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Home : Feed Your Spirit : Your Life, Better
10 Notes on "The Practice of Walking on the Earth: Groundedness"

adapted by Kathryn Matthews Huey

Adapted from Chapter Four of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "An Altar in the World."

Barbara Brown Taylor calls walking an easily available spiritual practice.  When done with awareness, walking promises to teach us the most important things we need to know.

"To detach the walking from the destination is one of the best ways to recognize the altars you are passing right by all the time," Taylor writes.

"Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles."   (from a Jewish Sabbath prayer)

Taylor describes the walking meditation of a Buddhist monk who gives his "full devotion to what[ever] he is doing. He chops carrots the same way."

"Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence." Henry David Thoreau

Some of the Buddhist monk's students are in wheelchairs. They learn to "walk" with him by watching the movement of his feet and focusing on deep breathing, to do walking meditation without leaving their chairs: "Watching the walkers, they sometimes lose track of whose foot is in the air," writes Taylor.

"Those who are awake live in a state of constant amazement." Jack Kornfield

How often do we finally know something because "it comes to us through the soles of our feet, the embrace of a tender lover, or the kindness of a stranger"?

"I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs." Jean Jacques Rousseau

For all of our walking, Taylor observes that we're not so good at it: distracted by cell phones or over-protected by "shoes so padded out with cushions, lights, and retractable wheels that [we] are walking on [our] shoes, not the earth."

"Enjoy whatever comes your way." Dietrich Bonhoeffer (writing from prison):

Taylor suggests that we get down on our knees to "become exquisitely aware of what [we] are doing. You will not miss much on your knees."

"We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place."  Annie Dillard

Walking gave Jesus "time to see things, like the milky eyes of the beggar sitting by the side of the road, or the round black eyes of sparrows sitting in their cages at the market," Taylor says. "Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them."

I once saw a car swerve around a brick in the middle of the road, and then a man on a bicycle stopped and removed the hazard. He was closer to the situation, traveling more slowly, and willing to stop to make the way safer for others.

How often do we complain about our fast-paced lives? Taylor reminds us that Jesus knew how to slow down: "Food tasted better at the pace he set. Stories lasted longer. Talk went deeper. While many of his present-day admirers pay close attention to what he said and did, they pay less attention to the pace at which he did it."

"All the way to heaven is heaven." Catherine of Siena

Taylor suggests going barefoot as a spiritual practice, getting "a sense of just how much pressure [we] put on the grass, the clover – watch out for the honeybee! – the slick river stones, the silted streambed, the red clay, the pine bark on the woodland path, the black earth of the vegetable garden."

These days our children suffer from "Nature Deficit Disorder." The National Wildlife Federation recommendation: "Enjoy a five-senses hike."

Going barefoot, and going more slowly, might lead us to give more "thought to people who go barefoot because they have no shoes," Taylor suggests.

"You do theology differently when your stomach is full than when it is empty." Gustavo Gutierrez

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