Minilogue #11: June 7, 2023

Solvitur ambulando,” wrote St. Augustine — “it is solved by walking.”

I’ve been re-learning the wisdom of Augustine’s words lately.  I’ve started walking a mile or so each day as a way to slowly and gently ease my way back into an exercise program.  I’m so far out of shape that I have to take it slowly, but I’m discovering that there are benefits associated with this ‘pedestrian’ hobby that go far beyond the physical.  For one thing, it’s a great way to meditate.  If sitting cross-legged isn’t your style, you may want to try ‘walking meditation.’ 

In his wonderful essay, Walking, Henry David Thoreau says, “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understand the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived from ‘idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘there goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.”

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who was often observed walking around his native Copenhagen, had a genius for sauntering.  He advised spiritual seekers, “above all, do not lose your desire to walk.  Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness.  I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”   Thoreau would certainly have included Kierkegaard on his short list of true “Saunterers.”

Walking allows us to travel at the speed of life, close to the earth. While walking, we can stop to chat with neighbors, or carry on a conversation with a companion, or with our own soul. The poet, Wordsworth, is said to have composed his best poems while walking through the English countryside. No notebook was necessary; the rhythms of the walk itself helped inscribe the words in his memory. Whether or not I can “walk myself into my best thoughts” remains to be seen – I still tend to write my sermons (and newsletter columns) sitting in front of a computer screen.   But I do plan to continue my newfound “spiritual exercise.” 

If you would like to explore walking meditation, I encourage you to set a specific schedule and stick to it.  Like any other habit or spiritual practice, walking meditation takes time to cultivate.  The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, was said to be so regular in his routine that the people of Konigsberg would set their clocks according to the time of his afternoon walk!  You don’t have to be quite that rigid, but for your own sake, a consistent schedule will help you establish this new rhythm in your life.  

The modern Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh also understood the art of sauntering. In his book on Walking Meditation, he states that “the purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving.”  According to the ancient Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Perhaps the first step for us on the journey to the “holy land” is a step away from our usual notions of goal-directedness, of achieving something and “getting somewhere.”  Only then do we begin to recognize the living landscape around us as sacred, just as it is.  

In the words of the Navaho prayer: 

With beauty before me may I walk,
With beauty behind me may I walk,
With beauty above me may I walk,
With beauty all around me may I walk.
It is finished in beauty……

It’s a beautiful day.  I think I’ll go for a walk.  Perhaps I’ll see you on the path. 

In good faith,