At the end of the day, when I haven’t an ounce of energy left and I’m emptied out like a seashell (and yet dinner is still to be made), I have a habit of going walking.
No, it doesn’t make sense. So I ignore my thoughts, which say, “Go lie on the couch with the excellent book you are reading,” and instead grab my key and just go.
Walking, I’m open like a Mason jar to whatever will come. All 6 sense doors are awake and alive: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind. And I would also say, heart. When robins stand stiffly alert at my approach, staring at me bravely right in the eye, I look back with eyes filled with love. Tenderly, I bring the lilac bloom closer, smelling with rapture, one hundred percent present.
Now in the time of Coronavirus, I walk daily with my roommate, my beloved youngest son, who opens all the doors so I don’t have to touch them, and crosses the streets or walks behind the cars with me when others approach on the sidewalk, our maneuvers designed to protect the moms and babies, the dads and kids on bikes, the elderly ladies and gentlemen… I radiate Metta for all, revel in the air on my skin, and pause to admire the elegant blossoms of spring, so precious, so transient, so alive in this moment.
About joy, Eckhart Tolle says in A New Earth,
“Then what is the relationship between something that you do and the state of joy? You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present, any activity that is not just a means to an end. It isn’t the action you perform that you really enjoy, but the deep sense of aliveness that flows into it. That aliveness is one with who you are. This means that when you enjoy doing something, you are really experiencing the joy of Being in its dynamic aspect. That’s why anything you enjoy doing connects you with the power behind all creation.”
Last year I discovered Erling Kagge’s book, Walking: One Step at a Time. It was just sitting on a shelf at the library, holding within the voice of my new friend the Norwegian explorer, art collector, publisher and author, whose thoughts on walking I so resonate with!
Kagge says, “And this is precisely the secret held by all those who go by foot: life is prolonged when you walk. Walking expands time rather than collapses it…So much in our lives is fast-paced. Walking is a slow undertaking. It is among the most radical things you can do.”
Doesn’t this notion remind you of meditation? Very counter-culture, very balancing. And the more we are grounded in meditation, on and off the cushion, in being awake and aware in the present moment, the less there is of ourselves (and our fears and cravings and likes and dislikes) and the more there is of all that is vibrant and alive and redolent with joy.
I’ve chosen to walk over any other form of transportation whenever possible for decades. Partly to help the earth, partly because it allows me to connect with life so much more deeply, to drink in landscape and sky and everything in between.
Sometimes it’s just about what’s right in front of you.
One very sad year I wrote 260 poems, some of them while walking to work, pausing, extracting my notebook from my backpack and dashing off a poem right on the spot. It was my way of healing myself, or at least holding on to myself—walking, absorbing, observing, being fully in the present moment—which was always wonderful, in its own way. This was written on my way to work:
The ineffable fragrance of you
I trod across the hillside
rounded the corner
and was stunned
by the ineffable fragrance
Suddenly I became all
about finding you,
buried in a woodland thicket,
the cause of this glorious infusion,
this piercing, classic, delicious
And there you were, modest
in size and appearance, but
Empress of the lands around
you, and I your slave.
Can you guess the object of my fascination? (I’ll tell you: honeysuckle.)
Kagge says, “The longer I walk, the less I differentiate between my body, my mind and my surroundings. The external and internal worlds overlap. I am no longer an observer looking at nature, but the entirety of my body is involved.”
Even in the city, even in the pandemic, the endless blue of the sky, the call of the woodpecker, the lushness of green in the rain, are right outside the door, ready to enchant, to infuse our very beings. With joy!