Walking is a spiritual practice that yields so many dividends: replenishment of the soul, connection with the natural world, problem-solving, self-esteem, health and healing, and heightened attention. Movement seems to encourage dialogue and conviviality, leading to richer conversations with soul mates, friends, and even strangers. Artists report that walking activates the imagination and opens up the creative process. It is deeply restorative.
Throughout time, walking has played an enormous role in the devotional life of people from all the world's religions: prayers and mantra practice while walking, pilgrimage to sacred sites, walking the labyrinth, walking meditation, and informal spiritual practices that make the most of strolling, sauntering, or cavorting.
And then, of course, there are the routines of walking the dog, taking a break, walking around the block, or communing with God at the end of the day. These rituals of everyday spirituality lift the spirits and provide peace and contentment in our stressful times.
• Fumbling is an account by Kerry Egan of her pilgrimage in northern Spain on the medieval route of the Camino de Santiago. Her intention was to come to terms with grief over her father's death and to discern what to do with her life. In the process, she is forced to struggle with the ordeal of walking eight to ten hours a day.
• In Healing Walks for Hard Times, Carolyn Scott Kortge presents an eight-week guided program designed to generate renewed energy, physical fitness, emotional strength, and the healing of mind, body, and soul. She delivers thoughtful commentary on integrating mindfulness on your walks, the value of self-talk, and the connection between wellness and movement.
• The Spirited Walker by Carolyn Scott Kortge sees the connection between sole and soul. Walking, according to the author, is a devotional path that leads through body to Spirit. Kortge also discusses proper walking techniques and how to set up a walking routine.
• Surprises Around the Bend by Richard A. Hasler contains brief inspirational biographies of 50 adventurous walkers including physicians and naturalists, poets and novelists, politicians and teachers, pilgrims and seekers, prophets and social reformers. The author, a Presbyterian minister, shares his belief that the most creative people in history have been walkers.
• Walk in a Relaxed Manner by Joyce Rupp gives a spiritually revealing account of her 47-day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain at the age of 60. The long daily walks prove to be a challenge for her but she soldiers on with faith and eyes wide open. Rupp comes to a new appreciation of her body, for living in the moment, and for communing with those who have gone before her on this journey.
• In Walking Home, Margaret Guenther begins this paperback with the walkers in the Garden of Eden and ends with Jesus' walk with the men on the road to Emmaus. Others included in this account are Hagar, Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Mary and Joseph, the prodigal son, and others. "The point of all our walking (tedious or joyous, rambling or purposeful) is going home."
• Butterfly Tree, written by Sandra Markle with illustrations by Leslie Wu, revolves around a little girl who comes upon a wispy orange color in the sky and summons her mother to help discover what it is. They walk swiftly down the beach and head into the woods. There they see thousands of monarch butterflies in a tree. On the way back, they walk slowly as her mother tells a story from her past and together they harvest a new memory they can cherish together for the rest of their lives.
• "Walking is an essential discipline of thought and spirit. My soul is a traveler afoot in this world. Like Aristotle (whose school was called Peripatetic, after the covered walkway along which he strolled while teaching), I cannot think clearly if I remain too long sedentary."
— Sam Keen in Hymns to an Unknown God"
• "As we stretch our legs, we stretch our minds and our souls. St. Augustine, himself a great walker, remarked, "Solvitur ambulando; it is solved by walking."
— Julie Cameron in Walking in This World
• "We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. When we walk like that, we print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on Earth. Every one of us can do that provided that we want it very much. Any child can do that. If we can take one step like that, we can take two, three, four, and five. When we are able to take one step peacefully, happily, we are for the cause of peace and happiness for the whole of humankind. Walking meditation is a wonderful practice."
— Thich Nhat Hahn in Being Peace
• "Walking, much like singing, steadies the mind. When we place one foot in front of the other, we can feel the body lean and sway as we move forward. The first steps may be slow, but gradually we find our gait. Though we may require effort to break our inertia, our willingness to move is soon requited. At first, we notice the mind doing the walking. Then the body soon takes over, and with that, our thoughts are free to flow."
— Stephen Levine in Unattended Sorrow
• "Jesus walked through the desert for forty days to prepare for his preaching. Buddha walked for years from cave to cave, village to village, before he reached enlightenment under the bodhi tree. Mother Teresa walked through the streets of Calcutta looking for people who needed her help. Mahatma Gandhi walked through the villages in India, teaching the ways of nonviolence."
— Jan Phillips in Divining the Body
• "Walking inspires and promotes conversation that is grounded in the body, and so it gives the soul a place where it can thrive. I think I could write an interesting memoir of significant walks I have taken with others, in which intimacy was not only experienced but set fondly into the landscape of memory. We talked of many things, some informative and some completely outrageous, and quite a few really tall stories emerged on these bucholic walks."
— Thomas Moore in Soul Mates
• "For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was both protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and waiting is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
— Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Granduer and Spiritual Audacity by Susannah Heschel
• "Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility."
See more quotes on walking
— Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild
Here are three prayers to be used while walking. They are by Richard A. Hasler from Surprise Around the Bend.
• "Lord, help me to walk in the midst of your creation with eyes wide open and give you praise for the glory that surrounds me. Amen."
• "Gracious Lord as I walk with you in my own spiritual journey, may I be conscious of other pilgrims along the way who may need my help, and who may be of help to me when I falter. Amen."
• "Sovereign God, may I be aware of your presence with me on my daily walk. Others may not see what is happening, but I walk by faith, not by 'sight.' Assist me in sending ' flash prayers' of your love toward everyone I meet today. Amen."
• Richard A. Haster, a Presbyterian minister and author, makes a good case for walking as a spiritual practice that adds richness and depth to our lives. He has helpful suggestions for designing your own walking program in Surprises Around the Bend.
• Walking the prairie land he owns is a way for J. Brent Bill, Quaker writer and retreat leader, to familiarize himself with the territory, to increase his love of the place he calls home, and to see himself as a pilgrim open to God's continuing revelations to him. The author shares his experiences in Sacred Compass.
• Linda Hogan, an award-winning Native-American writer, presents "a doorway into the mythical world, a reality known by my ancestors, one that takes the daily into the dimensions both sacred and present." In Dwellings she celebrates the arts of walking and watching in the wonder-inducing natural world.
• Emilie Buchwald has put together a top-drawer collection of essays in Toward the Livable City on what makes for a flourishing life in the city. In a selection on Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sara St. Antoine shares her delight in walking in this place.
• Robert Fulghum loves to savor ordinary moments in everyday life when we are fully alive. In From Beginning to End, he marvels at the ritual of a neighbor walking his dog and finding great pleasure in the task which is performed again and again.
• In The Sound of Paper, bestselling author Julia Cameron contends that walking is a spur to creativity and a way to jump-start the imagination. She suggests that creative individuals take 20-minute walks regularly.
• Rabbi Rami Shapiro and his son Aaron have discovered many ways to sustain creativity. In Writing – The Sacred Art, they affirm sauntering, a leisurely form of walking, as the best way to go for writers.
• Jeffrey Smith in Where the Roots Reach for Water finds many examples of the devotional aspects of walking. To name a few: the aboriginal walkabout, the walking meditations of Tibetan Buddhists, and the Eastern Orthodox pilgrim on a holy journey.
• When does walking become a meditation? Buddhist writer and teacher Jack Kornfield discusses what makes this spiritual practice a pathway to centeredness and peace in Buddha's Little Instruction Book.
• While attending a retreat given by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village, Jean-Pierre and Rachel Carter talk about trying walking meditation in the city and while walking up a flight of stairs. If they chose to do the second, their teacher suggests they make an agreement with the stairs in Thich Nhat Hanh: The Joy of Full Consciousness.
• Walking is very important to Jains since their great leader was enlightened while walking. They have a special way of doing it given their duty not to step on any living creatures. William Dalrympie profiles Prasannamati Mataji and his distinctive views on walking in Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.
• Picture yourself as an elderly Hindu person in India who has given up all earthly possessions and is now preparing to seek enlightenment each and every minute of the day. This means walking to shrines, temples, and other holy places. In India: A Sacred Geography, Diana Eck looks at the wanderings of these sannyasis.
• When two million Hindus a month go on long pilgrimages, there is plenty of walking and climbing involved. They go for darsan — to see the image of the deity — explains Diana Eck in Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. She explores this spiritual practice which compels devotional Hindus to trek high in the Himalayas for the darsan of Visnu at Badrinath or climb a local hill for the darsan of a goddess.
• In his spiritual memoir At Hell's Gate, Claude Anshin Thomas recounts his journey from the violence of Vietnam to his vocation as a wandering Zen monk; he makes pilgrimages around the world to speak out for peace and nonviolence. Many other spiritual people have in different places have also walked for the causes in solidarity with kindred spirits.
• "Walking the labyrinth is a prayer form symbolizing our walk with God and our walk toward God," writes Jane Vennard in Praying with Body and Soul. She describes her experience on this devotional path.
• Before Sunrise is a fetching and fluid romantic drama about two strangers who express their most intimate feelings through conversation during their one day and night together. This exquisite drama, directed by the inimitable Richard Linklater, depicts how intimacy can be created by the simple act of walking and talking — in this case through the city of Vienna.
• Before Sunset revolves around the re-encounter nine years later in Paris of the couple from Before Sunrise. Once again they walk around the city, conversing about their lives since they were together, their regrets, and their feelings in the moment.
• The Children of Huang Shi is set in China in 1938 when an English photographer rescues 60 orphans from sure death and takes them on a long and dangerous walk to a new life.
• Examined Life is an unusual documentary that presents eight intellectuals offering their perspectives on philosophical matters. The director films most of them talking while they are walking.
• Vajra Sky Over Tibet is an enthralling documentary about the richness of traditional Tibetan Buddhism, including the devotion of the people as they walk to and through sacred sites.
• The Way Back depicts the daring escape of seven prisoners from a Soviet gulag in 1940 and their dangerous and degrading long walk to freedom.
• Walking meditation is one of the key teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. These two practices are excerpted from his definitive combination book and CD, Walking Meditation, co-written with Nguyen Anh-Huong:
• The Welcoming Path
• Walk Like a Tiger
• Protestant minister Bruce G. Epperly and Rabbi Lewis D. Solomon include in their books some practices for when you are walking:
• Body Affirmations• Gratitude Walk
• Adair Lara has a spiritual practice that can be used while walking home after work.
• Andrew Harvey presents a spiritual practice of imagining Jesus or Mary at your side while walking.
• Jay Marshall delivers a series of spiritual practices designed to make a walk joyful.
• Pragito Dove offers a four-minute meditation on walking down the street.