There is nothing more soul-renewing than a very long, meandering, aimless walk. And I do mean aimless -- as in, "I'm heading out! I have no idea how long I'll be or where I'm going!"
I started walking this way quite by accident, in the midst of recovering from the heartache and confusion of losing my job. I had been slothful through winter, alternating between insomnia and sleeps so deep I wasn't sure what day it was when I woke. But with the changing light of spring, I was beckoned out of doors.
Finding Peace Amidst the Chaos
I was in Manhattan, and cities are excellent places for meditative walks. They're full of interruptions and distractions, but there is always a bus stop or a person with directions within easy distance. So you can suspend the anxiety about getting lost or getting home.
And all that noise does for humans what shape does for bats: Even if we aren't tuning into it, it guides our steps and signals danger or direction.
A city walk also delivers the pleasure of unexpected architectural discoveries: trolls clinging to the corners of buildings, swags of flowers carved into stone friezes.
These days I'm walking in the country, in coastal Rhode Island, where the blackbirds and foxes keep me company.
"Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind," writes Rebecca Solnit in "Wanderlust: A History of Walking." The mind eventually begins to follow the feet, and a logjam of anxiety starts to come loose.
From Type A to Point Be
Long walks are the cure for writer's block, lover's block, mother's block, friendship block, and any other kind of obstacle that we try to deliberately gnaw our way through, worrying over the problem and getting nowhere.
Better to let yourself really go nowhere and experience the delicious paradox of losing yourself to find yourself.
Walking with indirection has, at heart, a paradoxical benefit. When you stop making decisions for a little while, before you know it, you are filled with purpose, and the goals and paths of your life take on a new clarity.
It is by such grace that life unfolds; how lovely to suspend disbelief (I will never feel good again) and arrive at conviction: Life is wonderful! What a joy to be moving!
1. Focus on your breathing. Paul Smith, walking-meditation instructor at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, recommends inhaling slowly through your nose for 4 steps, keeping your breath in for 2 steps, exhaling for 4 steps, then waiting 2 steps before inhaling again.
2. Gently corral your wandering mind. Try repeating an affirmation in time with your breathing and steps. Smith recommends phrases such as "My life is a pleasure," "I speak the truth and listen without judging," or "I see all things in clarity." Another trick: Visualize putting your worrisome thoughts in a balloon and letting go of the string.
3. Hold one hand behind your back. This will help slow you down. "Don't let yourself get into race-walking mode," Smith says.
4. Pay attention to your senses. Focus on vision first, which is easiest. Notice a plane overhead, leaves in the trees. Then notice sounds around you, the sun on your face, the smell of cut grass. Smith says, "These are ways to stay in the present."
5. On a practical note: If you're walking for distance, carry a little "mad money" in case you tucker out miles away. But no cell phone -- or turn it off if you must have it on you.
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