Oct 01


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen travel comes to mind most of us think of the type of transport we use to get to a destination.  How often do you see depicted in posters, flyers or what not iconic images of planes, ships, railroad engines, buses and cars.  The idea of being on foot is pretty low on the totem pole.  And yet much of how we travel is on foot.  We do this by default since we still make our connections between transport systems by foot.


And to really explore a place we usually disembark to “stretch our legs” and explore the location for a while.  Once we are walking different possibilities emerge.  Yet how often do we make ourselves available for such experiences? 


I like to walk.  A lot.  Not only is it a great way to keep yourself fit, it offers you a greater intimacy with your surroundings.  This is true whether you are exploring some place for the first time or you are a dedicated exerciser repeating the same course on a daily basis. 


I repeat.  Walking is a great way to have intimacy with a place but it is no guarantee.  My hesitation in declaring a causal connection between walking and knowing a place is because of how I deploy my attention from moment to moment. 


Walking is an activity we all can engage in with little awareness.  It is more than a well-formed habit that we have learned.  Walking is built into our genetic programing and is innate.  As such we take it for granted until we are injured, ill, or have declined in age.  In fact, afflicted with the just mentioned maladies may be the only times I really attend to what it means to walk. 


The point I want to make is how little time we spend actually sensing our body as it moves through the landscape.  I would wager that as much as 90% of our time walking is focused on what we are thinking.  It is quite amazing that we are able to do this and still negotiate the terrain we traverse.  There are so many things we need to adjust for: other pedestrians, obstacles of all kinds, potential dangers and all kinds of assaults on the safety of our physical being.  And through it all we can entertain all kinds of ideas, images, and memories before we arrive at where we are going.


I would contend that we actually aren’t moving through a particular place external from ourselves.  Rather we are captivated by a vastly different landscape that is primarily internal.  If I am deeply “lost in thought” I may not even remember how I got some place.


This is all well and good for much of how we need to function in life.  My concern is that we have allowed the default way of how we function in society to limit our access to a much deeper and richer experience about living.  Often our walking reflects how driven we have become in life.  You can see it on each of our faces.  I hardly ever see people smiling and too often I see faces scrunched into all sorts of distorted masks of tension. 


And yet this most basic means of transporting ourselves can provide for us profound experiences about how we can live.  Being more mindful of our walking in a way that reconnects to the sensation of our body can be a resource for how we grow and develop. It is a choice that requires constant renewal.  And with that we have entered the field of meditation. 


Meditation in its most basic aspect is a practice of returning our attention to a particular focus over an extended period of time.  As in relaxation, meditation is not a destination.  There is nothing to achieve.  Not even the aimed for meditative state, whatever that may be.  Rather we are talking about a process. 


When walking, if I focus my attention on what my body is experiencing, I quickly become acquainted with all sorts of sensations, tensions, twitches, even pains that I normally ignore or block out.  Rather than resisting these impressions, I try to accept them and give them space in my awareness.  Being careful to allow these sensations to accompany me as I walk they seem to let go or dissolve of their own accord.  If I continue to open up and allow whatever wants to be felt, these, in turn, will fade away or return and even persist.  


With the fading of these impressions a greater degree of relaxation occurs.  If I stay with it I may find myself moving in a way that has more ease and flow.  In fact, research confirms this and refers to this as being in the zone: a state that high performers in business, athletics, and the arts demonstrate.  What is exciting for me is that entering such a condition often elicits some amazing insights and ideas about things I have been working on. 


This way of walking is like sitting by the fishing hole waiting for something to bite.  By staying present without trying to grab at something the possibility of something more significant can emerge, often in startling ways.  It is like you are sitting by the side of this well from which things bubble to the surface.


Approaching my walks this way has been a powerful addition to the work I do for myself and for my clients.  This is particularly relevant for people trying to find their purpose in life, seeking a vision, or just trying to set goals or solve a problem.


But there is more to this.  Walking as I have described is not the same as being lost in thought.  It is more like waiting and staying present to what may happen.  Being this way actually makes you more alert and awake to your surroundings.  It can even save your life. 


I’m recalling a time I walked around the streets of NYC late at night.  It was in an area that was more industrial so there was very few people on the streets.  I was engaged in walking with presence and became aware of being followed.  I could sense these two potential troublemakers from quite a distance.  Rather than panic I continued to walk at the pace I was walking and deepened my sense of connection to my body.  I felt very powerful and ready without fear.  Yes, I was a bit full of myself and still young.  However, I got the distinct impression that these fellas lost interest in me probably thinking I wouldn’t have been an easy target to roll.  As suddenly as they appeared they turned away and went back from where they had come from.


This incident had reminded me of how samurai warriors would train their minds to be prepared for attack.  They would sink themselves into a mental state like being a spider at the center of a web.  The radiating spokes of the web would be their extending awareness into the surrounding space.  Any potential enemy who entered this extending space could be felt early just the way that a spider could detect when a fly was caught in the periphery of its web.


So walking in a different way can serve us in profound ways as well as being a way to stay connected to our environment.  I can be inside and out at the same time with full attention.


  1. Jack

    I learned this all at a very young age from my unlikely hero, Mr. Magoo:
    (copy and paste into browser for illustration)

    1. jeffkelton

      This brought a smile to my face. I’m not sure what it is that you learnt. I’m wondering whether you are referring to where I refer to how many of us walk “blindly” and have little awareness about the environment we are moving through. Interesting for me, Mr. Magoo does suggest a way to alter your “seeing” that can invite a new way to view things. When my vision becomes blurred or fuzzy it does suggest a different way of knowing places, a la a dreaming quality. Thanks Jack for sharing this.

  2. Iris Stanfield

    As usual I enjoyed everything about your article. I recognized myself in the statement that often we are captivated by our internal landscape. Too often this is how I walk about. Your writing always encourages me to stay present. Thanks for a valuable reminder. iris

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