“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth, in the present moment, to enjoy the peace and beauty that are available now.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh in Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living
When I was eight months pregnant, we moved to this little German-speaking village in northern Italy, not far from the Austrian border. My husband and I had been living separately for over a year, because he’d found his first job as a specialist just outside the commuting area of the house we’d bought four years before. I worked as a contractor for the US military in Vicenza where I taught violence prevention, guided relaxation techniques, stress management and Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective Families. Imagine my surprise when I found myself stressed, angry and ineffective after the reality of full-time, homemaking and first-time parenting set in.
I found myself unable to enjoy anything –motherhood, coupledom, the astounding nature and fascinating community around me. I resented walking the dogs, cooking meals, and all things domestic. I ruminated about how to get out of the life I’d unintentionally and naively created for myself. I was waiting for Godot. After all, he’d promised me we’d be able to go back to England where our married life began. In my mind, everything would be better then; I couldn’t settle. I didn’t want to settle.
But, everything shifted when I decided to put my feet (and stroller tires) on the ground and be in the life I was living.
When my son was a little over a year old, a friend and I began The Morning Walk. Our motivations were simple: lose weight, break up the long days alone with the baby, and vent. We live in a valley between the foothills of the Alps, down a steep hill from the village center. We both pushed strollers up the curving incline to the center of town. Our muscles grew along with our kids.
Preschool began; we dropped the strollers and went higher and steeper, using the time to support each other and gain perspective from our parallel “love-pat” lives. Over the years, we’ve changed routes, pushing ourselves in different directions, and inspired each other when energy was low. Routines changed, but we continued with or without the other. It is deep in our bones now, a habit that be can’t broken.
It’s six years later and this Morning Walk has changed me mentally, physically, emotionally, and creatively. I no longer feel invisible and ineffective. I will never be stuck like I was before. This practice has led me to unexpected joys (like singing jazz standards with a 20-piece big band) and a groundedness I never thought I would experience outside my country of origin.
I walk for different reasons now. The stamina and strength is there, as is the bond of those toughening years pushing strollers together. I walk in consciousness and awareness of my breath and surroundings. I walk to awaken my senses and center myself. I walk to be a part of the changing seasons, to notice the tiny transformations in nature and the townspeople. Mornings, walking together, are not as frequent these days and, in turn, relished.
Sometimes, I use the time to treat myself to a favorite inspirational podcast. Other times, I practice loving kindness meditation to the rhythm of my breath and step. On days where my thoughts become tiny tornadoes, I whisper “just” (step) “this” (step), all the way up the hill. The time is mine; it becomes what I need it to be.
EVERY MORNING I CHOOSE TO WALK, I CHOOSE TO CULTIVATE JOY AND PEACE IN MY LIFE.
I fell upon this life-changing practice organically but, as it turns out, it’s been around for, oh…thousands of years. From the websites of contemporary Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh to the integrative specialist, Dr. Andrew Weil, there are literally MILLIONS of articles on Google, alone, in support of my personal experience.
Mindful Walking, that is walking with awareness of step, sensation, and breath, connects us to our environment, our body, and the present moment. It gets us out of our head, slows us down, and increases our ability to concentrate. It is free, available, and accessible to those who are able.
Walking expands our circle of control when we feel like everything is out of control. There are countless other proven and assumed benefits to walking meditation, mindful walking, and walking with others (including four-legged others).
But, it is the walk itself that teaches us everything we need to know:
- Day breaks so we can wake up.
- Just for today, put one foot in front of the other.
- You just have to start.
- Focus on the moment; the destination will come.
- Just go as far as you feel like the first time, no judgement, no expectations.
- See what the universe wants to show you.
- You don’t have to walk up a mountain, but you can.
- It doesn’t have to happen with a struggle.
- There is no rush. Stop and relish the spectacular and simple graces.
- When it burns, inhale. Notice the scents around you. Feel the weather on your face and the ground beneath your feet. Exhale and Listen.
- Keep going; it is worth it!
- Rain gives new perspective.
- Follow signs to center.
- Every thing, every one is changing all the time; nothing stays the same. Change. Is. Normal…uncomfortable…beautiful.
- Your perspective will change the closer you get to where you want to be; re-evaluate and make adjustments accordingly.
- Notice how far you’ve come and celebrate!
- Buds don’t bloom overnight; they withstand rain, hail, cold, heat, and predators, but they make it through and you will too.
- It is time to bloom where you are planted.
- Everyday, we get to begin again.
I wonder what shift could take place, if the entire world started their day off the way I start mine. I know that’s fanciful, but we all brush our teeth in the morning, don’t we? It’s just another habit that shows we care about ourselves. When we care about ourselves, we can care for others better.
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