Leading Like a Monk: Walking and Paying Attention

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Walking and Paying Attention

The community practices silence at the hermitage where I am a lay oblate. People may talk in the bookstore, which facilitates commerce, or walking on the driveway.

People who are on retreat request an appointment, in the bookstore, to talk with a monk. Together, they walk the two miles down to the Pacific Coast Highway, and back.

The walk is beautiful, back and forth across the side of the hill. The views of the coast and the ocean are stunning and the quiet is calming. You meet animals along the way. There is little traffic.

Whether with one of the monks or on our own, we walk and pay attention. There are places to stop and sit, looking out over the views. This walk is an excellent way to pause and catch our breath. The walk back up is a little more challenging than the walk down to the highway.

The monks at the hermitage are gifted with hospitality. They walk and listen, paying attention within the context of great beauty. Together we lift our eyes to watch the birds, the deer, the power of the ocean.

We feel the sun and it is as if the sky, the land, the ocean are walking with us and paying attention.

We do not rush, but travel at a human pace. The hermitage itself seems to operate more calmly, more humanely. Walking around, even if we are not going up and down the driveway, feels less hurried. There is time to breathe, time to reflect, time to consider, time to pay attention.

The opportunity for walking and paying attention is one of the hermitage’s most significant gifts.

Everyday Walking and Paying Attention

I spend most of my time away from the hermitage, out here in the “real” world. My intention, my practice is to spend time walking and paying attention like at the hermitage.

Walking is one of my pleasures. I walk as often as I can.

We all walk at our own pace. Sometimes we amble along, sometimes we stride with purpose. Walking gives us time to reflect, to breathe well, and to pay attention.

My attention is more focused at the beginning of a walk. There may be a subject or person drawing me out to walk and pay attention to them. Sometimes I pay attention to my schedule and the time I will spend with people.

There are times when I pay attention to people riding bicycles or skateboards on the sidewalk.

Generally as I walk my attention becomes less focused, less intentional. Slowly, I pay attention more by listening than by talking.

There is the attention to walking in sunshine, and the attention of walking into a wind. There is attention of walking in the rain. Different ways of walking and paying attention during the day and after dark. There is walking and paying attention to another person, and walking alone.

Walking and paying attention is praying with our eyes open. We pay attention to people who might be living on the streets, people waiting for a bus. We may be paying attention to the spiritual life of construction sites, of hospitals, of coffee shops.

Walking and paying attention is good for us; good for our bodies, good for our spirits, good for our minds. It can be good, challenging exercise that helps us grow stronger. Walking and paying attention helps knit together our communities. Walking and paying attention transports us, filling each step with spiritual life.

Leading by Walking and Paying Attention

We often get the impression it is hard to be a leader. Leaders have serious responsibilities. Leadership comes with pressures and stresses, expectations and demands.

Many of the most effective leaders I know have mastered the art of walking and paying attention. Rather than sitting in their offices making decisions, they walk around and pay attention.

A few of them sneak out of some of their endless meetings to spend time walking and paying attention.

The leaders who inspire me ask questions and pay attention to the responses they get. Like the monks walking on the driveway at the hermitage, they create space for people.

They realize leadership is too important to be dictated from far away. More than plans and goals, leadership is about walking with people and paying attention to them.

There is leadership in walking together and paying attention to the sun. Leadership travels at a human pace.

Walking at Out Own Pace

We each walk at our own pace. Walking gives us opportunities to stop and see things we might otherwise miss as we race along. We walk to stimulate our bodies and minds and souls while still taking time to pay attention.

We walk beside other people. Walking gives us room to listen to them, have conversations, and reflect on what they say.

When we walk with someone else we welcome them into a relationship. Leadership is one of the most influential relationships we can build.

It is as if we are all out for a walk together. Some of us will set the pace for a while, then others will take their place. There are walkers who like to push ahead as if they know the best way. Other people head off in interesting directions. A few of us prefer to lag behind taking time for deep breaths.

Some people get focused on becoming the best walkers they can be. They pay attention to developing their walking skills and expertise. Others see walking as a way to spend time out in the sun. They are paying attention to the color of the sky and the fresh aroma of the air.

There are people who experience walking as a race. They work hard to walk as fast as they can.

We are all on the same walk. The leaders who inspire me are making sure we all arrive together.

Questions

How will you practice walking and paying attention this week?

Where will your walking and paying attention take you today?

[Image by chany14]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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