In a bid to get more exercise and spend less time cooped up in the house, I have started taking daily walks.
My meanderings are not especially long or strenuous.
I move at a comfortable pace, and I have usually walked about a mile by the time I come back to the house.
I am sure the people in the cars that pass me on the road think I am crazy, but I made peace with being the weird neighbor long ago.
There are many benefits to going on daily walks. In addition to the exercise, I find that my mood improves each time I go out to stretch my legs. The fresh air feels good in my lungs, and I am able to think more clearly. I also become more familiar with my environment.
It sounds strange, but I do not think I knew much about my neighborhood until I started walking through it. In the country, cars are the primary mode of travel, and we miss a lot of details when we are traveling through the world at forty-five miles per hour. In a car, we barely notice the places where the earth juts upward into a steep climb or the places where the rainwater accumulates, forming mini-lakes on the side of the road.
Yes, we see the houses and the animals as we drive by, but we don’t really see them. It is impossible to know which cows are friendly and which cows make a point of not seeing you in a car. It is difficult to fully appreciate the treehouse in your neighbor’s back yard when you only see it through a car window.
But all of these things become clear when we put one foot in front of the other and walk past them at a leisurely pace.
Sometimes I like the things I see. The old barns around me strike a dashing figure against the sky. And I am always impressed by the endless miles of corn and soybeans that my neighbors cultivate.
Sometimes I do not like the things I see. One of my walking routes takes me past an abandoned property that has a host of junk cars and trash piled up in the yard. There have also been times when I had to step over dead animals that were hit by cars.
Walking through the countryside has given me a more intimate relationship with my surroundings. I know the land and the people more deeply than I did before. And I feel changed as a result.
In Buddhism, I think the practice of seated meditation is comparable to daily walks.
In our ever-changing, fast-paced world most of us are forced to run through life. We move quickly from one task to another in a desperate attempt to check off a few more items from our to-do list.
We are like the people who drive past me in their cars every day—laser-focused on the destination with no time to take in our surroundings.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Each of us must work hard to meet the demands of daily life. But it can become a problem if we do not take the time to slow down, and study the inner workings of our mind.
In our endless rush to get things done we might miss out on the stark beauty that can be found there: fond memories, feelings of satisfaction, or skills that we have not used in a while.
On the other hand, we may find ugliness that needs to be addressed. Perhaps we are in the habit of speaking to others in an unkind manner or perhaps there are daily activities that we should avoid because they leave us feeling drained and unhappy.
Each time we sit on our cushions and adopt the noble posture of Buddha we do the spiritual equivalent of walking down the road.
We slow down and use the practice of seated meditation to turn our attention inward. When we do this, we form a more intimate relationship with our minds, and we are better able to see both the good and the bad things that can be found there.
In this way, we can gain greater joy from the good things. And once we identify the problem areas, we are able to study the sutras to determine the proper medicine—prostrations, incense offerings, visualizations, etc.—for our spiritual ailments.
Of course, we cannot spend every moment in this way. There will be times when we need to jump in the metaphorical car and go as quickly as possible from point A to point B, paying little attention to the scenery as we get there.
But that’s why Buddha encourages us to set aside some time each day for spiritual introspection.
It’s been my experience that daily walks and seated meditation are similar in that consistency is key. Doing a little every day is better than doing a lot every once in a while.
Living in this way allows us to see both the lovely and the not so lovely parts of life. And it helps us respond to both.
Namu Amida Butsu!
Related features from BDG
Walking with Kukai–Becoming a Buddha: Pilgrimage in Shingon Buddhism
Namo Buddha Mountain: Walking in the Bodhisattva’s Path in Nepal
Walking for Change on a Padyatra
Mindfulness, Breathing, and Walking: Reflection after a Thich Nhat Hanh Retreat