just feels great! There is never a time when after I walk I don’t feel better mentally, physically, psychically or emotionally than when I began.
Sitting, it is now said, is the new cancer. We are an obese sedentary society — and we are suffering the consequences. The more we sit, the harder it is to get out and walk. The more we don’t move, the more laborious movement feels. It’s a nasty Catch-22.
To people who live in other parts of the world, walking is a way of life. To really experience the world, you have to walk through it!
Thirty years ago, my friend Bonnie Stoll told me that whenever she visited a new city, she would run its streets every morning to really get to know her new surroundings. It’s true. When I walk, I really see a place, get to know it and its people and its smells and its energy. I feel connected and present — which is a kind of meditation in itself.
My personal favorite walking practice is getting lost. Now of course I always have my phone with me, so I know that I can find my way back to where I started from almost everywhere. So I’m never really “lost”. But you’d be surprised how disconcerting it can feel to feel like you don’t know where you are. And the longer you let yourself wander into unfamiliar territory, the more the anxiety can sometimes crop up. But once you learn to soothe yourself and let yourself know that you can be found just as easily as you can be lost, something extraordinary happens. You suddenly become absolutely present to right where you are.
Instead of moving through the world in a haze, you suddenly start to see and hear and feel and be right where you are in ways that connect you to your heart. Then your heart connects to the people or plants or animals or aromas around you — and suddenly you are actually experiencing that goal of all meditation: being fully present in the now.
I have let myself get lost so often now that I always know there’s going to be a glorious surprise!
One spring day in London I walked 20 miles. I started in the canals and from there went out into the streets. I hopped a train and got off and walked some more. I found myself at one point someplace I’d never been — the site of one of the most famous “walks” in the world.
I had to smile. Something in the way I had let myself move through the world made me feel like everything was coming together indeed!
I have had the great good fortune to live in London for multiple long stretches and to visit the city times too numerous to count. But I had often returned the same places over and over again.
Letting myself get lost like this in a city I love was the greatest gift!
I felt the truth of Rebecca Solnit’s observation in her wonderful book on the history of walking: “Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”
Walking is my core daily practice of joy — but sometimes I have wished I could share my joy in walking with other walking enthusiasts.
A few years ago my old friend Bonnie and her best friend Diana Nyad — started a group to combat the sedentary lifestyles of Americans. It’s called EverWalk — and they lead amazing walks where hundreds of people commit to walking 150 miles in a week. So imagine my joy when I was chosen to be an EverWalk Ambassador — to lead regular walks with people as I move about the country.
Over the past year and a half, I have led EverWalks in the United Kingdom and France and all over the United States. The joy in meeting and walking with new people everywhere I go has been immense. . . For me, EverWalk is PURE JOY!
So, if you like me, feel that finding more joy is essential to your daily life, heed the words of William Henry Davies and give walking a whirl:
“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?”
”Ride,” Pleasure said.
”Walk,” Joy replied.”
— William Henry Davies
This EverWalk Nation blog was adapted from an essay on walking written by our Nomad EverWalk Ambassador Victoria Price.