I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Michael Kroth’s reflection on walking as a keystone, contemplative practice.
Around the mountain Again flowers, birds, views, winds My feet hurt, heart beats ~Written 8-7-22
Vince and I pulled into the nearly filled parking lot. A thin, serious-looking runner standing behind his open car trunk stretched one leg behind himself, and then the other. Two cars down, a couple pulled mountain bikes off their car racks, swung small hydration packs onto their backs, adjusted their helmets, clipped in their shoes, stepped onto their rides, and rolled toward the closed, chained gate. Looking up, we could see two young men and one woman sauntering down the trail toward us. Higher on the trail, an older man and woman were heading up, both with trekking poles.
It was an early, typical Boise summer day. The sky was light blue with floating white clouds each with just touches of gray highlights. The temperature was cool, but in about an hour we would be glad we wore layers – it would hit the 90’s by the end of the afternoon. We were at the Polecat Loop trailhead. The hike we were starting is just over six miles in length with an elevation gain of around 850 feet. It would take us around two and a half hours to complete. Along the way, we would see and smell and touch wildflowers and sage, and if we were lucky, we might see some deer.
Up on Polecat Loop Ten white-tailed deer take their time While hikers admire. ~Written 3-20-22
The first time I walked – let’s say trudged – this Polecat trail with Vince, I was just barely beginning to hike. It was so challenging I had to stop along the way to catch my breath and rest my legs.
Last week I finished the Race to Robie Creek® half-marathon for what I think was the fifth, maybe sixth, time. It is often called “the toughest half marathon in the Northwest,” and has an elevation gain of just over 2100 feet. It took me four hours and nine minutes to complete it. Most people (try to) run it, but I walked it the whole way. I finished 1639th out of 1698 finishers. My pace was 18 minutes and 54 seconds a mile, just a bit faster, even with this challenging course, than the three miles an hour Mark Buchanan says is “God speed.” Finishing this half at the age of 70 was exhaustingly exhilarating.
Looking at how I’ve progressed over the years from both a wider and a deeper lens, however, shows how walking has become for me what Charles Duhigg calls a “keystone habit.” “Keystone habits,” Duhigg says, “…start a process that, over time, transforms everything” (p. 100). “The habits that matter most,” Duhigg said, “are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns” (p. 101).
In that sense, keystone habits are akin to “master virtues,” like humility, which support and cultivate other virtues, such as generosity (see Lavelock et al., 2017), and what have been called “metaskills,” which “can be transferred from one situation to another without losing their effectiveness” (Neumeier, 2013, p. 27). These terms show how one skill, virtue, habit, disposition, or practice can synergistically support, be applied to, and help develop others.
I began walking regularly about eight years ago. I was fortunate to have my buddy Vince as a hiking partner and teacher, and eventually we made Saturday hiking into a regular practice. These days it is rare when we do not walk at least six or seven miles, usually on trails along the Boise foothills or higher. Evolving from this, I now also walk three or four miles a day around our neighborhood.
Snow-lined trails stretching October blue horizons A bird floats above ~Written 10-17-21
More than that, this discipline of walking has led toward deep “monk-in-the-world” values and behaviors. For example, walking every day, except for Saturdays almost always by myself, has been an opportunity for deep solitude, silence, and contemplation. I cannot walk around our neighborhood any time of year without vicariously experiencing the divine. The miracle of birth – just yesterday I saw tiny baby ducks swimming with their mother in the pond our dog and I visit most days. The spectacular beauty of nature – right now, within just a few streets of our house, the yellows and blues, and greens and reds and oh-so-many-more colors of flowers and trees and bushes are just emerging – the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Walking the Camino de Santiago was a natural next step (please excuse my sense of humor here), and on September 1, 2022 I spent my 70th birthday with my son Shane, on the French Way, crossing the border from France to Spain. This year, we are returning to complete another segment of the pilgrimage and over the next few years plan to complete the entire 500-mile pilgrimage.
The trail extends far Walking over and through clouds Which change, as I do ~Written 9-13-22, Just back from the Camino
Cara Anthony, writing about her own Camino pilgrimage, contrasts the “the experiences of sacred time, profound friendship and community and connections to nature” to the way current society practices “hypermobility.” Hypermobility, she says, is “the need to travel far, frequently, and fast [which] erodes encounters with landscapes and neighbors and accelerates the mistreatment of both nature and vulnerable members of our communities. Pilgrims who travel the Camino perform an act of resistance to hypermobility and enact a kind of utopia where they re-imagine their connection to the land, to each other, and to the divine.”
Contemplative walking is an antidote to the hypermobility and superficiality of our era.
Walking is a keystone habit for me and is a key to my contemplative life. Walking unlocks mystery, curiosity, gratitude, and wonder. Its fruits, for me and many others, are the call to share the nature of this gift with others. It is no surprise to me that Christine often encourages us to take contemplative walks, to take pictures of what we notice, and to reflect on them.
Single track or road Perhaps there is no path at all Still, there’s a way ~Written 8-21-22
*Haikus in this essay were all originally written in my daily journal and inspired by my daily walks. For more about my Haiku practice, see my Monk In The World Guest Post, 11-11-21, https://abbeyofthearts.com/blog/2020/11/11/29960/).
Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 373-395.
Buchanan, M. (2020). God walk: moving at the speed of your soul. Zondervan.
Duhigg, C. (2014). Power of habit: why we do what we do in life and business (Random House Trade Paperback Edition ed.). Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Lavelock, C. R., Worthington, E. L., Griffin, B. J., Garthe, R. C., Elnasseh, A., Davis, D. E., & Hook, J. N. (2017). Still Waters Run Deep: Humility as a Master Virtue. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 45(4), 286-303.
Neumeier, M. (2013). Metaskills: five talents for the robotic age. New Riders.
Michael Kroth is Professor of Education at the University of Idaho. He has written or co-authored nine books including Transforming Work: The Five Keys to Achieving Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace; The Manager as Motivator; Career Development Basics; Managing the Mobile Workforce: Leading, Building, and Sustaining Virtual Teams; Stories of Transformative Learning, and Profound Living: Essays, Images, and Poetry. His most recent books are Framing the Moment: Haiku Conversations, written with Amy Hoppock and Davin Carr-Chellman; Step by Step: Living More Meaningfully, Joyfully, and Deeply Each Day, written with Davin Carr-Chellman and Carol Rogers-Shaw; and Coffee Talk: A Transformational Tale Inspired by The Imitation of Christ, written with Bryan Taylor.
He created and curates the blog site Profound Living With Michael Kroth. You can find it here: ProfoundLiving.live. Michael, Davin Carr-Chellman, and Amy Hoppock have recorded over thirty Haiku Narratives with Amy, Davin, and Michael. You can find them here: ProfoundLiving.live/haiku-narratives