Walking is one of the best exercises for health. It is not only for physical but even mental and spiritual. If you feel busy with hectic schedules and overwhelming tasks, you should find time for walking to restore something you have forgotten. Walking is the act of restoration.
What are we supposed to restore? What have we forgotten?
When I say walking, it means a generic, overarching concept or behavior. We symbolize something more as an act of walking.
In walking, you have to be alone. In reality, however, we don’t walk alone. In our younger days, we used to roam around as a group. Going home from school, we enjoyed almost endless chats with friends about anything under the sun. These are, of course, our precious memories.
But then, have you ever recalled the moment when you went home alone? The moment of walking alone was also precious. It is more profound, even existential.
Walking alone, you would notice what we had taken for granted. You would see an elderly gardener working on the yards along the way. You would realize a new house under construction where carpenters took a break. Even you would discover flowers, bees, and butterflies as if they enjoyed their microcosmic biosphere.
Walking alone, you could communicate with the world around you, even the universe beyond you.
The best is walking alone in the wildwoods. In the afternoon, under daylight, the pathway in the forest shows a beautiful gradation of light shining in the darkness. You sense the sound of silence, hearing birds chirping and winds blowing, sounding stillness as if the wild nature is breathing.
The best is also walking alone on the beach. At night, the countless stars with the moonlight reflect them on the sea surface. Your steps feel on the grains of the sand. You sense the sound of silence, hearing waves touching the seashore and pebbles whispering on your feet, sounding stillness like wild nature breathing.
To feel your breathing, you have to be alone. Focusing quietly on your diaphragm up and down, you know you are breathing. You can never see it when you talk and chat with someone else.
We must be alone. We need solitude.
The best walking is walking in solitude. This way, we can see our breathing. Even the world is breathing, the universe is, and God is.
Walking in solitude, paradoxically, we can never be lonely because we can restore what we had taken for granted and what we had forgotten.
The genuine silence emerges from the authentic sounds, which is what we miss in our everyday busyness. We can recall the words of Picasso.
Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.
Picasso’s life was far from peaceful serenity. It was full of drama, even scandalous. But as one of the great artists, he knew the condition to be creative for great artworks. He was well-known as one of the most prolific artists in his days. He knew this truth.
Walking doesn’t mean physical activity alone. For Piccaso, his painting was his walking in solitude. For others, depending on the type of profession, the meaning of walking would differ.
For gardeners, taking care of plants should be walking. They need solitude to communicate with the plants at hand. For carpenters, cutting woods, crafting things on the design should be walking. Even though they do these things as a group, each carpenter needs solitude to focus on their craftsmanship.
Moreover, it doesn’t have to be specific professions. Any activity should be walking if you do it in solitude. That could be dishwashing, wiping floors with a cloth, and the like. Our daily chores can be the act of walking in solitude.
What makes everything holy and radiant is not our doing but our being. It is our Being. We can recall the words of Meister Eckhart.
People should not worry so much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works. However holy our works may be, they do not in any way make us holy in so far as they are works, but it is we, in so far as we are holy and possess fulness of being, who sanctify all our works, whether these be eating, sleeping, waking, or anything at all.Selected Writings by Meister Eckhart
Zen Buddhism also emphasizes the daily chores in monasteries. They call it samu (作務). It means the monk’s physical activities from cooking meals to wiping floors to dishwashing. Indeed, they do everything mindfully as if they do meditation.
Catholic monasteries take the same approach. Monks devote themselves to their physical activities as if they pray. Even they make homemade delicacies and work as teachers for communities around. For them, these are their prayers. Mother Teresa said:
Prayer does not demand that we interrupt our work, but that we continue working as if it were a prayer.Mother Teresa (In My Own Words)
And we all know the motto for the Benedictine monastery:
Ora et labora (Pray and work)
We don’t have to be an artist for our excellent work. We don’t have to enter the Zen or Catholic monasteries to restore what we have missed and forgotten, though joining them can be one of the best ways.
By walking in solitude, we are already artists and monks.
As artists and monks, everything we do can be for artwork, meditation and prayer if and when we are walking in solitude to hear stillness that the world is breathing, the universe is, and God is.
After dinner, let’s do dishwashing as if you are God’s artist or monk. You can enjoy the dialogue with water flowing from a faucet and plates cleaned up.
Image by Maja Pejic