My friend and teacher Shelagh walks a sacred path every morning. Actually, her path is about 30 meters long, from her apartment building door down a walkway with hedges on either side, to the stairs that exit the complex. But for Shelagh this is one of her most meaningful practices.
“I might be full of all kinds of thoughts and feelings as I start my day. But as soon as I begin my walk down that path, it’s as if I have landed home – the same feeling as arriving home after a long day, and just laying down whatever I’m holding and sinking into a chair,” tells Shelagh.
“I just drop everything and completely connect with my whole body. And as I walk, I can feel something happening, as though my heart is growing wider and there is this feeling of compassion that replaces any kind of pettiness I had brewing in me before I started.”
Shelagh began “sacred walking” many years ago, when she first met Thay and the practice. At the time, she worked at a very demanding job, and felt she had little time for formal practice. Then it came to her. “Even if I didn’t have time for sitting meditation, I could always walk mindfully from my house to the car; I gave myself the instruction of connecting to my body, which at the time, I hadn’t the slightest idea what that meant. Then I saw how it was so simple, and really like a bell – with each step I could feel that letting go of all my defenses,” she says.
“And I found it was really doing something for me, so I thought why not continue after I’ve parked my car for work. There were 67 steps from the entrance to the building where I worked up to my office.”
But here, Shelagh was acutely aware of the feelings she had approaching the place in which interpersonal dynamics were often tense. “So I decided to use this walk to open my heart and to be more loving – for myself – without any real expectation of the effect it would have on my surroundings. But in fact, gradually, the dynamics in that office dramatically changed for the better. And the effects were deep and long-lasting.”
So I’ve decided to join Shelagh on a daily sacred walk. I thought of walking from my parking space to my office. Mind you, I don’t always park in the same place, so I’m wondering if it will have the same value; and the biggest obstacle I’ve encountered — since I made the decision to adopt this practice — is actually remembering to do it. I managed to forget every morning for about a week.
Today is my first day, and I notice the tension between my mindfulness and my feet that only want to march as quickly as possible to the office, so I can save a few minutes on my clock-in. I can feel the pressure in my chest as this internal struggle takes place and I am suddenly aware of the way my mornings begin with a kind of jolt, usually popping out of bed too late for sitting meditation, and into the shower, dressing quickly, organizing my food for the day, out the door and into the car etc etc (with an emphasis on etc etc). Hmm, I think, this is useful information I’m getting about a state of mind that seems quite habitual, and from time to time I return to focus on the feeling in my feet meeting the ground, and the way the rest of my body moves and my breath. And I begin to notice the feeling of spring in the air, and I even hear a few birds chirping in the albeit industrial area. And a work task pops into my mind and I forget my walking, and I remember again — and again…
So I invite you to try this as well, and let me know how it’s going for you. Bon voyage.