The Zen of Walking

walking shoes

I wish I could meditate, I really do. I’d love to be able to slow my heart rate and still my multitasking mind long enough to find tranquility. But I can’t. So I walk.

Walking has been my form of meditation for the past several years. I can get away from my desk, the overflowing laundry hamper and the dishes in the sink and just take time for me. It’s been my therapy, my relief, my way of managing the physical and mental tension that comes with divorce.

I suppose that’s why so many people recommend exercise as a coping mechanism when going through the stress of divorce. Moving your body helps to work out the bad stuff in your head, just as the release of warm and fuzzy endorphins, our built-in painkillers, helps pull you away from dark corners that hover on the edge of depression. I’ve found that going for a brisk 30-minute walk a few times a week is enough to provide the happy buzz I need to boost my mood. Not to mention that the fresh air and a shot of vitamin D from feeling the sun on my face pretty much guarantees a good night’s sleep.

I remember my counsellor commending me for going for a walk on a semi-regular basis. I have a very hard time putting myself first, but by going for a walk, she said, I am making myself a priority. She went so far as to call my walks a form of self-love. Hard to deny yourself something as important as love.

While some people prefer listening to music while they work out, I like being aware of my surroundings. The crunch of pavement under my feet, the rhythm of my breathing, the whistle of wind in my ears. Hitting my stride makes me feel alive. Freed from distractions, I can lose myself in my thoughts. It’s the best time for me to sort through the complex web of thoughts and emotions I’ve left the house with or to make a creative breakthrough if I’ve hit a wall.

I’m not really a “devout” anything anymore, but walking is also when I feel the most centered spiritually. In the wake of my divorce, I began to pray more often and I would find myself engaged in silent conversation with God, my dearly departed grandparents and other guardian angels I felt guiding me through the difficult transition. This includes a friend who died from a malicious, fast-moving cancer in 2009. Dan was only 36. In many ways, he was the soul brother I never had and to this day, I still feel the world is a lesser place without him in it.

During my walks, I’d often turn to Dan for some sage advice from the great beyond, especially around the time I returned to dating. With its nuanced moves and strategic plays, dating is an exhaustive game of mental chess where you never quite know what the person across the table (or on the other end of the text message) is thinking. I’d met a string of nice-enough fellows and enjoyed a pleasant outing or two with them but had not felt anything remotely meaningful. I began to wonder if I’d ever experience that kind of connection again.

I asked Dan for help – help not only to navigate the dating quagmire but to find someone truly special with a good heart, a good sense of humor and a good approach to life. Oh, and if it wasn’t asking too much, could he possibly send me a really obvious, billboard-sized neon sign to let me know when I’ve met the right one?

Five months later, I did meet someone special. I was impressed by him from the start and on our first date, he won me over with his good heart, good sense of humor and good approach to life. His name? Dan.

Of course, that’s only one story (albeit my favorite) that has come out of walking a few thousand miles. My Fitbit tracker says I’ve logged over 5 million steps totalling the distance of the monarch migration – and that’s only been since 2014. Factor in the three years that came before that and I’m probably within reach of the 5,500-mile mark, roughly the length of the Great Wall of China. Sweet!

No, I don’t always feel like going for a walk. Some days, I’m too bogged down with work, too tired or too sore (or as my son says, my “hinges” ache). I stare at my well-worn running shoes and then gaze at the couch with a heavy sigh. The shoes don’t always win. But when they do, I am proud of the fact that I’m doing something positive that benefits me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Through the years, walking has taught me that there is much healing to be found in taking care of myself. All I need to do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other.