With our recent move, I'm having to choose a new route for my daily walks. Twice, I tried the neighborhood trails that thread their way behind backyards, but didn't find those to my liking. For one thing, they slow me down. I found myself studying other people's landscaping and gardening projects, a worthy enough pasttime, but it also felt invasive to see onto their decks and into their private outdoor space.
So I chose instead 75th Street, where I can get a limb-stretching three mile walk in, and feel on my return that I've actually been somewhere, both internally and externally--which, for me, is the true purpose of walking.
Mother always complained that she never saw any of us take our first steps. Mike was in the care of Grandma. I was with my dad. Penny was with a babysitter.
Except for a few short breaks, I have been walking for roughly 62 years. One was a literal break, in fourth grade, when I factured my left foot turning a cartwheel. Oddly enough, I recall turning cartwheels in the back yard with my foot in a cast, though I couldn't walk without crutches.
In college, I tried walking for exercise, but soon gave it up because I didn't know about good shoes. I tried again in the early seventies, and eventually started jogging. I kept it up when we moved to Oregon because, well, everyone in Oregon jogged back then.
After Sarah was born, and we lived out on a gravel road in Iowa, I became a serious jogger. I jogged my way through Eddie's illness and dying. I jogged my way partially into grief, and then bought a house in town. Jogging and pavement didn't work for my joints, so I switched back to walking. It was the best thing I could have done for myself.
Walking for Therapy
Once the kids and I were settled in Des Moines, a neighbor and I became walking partners. Mindy and I walked together every weekday morning for the next five years. We only took breaks during thunderstorms, icy weather, and the two consecutive weeks we spent in Minnesota in the summer.
The other two days, I took long walks alone, usually through a large cemetery. During those times, I grieved Eddie's death, and felt my loneliness as a single parent of two young children.
Mindy and I had a system: We got up at five a.m. and turned on a light. We could see each other's houses, so if a light wasn't on, we got a phone call. A real bonus to having a partner was that if one of us didn't feel like going, the other somehow always did.
We talked nonstop, tossing anything and everything back and forth between us, for the entire 45 minutes to an hour we were out. Those morning talks were an emotional relay system that allowed us to think through, laugh, hash over, cry, and scream. At the same time, I knew that if we went out for lunch, I wouldn't have anything to say to Mindy. We weren't social friends. It's as though the friendship served one purpose only: Walking Partner. It's still true, because I ran into her not long ago, and we could barely manage a couple of minutes of small talk.
It had been a big commitment. When I remarried, it felt as though I was leaving Mindy for Dana!
Walking as Meditation
It's been twenty years since I've had a constant walking partner. Except for the occasional long walk with my friend Kay, or a short walk with someone else, I engage in solitary walks. I've learned that that's what I most need and want.
I lived in the Quad Cities for eight years, but it wasn't until I was divorced that I truly discovered the River. I moved within a block of the Mississippi, and began long daily walks there. It was there that I walked through the layered losses of divorce, and into a new version of my solitary self, and into new ways of knowing and being with God.
In Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron writes, "As much as anything else, walking is an exercise in heightened listening. As we walk, we awaken our neural pathways and make them more sensitive. This is what sound healer Don Campbell refers to as 'an acute sensing in an awakened, powerful internal space.' All kinds of revelations follow. In other words, walking is a form of meditation."
Julia also speaks of "walking the ley lines"--which we discover when we encounter and recognize places and routes which "feel good to us." Sometimes, she explains, a little exploration will reveal that we are walking the local ley lines--places where we experience greater calm and a heightened sense of perspective. This happens because they are actually energy routes or currents--ancient paths that others who have gone before us have walked. "Even in a city, overlaid by several hundred years of commerce such sites are discernible, as we listen to the ancestral voices that speak through the landscape."
This is something I am intentional about now, whenever I establish a new walking route for myself. It's the real reason that walking neighborhood trails through other people's backyards doesn't work for me.
When Jack and I lived in Minnesota, my route was a paved county road, lined with mature birches and pines, beautiful any time of year, surrounded by open fields with plenty of wildlife. In Kansas, I walked a curved gravel road out past wheatfields, cornfields, and a couple of farm houses. The fence rows were always full of cardinals, and I even started a cattle stampede one morning when I unexpectedly rounded the bend and surprised a heifer.
Turning Compost, Stirring the Cauldron
Here's another thing. A "good walk" needs to be long enough to get things moving, internally. Once it begins, it feels like a roiling couldron. All kinds of flavors, aromas, and tastes gather and spin off. It can also be likened to the turning of compost, an intentional "stirring up" that releases energy in the form of heat