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Your wellbeing: walking well

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex.

Walking through the North Laine on a Saturday or Sunday can be challenging. I enjoy it but my wife often finds it a big drain on energy. The streets are invariably packed with locals and tourists (if visitors from outside Brighton can be so classed) out enjoying the day and you sometimes find yourself moving at a snail’s pace. A special delight is when friends or family insist on walking three or more abreast and pause without warning as you walk behind them.

The crowds in the both the North Laine and the Lanes can be trying for someone just wanting to get from A to B on a weekend – never mind coping with the footfall along the Western Road. Walking can be exasperating – if we allow it to be so.

I was struck by the range of challenges entailed in the mindful walking exercise we do periodically in the Meeting House. A retired chaplain from Brighton University bequeathed a kind of DIY labyrinth to the chaplaincy team at Sussex, which we use every 4-6 weeks in our mindfulness sessions in the Meeting House. Last week we used it again but with a much larger group than when used in the past.

Mindful walking is essentially walking in a way that you know that you are walking, slowing down and paying attention to the very experience of each step you take. It is a kind of art that requires attention and develops with practice. One Zen teacher commented that it took them five years to cultivate the art of sitting but 15 years to cultivate the art of kin kin, the form of walking meditation used in a Zen dojo. I think most of us aim at less extravagant levels of competence when it comes to walking with awareness.

When we used the labyrinth walk last week I was struck by the dimension of awareness that embraced others as we walked.

One person emailed me afterwards and said: “Just to say what a wonderful and powerful walking meditation that was today. The inner experience was one thing – but the sense of being together in it was if anything more moving. Hope we can do it again!”

Walking the labyrinth was not only an exercise in walking in a way that you know you are walking, perhaps even coordinating the breath with each step, but also entailed an awareness of others who were also walking. You moderated your step and composed your body with the awareness of others who were also walking. At times this may have challenged us to a degree of patience, as some walked at a different pace from ours.

So walking may not only be good exercise but can be one that hones awareness of our own body and of others with whom we may share a path, whether that be in a specific mindful walk using the labyrinth or walking down the street or along the South Downs Way.

Next time you are walking across campus or in town, try to notice that you are walking, even if only for a few minutes during the journey. Feel the physical sensation. Maybe coordinate each step with the breath. It need not look obvious to others or resemble the specific exercise we use in the labyrinth.

Just notice. If there are people about, notice how their presence affects your walk. Is it energizing? Frustrating? Anxiety-inducing?

Just notice. Walk with awareness for a concentrated period while making your way from here to there. It can be an immensely grounding experience.

Give it a go this weekend. Perhaps in the North Laine.

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Posted on behalf of: Chaplaincy
Last updated: Friday, 13 October 2017