Silence, and Walking

Alicia and Adrienne PembrokeshireI find silence to be restorative in a way that nothing else matches. Actual physical silence, somewhere where no traffic sounds penetrate, no sound of machinery, no whizzing of the washing machine on spin cycle, no subtle hum of central heating or the computer. Silence from man and man-made things. I seem to need a dose of such silence from time to time, to restore me to myself.

On Wednesday Rev. Mugo and I joined Adrienne for a few hours on her merit walk around the Pembrokeshire coast. It was a glorious day, sun glinting off the sea, the kind of day where you think: why would I want to be doing anything other than this, putting one foot in front of another, looking towards the next headland or bay, feeling the sun and breeze on my skin, being aware of my body moving and breathing.

I was reminded of the time I walked 400 miles of the South West Coastal Path (my knees gave up before I could finish the remaining 160 or so miles). It was about a year after I had started practicing Buddhism and I wanted time away from my career and my family and friends and all other influences on me so that I could find out what I really felt I wanted to do at that point in my life. Week after week I walked. After a while I realised I wasn’t thinking about my future at all, which is what I thought I had come to do. But slowly things were dropping away and I just walked. And by the end of my walk a decision had made itself.

I don’t think we can ever get completely free of all influences, all conditioning – at least not in this physical existence. But it sure does help sometimes when we can reduce it significantly. A long walk is a form of retreat – I’m sure Adrienne would agree. Sometimes it is called a pilgrimage, or indeed a merit walk.

6 thoughts on “Silence, and Walking

  1. ‘Time and space – time to be alone, space to move about – these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow.’
    From A Winter Mind, a meditation by John Burnside in the London Review of Books (alas, subscription required), quoting the naturalist Edwin Way Teale. He continues, ‘We already live in a world in which time to be alone and space to move about are attainable by the rich perhaps, but a matter of luck, or hard discipline, for others.’ He quotes the ecologist Gordon Hempton, ‘There is likely no place on earth untouched by modern noise…Even far from paved roads in the Amazon rainforest you can still hear the drone of distant outboard motors on dugout canoes and from the wrist of a native guide the hourly beep of a digital watch. The question is no longer whether noise will be present, but how often it will intrude and for how long …’

    I’m ‘blessed’ with carrying my own noise in the form of tinnitus, but paradoxically deafness and tinnitus conspire to make the world very noisy indeed, no doubt because the brain is no longer able to locate, filter and discard sound as it could. Still, I aspire to silence!

    An inspiring walk by the way!

    • Thank you Walter. And on the subject of silence, you (and others) might enjoy the talk Rev. Master Daishin gave at the Reading of the Precepts Ceremony at Jukai this year. He talks about “looking with silent eyes”.

  2. Like I said to you on the day, as I walk I am forgetting yesterday and can’t bring tomorrow into my mind either.

    • I love this: “I am forgetting yesterday and can’t bring tomorrow into my mind either.” Bits of my project came up as I walked, which were tempting for me to work on in my mind, but then, one foot in front of the other, overtook these desires. Stunning views of Los Angeles around many of the curves of my path. What was most wonderful were the smiles of greeting, and being fully present to the people encountered. After a month of ‘working meditation’ on an archaeological dig in the middle east, returning to walking meditation seemed so natural, like breath itself.

      • Sophia! How wonderful to have this comment from you. I will alert Adrienne that there is a comment relating to her walk. And yes, returning to the simple walking, the simply walking that we know and love, is a refuge. I’m out walking in the lanes and fields around where I am staying at the moment and invariably pass the time of day with others as I go.

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