Returning to a Joyful Step
“Walking is not a means, but an end in itself. Each step must make you happy. Each step brings you back to the present moment, which is the only moment you can be alive.”- Thich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever considered what it means to walk? Is it a normal function of your body, a form of exercise, a mode of transport from here to there? How often are you aware of this basic movement? Or, like breathing, does your awareness (and thus your gratitude) not even enter into your consciousness.
“Aware” is what I have become regarding the simple everyday act of putting one foot in front of the other. Four years ago, due to an ancient hip injury, I could not take a step without debilitating pain. And so, walking awareness first came to me this way: pain with every step.
For a long time I tried not to view it as “pain”. Being a meditation practitioner, I aspire to feel my sensations and emotions as they are, without labels or stories. In this spirit, I tried to be present with the pain, letting it come and letting it go.
This became increasingly difficult to do both physically and emotionally as my condition deteriorated to the point where it deeply affected my normal day to day functioning.
And so, I made a decision.
I traveled to Belgium alone for a surgery that not only took away my considerable pain, but restored my normal walking gait which had become seriously impaired. I was left with a deep sense of gratitude for my surgeon and the many wonderful people who played a part in this difficult journey, but also gratitude for a simple act restored to me that many of us take for granted every single day.
My first task after the surgery was to learn how to walk all over again.
I loved that my physical therapist from day one only wanted me to walk barefoot. This made perfect sense of course, because I needed to really feel the ground; to roll mindfully from heel to toe in order to put pressure and weight where there had been none for some time.
Being familiar with walking meditation, I used this approach in my daily exercises. Not only did it help me physically to be mindful of walking through every step with balance, but it also allowed me to be completely present with the new found joy of each step without pain.
If ‘each step must make you happy’ as Thich Nhat Hanh says, then I discovered another surprise by-product of this painless walking. After my surgery, one of my dear friends commented that my entire face had changed; she was surprised at how much happier and brighter my demeanor was.
I realize now that I must have scared people off in my path with the grimace that had become part of my constant disposition as I desperately tried to get from here to there. Walking happier allowed me to take in my surroundings more, notice more, appreciate more. And this showed in my expression.
Mindfully focusing on my walking caused me to reflect further about the other normal functions of our bodies and what we might be missing by not paying close attention. How much do we really notice what we see? How much do we really listen when we hear? How much do we feel when we touch?
As an artist, I like to think that I am probably more aware of my senses and my surroundings only because I have in part, trained myself to notice, to hear and to see beauty where others perhaps might not. As I have discovered, there is never “nothing” going on in this incredibly gorgeous and interesting world.
We do not need to be injured or impaired to come to know this. If we can discover perhaps for the first time as I have, what an amazing gift we are given in being able to walk upon the earth, we will never again take for granted all the other wonderful functions and abilities our bodies have to offer.
So as you go about your day dear reader, let this be a gentle reminder to be grateful for all the incredible functions of your body and walk mindfully in your travels. Try to pay attention and be aware of the fleeting but constant beauty in every birdsong, every play of light, every encounter with our fingertips, and most importantly, in every step.