It's spring! Time to get out your walking shoes to move your body - and your soul. Read on as Really Blog Manager Carla Foote shares her "step story."
Slow Miles: Walking as a Spiritual Practice
By Carla Foote
I pulled up Google maps to see how long it would take us to get to the theater. Four hours! Whoops, I guess I was using Google maps for a walking route last time and it hadn't reverted to driving. The 12 miles only took 20 minutes in a car. The Google map reminded me of how slow walking is and how long it takes to cover any significant distance.
Yet walking has become my preferred practice. I was going to say "preferred exercise" but it is so much more to me.
Exercise always had the connotation of "should" to me, something I should do but wouldn't enjoy. Something I'd tend to fudge on when the doctor asked at my annual checkup. Sure I did 30 minutes at least 4 times a week. Well I intended to, so that counts, right!?!
My first movement toward regular exercise came from fear - a decent motivator. In my early 50s, a diagnosis of high blood pressure and some lab scores scared me. Both of my parents died young - I had motivation to change, so I set a low bar for a habit, 20 minutes a day of something. It sounded simple and achievable. That daily exercise as a practice moved me forward (literally and figuratively) for several years. I incorporated exercise (mostly walking) into my daily schedule.
Then I found a different motivator. A yearning for more. A desire to explore beauty.
I had heard about the most beautiful wildflower hike in Colorado and I wondered about it. I read blogs and studied the route. Beauty is a powerful motivator for me. But I would always stop myself, saying, "It's too high (over 10,000 feet the whole way) and it's too far (10 miles)." And those were true in my current state of practice.
I decided to train, to increase distance and add up and down (hiking) to my walking. Maybe I couldn't do 10 miles over 10,000 feet right then, but if I trained for 6 months, adding some distance and elevation each month, perhaps I could?
Something shifted in my motivation. Fear wasn't motivating me. No longer was I walking so I wouldn't die. I had shifted to a positive motivation - my desire for beauty and the strength to enjoy that beauty. Twenty minutes a day wasn't enough for this practice, but I adjusted my schedule. I moved the bar to 3 miles a day, with some 5- to 6-mile days mixed in. I made a schedule for longer and higher spread across the months. From my decision to train in December to the hike in July, I had a plan and I was motivated. I didn't perfectly hit every aspect of my plan, but I consistently hit my milestones.
The hike in July required some flexibility due to trail conditions and weather, but I did 10 miles over 10,000 feet and the flowers were glorious. Beyond achieving that goal, I realized that beauty and my love for God's creation was a much more powerful motivator than fear.
In the process, I came to consider walking as a spiritual practice, not just exercise. Yes, it's slow, but beautiful. Some days I am just focused on the physical nature of movement, step after step. But some days I reflect, some days I pray, some days I am able to empty the busy in my brain. Walking is a spiritual practice because this is the life a faith, following Jesus, step by step, each and every day. Not fast, but steady, and in a direction. I don't get anywhere fast, but there is goodness in the slow.
Walking is an ancient spiritual practice - called pilgrimage. One with renewed popularity in the 21st century as people feel the need to slow from 12 miles in 20 minutes to taking 4 hours for the distance. Slow miles. A pace we can live at, step after step, body and soul. By engaging in a practice, with repetition, I actually do get "somewhere" - somewhere healthy and beautiful and energetic. Somewhere deeper in my soul and lighter in my step.
By the way, in the course of the practice, a little bit each day adds up. In just over 2 years since I decided to walk toward beauty, I have walked more than 2,000 miles and it has become a whole life practice - physical for sure, but spiritual as well.
Carla Foote walks, writes, edits and gardens in Denver, Colorado. She is the blog manager for Really, and does freelance work for other clients through www.fineprintedit.com. She shares the beauty of flowers on Instagram @flowers4soul and her blog (www.flowers4soul.com).
Note - these pictures are from West Maroon Pass Trail, the Crested Butte, Colorado side.