Week 4: Sacred Steps
Without the seeming divide between the sacred and secular, all of our daily practices can be opened up to God -- sleeping, studying, reading, working, cleaning, eating, even walking.
Spiritual Practice Details:
So much of our conception of contemplative practices is as sedentary practices. We often forget that contemplative mobile practices like contemplative walking are not simply another way to listen to God but a new dimension of listening. Through low-mobility practices like contemplative walking we relate and interact with our environment as we negotiate our surroundings and find meaning through our bodies and environment. As we practice listen for ways God is speaking through the world as well as what is moving through you as you walk.
- First, find a place to walk, or use a normal walk that you take. During this practice you will be walking slowly (if you are new to this practice) so if you have a destination, allot more time to arrive.
Second, ground yourself and set your intention. Ask for God’s help in listening to the world around you, your own body as well as new ideas that may emerge.
Third, feel the sensation of standing. Feel the weight of your head on your neck, your neck and head on your shoulders, your upper body on your pelvis and hips, and on and on all the way down. Feel the weight of your body in your feet firmly planted in the ground. If you are wearing shoes, feel the socks and shoes envelop your feet as your feet press into it. What feelings do you have? Muscle tension, aches, relaxation, warmth, coolness. Allow yourself to feel.
Fourth, shift your weight. Avoid automatic movements and deliberately and slowly shift your weight from right side to left and back again, as if pouring weight from one side of your body to the other. Feel all pressure, vibrations, tensions, and more in each side as you shift.
Fifth, walk and focus your attention on walking. With your body weighted to the left side, slowly peel your right foot off the ground and deliberately take a step. Shift your weight to your right side and slowly peel your left off the ground and take a step forward. Repeat this and walk focusing your attention on the feeling, weight, sensations of walking.
Sixth, notice your body. What do you feel? Do you notice a swing or a lilt in your walk? Do you notice a jump or bounce or smooth movements? Do you notice the entire leg or the heel? What might your body be telling you?
Seventh, explore ecology. See, smell, hear, touch all that is around. Feel free to stop and pick up or touch earth, twigs, stones, or more. You may want to take a gift back with you.
Explore Your Outside: Let all thoughts fall away and be totally present. What sounds do you hear? What animals are speaking? Is there a tree or a call of a bird crying for your attention? What is the weather like? What does the air feel like? What smells call to you or push you away? What joy or goodness or beauty or art do you encounter while walking? What must you step over, bypass, enter, or pass through in order to walk? Feel or consider the sun which feeds the growth of plants which provide carbon dioxide and use your oxygen.
Explore Your Inside: Feel your heart pounding. Listen to the blood flowing. Choose a part of your body and try to feel the blood pump from your heart to that particular part. Consider the oxygen that you breathe in being expelled by the plants that are fed by the sun made of atoms that exist in you. Consider the biodiversity around you, the billions of billions of bacteria on your skin, on the ground, on the trees, in the air. Consider the energy cycle, water cycle, and the continuous flow of atoms from one part of the universe to the next. How are you a part of the ecosystem? What is your net effect on your ecosystem? Positive or negative or neutral?
Afterwards, pause and give thanks for your experience. What did you learn? What did you hear? What did you notice?
Reflect on your experience and the ways God spoke through your body, the environment, and new ideas.
Because the practice of contemplative walking is an embodied experience in which you negotiate your surroundings and find meaning in your body and environment, it can be a pathway for greater ecological awareness and the beauty of the biocreativity that exists in the world. Contemplative practice doesn’t just promote the practice of being, but of interbeing in relationship with your environment (when done outside). How might God be leading you to act in care of the environment that sustains you?
Avoid thinking. Simply be.
Though it’s possible to do this practice inside, it is easier to do outside.
This works best when you do not have a need to be at a particular destination.
Though it’s possible to do this practice at a medium-brisk pace, it’s harder to start that way as a beginner. Slow down. Walk at a leisurely, slow, and deliberate pace.
If you are having trouble while contemplatively walking , instead of looking at objects like branches, try looking at the space between the branches or objects.
If there is any wind on your walk, use it to let go of anxieties or anything you hold within you that is not yours.
If you feel comfortable, you can mix contemplative walking with other forms of contemplation.
Meditate on a verse or poetry
Recite a creed or chant
Questions for Reflection:
Where might God have been present in the world around you?
What might God be doing in your own body?
What value did you find in your environment?
What type of steward are you of your environment?
What surprises did you find?
What secrets did you uncover?
What needs did you discover in the environment around you?
How might you address those environmental needs?
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How we live is how we pray,
how we pray is how we live.
-Desert Fathers & Mothers