“The Practice of Walking on Earth,” by Barbara Brown Taylor

The Practice of Walking on Earth by Barbara Brown Taylor[1]

Not everyone is able to walk, but most people can, which makes walking one of the most easily available spiritual practices of all. All it takes is the decision to walk with some awareness, both of who you are and what you are doing. Where you are going is not as important, however counterintuitive that may seem. To detach the walking from the destination is in fact one of the best ways to recognize the altars you are passing right by all the time. Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.’…The beauty of physical practices like this one is that you do not have to know what you are doing in order to begin. You just begin, and the doing teaches you what you need to know.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk… teaches many forms or attentiveness, including walking meditation. To watch a Buddhist monk practice walking mediation is like watching a lunar eclipse. First the bare heel extends over the earth, coming down so slowly that not even a dry leaf is displaced. Then the arch begins its long descent, laying itself down like a cat. Finally the toes arrive, beginning with the small one and ending with the big. Imperceptibly, the arrival turns into a departure as one heel rises and the other comes down. Up above, the monk shows no signs of having made any of this happen. His face is as still as the moon. This is no circus performer on a high wire. This is a man walking on the earth. The only thing that sets him apart from any other walker is his full devotion to what he is doing. He chops carrots the same way. He hauls water the same way. Whatever he does, he does it with a groundedness that his watchers can only envy.

Jesus walked a lot, and not only during the last week of his life. The four gospels are peppered with accounts of him walking into the countryside, walking by the Sea f Galilee, walking in the Temple, and even walking on water. If Jesus had driven a car instead, it is difficult to imagine how that might have changed his impact. Surely someone could have loaned him a fast horse. Instead, he walked everywhere he went, except for a short stint on a monkey at the end. This gave him time to see things, like the milky eyes of the beggar sitting by the side of the road, r round black eyes of sparrows sitting in their cages at the market. If he had been moving more quickly – even to reach more people – these things might have become a blur to him. Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them. Sometimes he had a destination and sometimes he did not. For many who followed him around, he was the destination. Whether he was going somewhere or nowhere at all, going with him was the point.

Done properly, the spiritual practice of going barefoot can take you halfway around the world and wake you up to your own place in the world all at the same time. It can lead you to love God with your whole self, and your neighbor as yourself, without leaving your backyard…Or keep your shoes on, if you wish. As long as you are on the earth and you know it, you are where you are supposed to be. You have everything you need to ground yourself in God.


[1] “An Altar in the World,” Barbara Brown Taylor, page 56, 58, 65-66, 68

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