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Monk in the World Guest Post: Rita Simon

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World Guest Post series from the community. Read on for Rita Simon’s reflection, “Finding Treasures in Aimlessness.”

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
~ Matthew 6:21

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under your feet.
~Thich Nhat Hahn

I grew up the eldest of nine children in a small Wisconsin town. My mother did not drive until she finally got her license at age 60, and my Dad was rarely available to take us places, so we walked wherever we needed to go. Mom would pop the toddler and/or baby in our little red wagon and walk to and from the grocery store in town ½ mile away. Us older kids would ask to go along, and she would say, “You can come if you can keep up,” and off she would go. Mom was a fast walker! She never let any grass grow under her feet, so “keeping up” meant we had to hike along at her pace. Consequently, we learned to walk fast and with purpose. NO DAWDLING ALLOWED! The young man who eventually married one of my younger sisters said one time, “You can always pick out a Reynolds girl in the mall by the way they walk,” meaning fast pace, arms swinging, and purposeful stride. No grass growing under OUR feet!

For most of my adult life, walking has been about getting to a specific destination, whether at work, or out running errands, or getting to events with the kids, or for exercise, or even when hiking in the mountains. There was somewhere I needed to go. I had an agenda and things needed to get done, so NO DAWDLING! But my view has changed quite a bit over the past several years.

Walking meditation has been practiced in many spiritual traditions for thousands of years. For Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Catholic contemplative Trappist monk and theologian, it became his favored contemplative spiritual practice. He met both Thich Nhat Hahn in the 1960’s a few years before his death, and he became especially close to him, calling him “my brother.” Thomas Merton’s writings brought walking meditation into western Catholic awareness as a beautiful contemplative spiritual practice accessible to most everyone.

“In Buddhism, there is a word apranihita. It means wishlessness or aimlessness. The idea is that we do not put anything ahead of ourselves. When we practice walking meditation…we just enjoy the walking, with no particular aim or destination. Our walking is not a means to an end. We walk for the sake of walking.” Thich Nhat Hahn

In walking meditation there is the practice of grounding and becoming aware of how the earth feels under our feet; of walking slowly yet allowing the body to move naturally; of putting the attention on our breath as it moves naturally into and out of our bodies but not trying to change our breath pattern; of opening our awareness to everything around us but not focusing on anything in particular; of being aware of the coming and going of our thoughts but not grasping nor pushing them away. When I practice walking meditation, I feel a deep peacefulness and calmness in my heart, an openness to all of nature around me, and a profound heart connection with the unfathomable mystery of myself that extends out to all beings and to the whole cosmos. There is a beautiful sense of aimlessness in just wandering without an agenda or destination and just being very open to everything around me.

In early May, as soon as the ground was dry enough, I began taking a daily walk on our beautiful land. I would wander down the road, the farm fields on my right and our woods on my left. I walked through our pine forest, the ground covered in a carpet of pine needles, meeting deer and turkeys along the way, and walked past our pet cemetery at the top of the hill before entering our woods. I observed the day-to-day changes in the trees and vegetation and on each walk I would find a little treasure, a turkey feather, a piece of bark on the ground with several fallen red tree buds on it, a small, soft, feathery white pine branch, a tiny pine cone, an unusual rock, a piece of moss or lichen, and I would bring each of these treasures home. I placed my treasures in the center of my dining table so I could see them every day, a sacred space that grew in size as I added another treasure, a sacred space that became a changing vista for contemplation. My treasure space became very crowded! I feel very grateful to be able to just practice walking aimlessly, to dawdle, to wander and open up and become aware of all of the treasures at my fingertips, under my feet, and all around me.

So, DO DAWDLE! DO walk AIMLESSLY! As you walk, notice your breath and allow it to become easy and calm. Open up your senses and your mind and broaden your awareness to all that is around you. Let your eyes soften and your field of attention widen as you walk slowly and peacefully. Go to the first thing that shows you its quiet happiness. Stop and open yourself to it in quiet contemplation and look deeply into the heart and essence of it. Breathe before it slowly and speak to it with gentleness. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel? Bow in gratitude to these treasures. Practice as often as you can.

Failing to notice one rose, we fail to notice the entire cosmos. ~Thich Nhat Hahn

A very beautiful book on walking meditation with lovely photographs and poetry by TNH.
Easy Steps to Mindfulness: Walking Meditation by Nguyen Anh-Huong & Thich Nhat Hahn, 2019. Available at Amazon.

Rita Simon, a retired family physician, is a member of St. Anthony Spirituality Center’s lay preaching team. They plan and present annual themed retreat weekends for a wide range of spiritual seekers. Rita practices embodied spirituality through vocal and instrumental music, yoga and dance, and the enjoyment of nature’s beauty.

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