This is the fifth in an occasional series on spiritual practice techniques.
One of the primary purposes of spiritual practice is to develop balance and wholeness. Your body needs this practice every bit as much as your mind. Any form of exercise can be a spiritual practice, and some physical exercises are explicitly spiritual, such as yoga and Qigong.
But for me, the simplest exercise is the best – walking. The health benefits are large and well-known, and as Pagans who see the body as part of the whole person and not as something to be transcended, anything that makes us physically healthier improves our overall spiritual health.
Like so many of us, I spend most of my time indoors. There are weeks when it seems like the only time I’m outside is when I’m going from the car to work and back again. Walking gets me outside and lets me breathe fresh, unconditioned air. I can see and feel the seasons: the heat of Summer, the cold of Winter, the flowering of Spring, and the coloring of Fall.
I do most of my exercising in the early mornings, before work. Much of that is walking, and since I’m outside at about the same time every day, it’s easy to follow the progression of the Sun through the year and the progression of the Moon through the month.
Leave the iPod at home. Part of that is a safety issue – you need to be able to hear on-coming runners, bicycles and cars. But you also need to be able to hear birds and crickets, squirrels and rabbits.
There are times when I need to listen to the natural world, and there are times when I need to sort through things. I do my best thinking, writing, and problem solving while walking. Even when I’m indoors and don’t have time for a “real” walk, if I’m working on a difficult problem I find myself getting up and walking, even if it’s just pacing back and forth across the room.
There are treadmills at the fitness center where I work, and I’ll use them if the weather is just too inhospitable to go outside. The physical benefits are still there, but I don’t get anywhere near the spiritual benefits as I do from an outdoors walk. I have to admit I’ve gotten a bit wimpy here – back when I was running the only thing that kept me indoors was lightning. There’s a Swedish saying that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” It’s true.
Walking in a forest or a park is nice, but even a walk around the block can be inspiring. Life is everywhere: ornamental trees, grass pushing up through cracks in the sidewalk, insects on the ground and in the air – even the most desolate city can speak to you, if you’ll open your eyes and ears.
If you’ve ever engaged in regular physical exercise this probably sounds familiar. If you haven’t, give it a try. You don’t need any special equipment (aside from a good pair of shoes) or any special training. Just go outside and go for a walk – and let Nature speak to you.