How often do we walk, just to walk? To feel our legs, our feet taking each step, our lungs taking in the air. To listen to the sounds of nature, and the sights of all that is in our natural world? What lessons are there for us, if only we slow down?
To walk mindfully, with awareness of our body and our environment, is something many of us are able to do every day. We can walk to the bus stop, aware of our breath, our steps, the pavement we are walking on; the flowers by the roadside. Mindful walking grounds us in the present moment, and brings us back to where we are now. We are not lost in thoughts about what happened yesterday, or anxiety about the future; we are fully in the present moment.
Mindful walking is a practice. Our habits of a lifetime are to rush so we need to make space to slow down. By choosing one activity where we will walk in a slow, more mindful manner, we start to change those habits, live life with more awareness and see more clearly.
Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Master, who has brought many mindfulness practices to the West suggests;
“Make an agreement with the flight of stairs you use most often. Decide to always practice walking meditation on those stairs, going up and going down; don’t climb those stairs absentmindedly. If you commit to this and then realise you have climbed several steps in forgetfulness, go back down and climb up them again. Over twenty years ago, I signed such an agreement, and it has brought me great joy” (How to Walk, Penguin books p.47).
Most of us want more peace and clarity in our lives, yet we often feel overwhelmed. There is always some deadline, or event we need to go to! So how do we create time and space to make slowing down a regular practice? It can help to start with if we walk with others, as part of a meditation group, or in the park with a friend or partner. If you live in Manchester, I lead a monthly Mindful walking group , details also on my website here.
Once mindful walking becomes a regular part of our day, we find it can create more space and time for us. As we get in touch with the present moment, we see things more clearly and can make choices that support us. When we are in habitual response, we often do things without thinking ‘is this what I want to do, is this what is good for me’? We just do it. So giving ourselves some space, gives us choices, which may mean not doing some things. We live in a world where there are competing demands on our time. We can easily get unbalanced, putting our energies into activities that don’t always nurture us. When we come back to our breath, and especially in nature, we can recover our equilibrium and see more clearly what we need. As we walk we get in touch with the wonders of the earth and practice gratitude for the beauty of the trees, the open spaces, the wildlife.
Thich Nhat Hahn writes;
“When we walk, we touch the earth. It’s a great happiness to be able to touch the Earth, the mother of all beings on this planet. While practising walking, we should be aware that we are walking on a living being that is supporting not just us, but all of life. A lot of harm has been done the Earth, so now is the time to kiss the ground with our feet, with our love. While you are walking, smile-be in the here and the now. By doing so, you transform the place where you are walking, into a paradise”. (How to Walk, p.43 ).
With reflection comes insight
Sometimes when we have a difficult decision to make, or are finding the demands of life are pulling us in different directions, we may find it helpful to go for a walk, by ourselves or with a friend. Being outside can bring a different perspective, can widen our thinking, give us more space.
Coaching in nature can also be helpful in making sense of dilemmas we may have. We may feel we have exhausted ways of making sense of it in our heads, we are saying the same things to ourselves, our friends and loved ones but not doing anything different! In this case we may want to take a different approach. Coaching is a structured conversation, that helps us look at things from a different perspective, gently challenging our habitual responses and supporting us to look at all the choices we have, even though we may have discounted many of them, often through fear of change, or speaking our truth.
Being outside can lead to ‘in-the-moment insight’. We are in the presence of trees that move flexibly with gusts of wind, coming back to centre when the wind has eased, their deep roots supporting them. There is so much to learn from their stability, their grace.
Ducks on the river enjoy the fast current in the centre of the river, going with the flow, and yet skilfully paddlin to the side when they want to go in the slow lane. Such ease of movement between the two!
What insights there are from nature in our local green spaces if we are available to both see and receive them.
I am a qualified Life and Leadership Coach, working with individuals, and organisations. I offer coaching in the workplace and also outside in green spaces around Manchester and the Peak District. Sessions are between 1.5 – 3 hrs. Walks are tailored to meet individual needs.
If you are interested in knowing more about how coaching outside may support you then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact form on the website