Feb 26



Those who know me will understand my dismay and even disdain over not being able to take a walk.  Yet that was what I was confronted with.  I’ll spare you the details of how this happened and simply share that my back spasmed on me in such a way that I was bent over for the better part of two days.  I was unable to straighten my spine and walk erect. And the pain was excruciating.


By day three I was able to manage a tentative upright stance.  I was determined to take my daily walk and preceded outside my apartment in San Francisco.  In initiating this walk it was clear that I had to be very deliberate in how I placed my feet so as not to jar myself and receive a reminding jolt of how incapacitated I had become.  Still I persisted.


So I began my walking by being very slow and really taking care as to how I arranged myself with each step that I took.  I was very attentive to the slightest movements I was making.  The distance I traversed usually in a few seconds took minutes.  It demanded all my patience to stay with the process.  This was especially so since I was accustomed to walking my route at a certain pace and could feel the desire to return to this way of moving. 


Being challenged this way reminded me of some recent advise I gave a friend who was recovering from foot surgery.  He was appreciative of the reminder to slow down so that his healing could speed up.  Well doctor, heal thy self and take your own medicine.  With this in mind I committed to making at least one circuit around the park I walk with as much mindfulness as I could muster while retaining this extremely slow pace.


Luckily for myself I was familiar enough with this manner of moving since I have a long history of doing taijiquan (see blog The Power of Stillness).   As in taiji practice where the movements are done very slowly I carried this spirit into the walking process.  With such a deliberate way of walking I could feel more deeply into the stiffness in my body especially in the lower back region.  I relaxed into this and stayed with what was being felt with every step.  I saw that it was important to not force the issue and push to relax.  Instead there was the need to be allowing of just what was happening without changing it.  That is, rather than focusing on the desire to relax the tightness in my back, I allowed it to be felt as it was while still moving.


This mindful way of walking is the essence of meditation practice. By allowing the feeling and giving it space to be experienced I could let the rest of my body open to what was happening and to let the sensations I was feeling to spread.  As the walking continued, the task for me became how to stay open to letting what was an uncomfortable experience spread through the rest of my body.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not a masochist and do not welcome pain as something I want in my life.  However, I knew from a lot of work on myself that keeping my body open in this way does assist in the body changing its state.  The key was to stay in the process long enough for other things to show up.  To keep moving with out reacting or judging the experience is critical.


What began to emerge was the awareness of my verticality and my “up”.  One of the early injunctions in doing taiji is to keep your “up”.  This is often suggested by imagining that there is a string attached to the crown of your head and that your whole body is hanging down from this point.  So I incorporated this awareness of keeping my “up” as I continued walking.


As I kept relating to this sense of vertical alignment while staying open to what was being felt while walking I also became attuned to the force of gravity, to the downward pull of the Earth.  This is also part of taiji practice where, while maintaining your “up”, you also allow for your energy, the qi, to sink.  What occurs is this dynamic opposition of forces going down and up. 


My walking was giving me a wonderful lesson in the principles of taijiquan, seeing clearly the concept of yin and yang in action and how they were continually interacting.  By maintaining the awareness of the opposing up and down, of yin and yang, lightness and heaviness, it was clear that these separate energies were in relationship and continually adjusting to each other.  There is this continual balancing that occurs.  And in this balancing my body was finding its own way to be unified and be whole.


So much talk these days focuses on achieving balance in our lives.  However this balance is not static or a one-time achievement.  It is ever changing and needing to be adjusted to.  As long as we are alive there is movement and with movement we are constantly tugged this way and that.  What is in balance one moment becomes out of balance the next.  There is a need for a certain type of attention or vigilance to keep us engaged to modify our actions so that we can return to balance and with that a proper mixing of yin and yang.


However, this vigilance needs to be of a quality that is not grasping but allowing.  This is what is referred to by the Tibetan Buddhists when they talk about the cultivation of calm abiding.  Life is movement.  By calmly abiding to how I move I can discover where to return to balance and continue to stay open. 


And with that insight I was able to do my circuit of the park not once but three times.  By the end of the walk my pace had quickened as I allowed my body to naturally follow its tendency.  The back had loosened significantly and I felt that walking this way greatly contributed to healing my back.  In addition, I was reminded that walking could be a revelation.

1 comment

  1. Erik Carlson

    Hi Jeff,
    I’ve experienced your situation a couple of times in my life and agree with your insights. And like you when everything was lost, I went back to my tai Chi warm ups, Qigong, and allowing the current state and staying mindful in each step, each movement.
    May you be happy and well,

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