Life Skills: Walking

Solvitur ambulando
(“It is solved by walking.”)
St. Augustine

One nineteenth-century observer quipped that the average New Yorker “. . . always walks as if he had a good dinner before him, and a bailiff behind him.”


Walking and Nature
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Friedrich Nietzche


“I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. . . . It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.” Henry David Thoreau

Walking and Science

“The physical movement of walking activates the subcortical region of the brain, including the limbic system with its sensitivity to emotional states. Clearly, something far deeper and older than culture goes with me into wilderness.” Belden Lane


“The American psychologist William James knew this from his own experience of depression. He learned that in choosing to walk (as if he were alert and alive), he could generate the very intentionality he lacked. Going through the outward motions, even in a cold-blooded way, made possible the inner disposition.” Belden Lane

“Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. God for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience last around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential state of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.” Maria Popova

Walking and Mindfulness

“We are men who live in tension, we are also contradictory and inconsistent men, sinners all. But men who want to walk under the gaze of Jesus.” Pope Francis

“Learning to walk slowly with conscious awareness is a first step toward mindfulness.” Belden Lane

“I walk as though my feet were kissing the earth.”

“Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.” Maya Angelou

“You either walk toward love or away from it with every breath you take.” Brian Doyle

“At its heart, the journey of each life is a pilgrimage, through unforeseen sacred places that enlarge and enrich the soul.” John O’Donohue


“I reach out my hand to God that [God] may carry me along as a feather is borne weightlessly by the wind.” Hildegard of Bingen

*Does one of these quotes especially appeal to you? Can you say why?

Extended Quotations to Discuss

(1) On “Walking Well”

“Walking well is a mental state as much as a physical one. How to walk? . . . To walk out of your front door as if you’ve just arrived from a foreign country; to discover the world in which you already live; to begin the day as if you’ve just gotten off the boat from Singapore and have never seen your own doormat or the people on the landing . . . it is this that reveals the humanity before you, unknown until now.” Walter Benjamin quoted by Tom Hodgkinson


(2) “Eyes and No-Eyes”

The old story of “Eyes” and “No-Eyes” is really the story of the mystical and unmystical types. “No-Eyes” has fixed his attention on the fact that he is obliged to take a walk. For him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as he can. He asks not to know what may be on either side of the hedges. He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat. He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflect. “Eyes” takes the walk too: and for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry salutations to him from the hidden fields. The rich world through which he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up new secrets to him at every step. “No-Eyes,” when told of his adventures, usually refuses to believe that both have gone by the same road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air, or beset by agreeable hallucinations.”


*What effect do these quotations have on you (insight, conviction, excitement, encouragement, shame, regret, etc.)?


(3) Bonhoeffer in Barcelona

“At the same time, the year in Barcelona inevitably broadened his social awareness. Covetous of finery though he may have remained, he judged himself ‘ever more sensitive to the plight of those who really are in need and cannot be adequately supported.’ It angered him to see Olbricht speak gruffly to an indigent who’d stopped by the church asking for help. Beyond the comfortable sphere of the German colony, in neighborhoods to the south and directly east, on his daily walks or in the cafés or in the course of some pastoral effort, Bonhoeffer discovered a different cast of characters. He would describe them vividly and with tenderness of heart, these men and women with whom, at one time, he likely would have never ‘exchanged even a single word.’ In this way he met ‘vagabonds and vagrants, escaped convicts and foreign legionnaires.’ He met ‘German dancers from the musical revues,’ ‘lion tamers,’ and ‘other animal trainers who have run off from the Krone Circus during its Spanish tour.’ There were ‘German-speaking misfits,’ among them ‘contract killers wanted by the police. All of them had heard of the sympathetic Berliner and sought him out for counsel. Bonhoeffer grew to enjoy their company, too: the ‘criminal types,’ the ‘little people with modest goals and modest drives, who committed petty crimes,’ and those driven by wild, wayward passions—the ‘real people’! And the stories they told, vivid and honest ‘to the last detail,’ gripped him with a blunt force, as of the gospel’s concern for the least of these his brethren. These people labored ‘more under grace than under wrath,’ Bonhoeffer was sure; and they were ‘a lot more interesting than the average church member.’ In a letter to Helmut Rößler, a former classmate in Berlin, Bonhoeffer described himself as learning to accept people ‘the way they are, far from the masquerade of the ‘Christian world.’ ” Charles Marsh


*Do you think this quotation is relevant to our discussion? If so, how? Have you ever had this kind of experience? Is there a lesson here for you?


(4) Cultural Ideas about Leisure


“More and more, work enlists all good conscience on its side; the desire for joy already calls itself a ‘need to recuperate’ and is beginning to be ashamed of itself. ‘One owes it to one’s health’— that is what people say when they are caught on an excursion into the country. Soon we may well reach the point where people can no longer give into the desire for a vita contemplativa (that is, taking a walk with ideas and friends) without self-contempt and a bad conscience. Well, formerly, it was the other way around, it was work that was afflicted with the bad conscience. A person of good family used to conceal the fact that he was working if need compelled him to work. Slaves used to work, oppressed by the feeling that they were doing something contemptible. ‘Nobility and honour are attached solely to otium and bellum [war],’ that was the ancient prejudice. Nietzsche’s point is: if we managed to remove our collective guilt about enjoying ourselves, then the culture of only taking time off when we are allowed by some outside force or by some inner self-controller might be damaged. The word leisure, incidentally, comes from the Latin licere, meaning ‘to be permitted.’ We have given responsibility for our free time to others, and we only have ourselves to blame.” Tom Hodgkinson

“In Buddhism the beggar, the tramp, the vagabond is not a subject for reform or liberal hand-wringing, but, on the contrary, he represents an ideal of living, of pure living in the moment, of wandering without destination, of freedom from worldly care. In Hindu culture, too, we find the figure of the Sadhu, a middle-aged man who, having performed his worldly responsibilities in the form of service to employer and family, decides that he will wander off with a begging bowl. He abandons all possessions (‘Imagine!’) and takes to the road. He is a holy figure, admired.” Tom Hodgkinson


“This [very negative] attitude to vagabondage was enthusiastically taken up by Nazi Germany in the mid 1930s. A list of ‘anti-social elements,’ issued by the Bavarian Political Police in August 1936, included beggars, vagabonds, gypsies and vagrants. Such freedom-seekers could, if necessary, be taken into ‘protective custody’ (i.e. concentration camps) where they would be forcibly taught the values of hard work and discipline. “Arbeit Macht Frei” ran the legend above the gates of Auschwitz, ‘Work Makes Us Free.'” Tom Hodgkinson


*Do you think these quotations are relevant to our discussion? If so, how? Do you wrestle with the idea of “leisure?”


(5) St. Teresa’s Famous Poem
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

*How would you restate Teresa’s words in just one sentence–relating it to our topic of walking well?


CLOSING PRAYER

“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”


Supplementary Readings (for before or after the group time)

Set aside at least 5-10 minutes of quiet, take some deep breaths, and ask God to touch what needs to be touched in you by one of these readings.

From Mary Oliver “When I Am Among the Trees”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, 'It’s simple,' they say,
and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled."

Thomas Merton’s famous prayer

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

               Nor do I really know myself, 
               and the fact that I think that I am following
               your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. 

               But I believe that the desire to please you does in
                fact please you.

               And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
               I hope that I will never do anything apart from that
               desire. 

              And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the
              right road though I may know nothing about it.

              Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem
              to be lost and in the shadow of death." 

              I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will
              never leave me to face my perils alone."

Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Daily Riches: Becoming A New Person In Jesus Christ (Rowan Williams and Augustine)

“… contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom—freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that come from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative prayer is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter. …To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ. Contemplation is an intrinsic element in this transforming process. To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinize and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me—this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life. …And as this process unfolds, I become more free—to borrow a phrase of St. Augustine—to ‘love human beings in a human way,’ to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow-creatures held in the love of God. I discover … how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me. And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love …”
Ephesians 3:17

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • If you can, please read this again. Can you see why contemplation is so important and powerful?
  • Do you regularly practice contemplation?
  • If not, do you have another practice that promises the same results?

Abba, let me be rooted and held in your love for me.

For More: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address…” by Rowan Williams

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