Christian Reifsteck, Standing Stones Healing Co.
Walking is well known for its physical, emotional, and mental benefits, but it provides important spiritual benefits, as well. For thousands of years, various cultures have used walking in ritual, shamanic practicing, spiritual journeying, and pilgrimages. It’s a well-worn path to spiritual awakening, and practically all spiritual traditions have used walking as a way to deepen connection to the divine. Walking is embedded in our bones, and we can turn it into a simple spiritual act that deepens our spirituality. Below are 5 tips for walking your way to deeper spirituality.
1. Go alone.
When done in solitude and silence, walking provides us with time for self-reflection and contemplation. It’s an opportunity for us to listen to the world around us and the voice within us and to heighten awareness of each. When walking with another, it’s much more challenging to be focused and aware. Walking partners will chat, have a different pace, want to take a different route, or want to stop or keep going when you might not want to. In short, walking with others doesn’t allow for the individualistic self-directed experience that can allow for the greatest spiritual benefits
2. Walk with awareness.
Walking alone allows you to bring more awareness to the walk itself and to have a greater sensory awareness of the moment. This is the most important aspect of walking as a spiritual practice. We want to bring our awareness to the walk, to the feel of our feet on the earth, the smells, temperature, wind, sounds that surround us. In this way, walking becomes a meditative practice.
It’s ok if your mind wanders away from the sights, sounds, and smells of your walk. You may start to think about problems you’re facing, challenging experiences, or uncertainties. The back and forth motion of walking, called bilateral movement, actually helps facilitate deep thinking and problem solving, so your mind very well may wander, and the chances are good that you’ll gain new perspectives and come up with solutions to challenges you’re facing. Breathe, take in your surroundings, and notice your feelings. Become aware of all aspects of the walk, including any walking that might be occurring in your mind.
The mindset you bring to your walk is much more important than where you walk. It does not matter if you walk in the city or the country, down alleyways, on a forest trail, or through a shopping district. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that “Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path.” Anywhere you walk can lead you to deeper spirituality.
Neither is the destination important because the goal is not to get somewhere. Rather, the objective is to be present in the moment and the experience. You can walk around your neighborhood, along city streets, through fields, or up a mountain. The location is not as important as your mindset.
3. Walk in nature if you can.
Although you can walk anywhere to deepen your spirituality, walking in nature often creates a deeper spiritual experience. Nature is a spiritual booster, and walking in a natural area, preferably quiet and somewhat removed from the bustle of life, will help you to derive even more benefit from your walk. Nature calms and focuses us. It is quiet, unhurried, and operates on its own time, and when we walk in nature, its rhythms can slow us down, quiet us, and help us to turn inward.
Walking in nature also means that we can experience all of the spiritual benefits of being in nature as well as those of walking. However, I have personally experienced numerous deeply soul satisfying walks around the neighborhood, so if a natural area, such as a large garden or park, the woods, or plains, is hard to come by for you, then any safe area outside will suffice.
4. Leave electronics behind.
As long as you are outside, it does not matter where you go, but rather how you go. Turn off your phone, leave behind the music, and be absorbed in the walk itself. Talking on your phone, listening to music, or playing games while walking don’t count because they distract from your surroundings and the act of the walk. It’s difficult to be alone with your thoughts while playing Pokemon Go, and it’s impossible to be connected to your surroundings when your attention is split. Because phones, music, games, and any other form of distraction will distract from the experience, definitely leave them behind or silence them.
5. Walk for at least 20 minutes.
In addition to walking outside, alone, and without distraction, I advocate a walk of at least twenty minutes because it’s a solid amount of time to be engaged in an activity and derive benefit from it. Watching the clock to make sure that you hit your twenty minutes defeats one of the main purposes for the walk, which is to disconnect from our time obsessed, busy lives. I suggest twenty minutes, though, because it’s a good chunk of time to work with: enough to feel results, but not so much that it feels like wasted time or distracts you because you should be doing “productive” things. Twenty minutes is enough time to slough off thoughts and feelings, change your mindset or mood, and be absorbed in what you’re doing.
Though twenty minutes is a great length to shoot for, you may very well want to keep walking. Sometimes the point at which you thought you would or should stop isn’t where you want to stop, after all. I myself have gone on a few walks around the neighborhood where I returned home, wasn’t ready to stop walking, and took another lap around the block. If you feel like you want to do more, by all means, please do.
Because of pain or impatience, you may personally find that twenty minutes is too long at first, and that’s ok. Literally take a few steps, and if that’s all you can do, do a few more the next time until you can build up to twenty minutes. We must all start from where we are, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t reach twenty minutes at first.
Wherever you start from and wherever you go, walking is an excellent spiritual exercise. No matter where or for how long you walk, it can help you to access deeper levels of awareness. Follow these five tips to walk for spiritual exercise.
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