At some point in my 20s, I realized that if I had a sport, walking was it.
I have never been athletic; my brother got all the sporty genes from my family, and I got the creativity. I’m mostly happy with this.
As I began working through my own issues, my emotions would go into overdrive at times and I found walking to be the perfect companion to my self-healing process.
Walking involves bilateral movement, a quality found in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). My therapist says that walking can be used as a form of self EMDR. When we’re working through something and moving our bodies, we’re able to work through challenges a little easier.
When we pair walking with nature, we are immersed in our senses and able to find ourselves grounding little by little with each step. In being held in motion yet grounded in the elements of the natural world, challenges untie themselves as time ceases to exist.
I’m fortunate that I live only a mile from my favorite park. It is not one that’s manicured or landscaped to perfection. In this temperate rainforest setting, it is mostly in its natural state.
I began walking mostly through the neighborhoods but as I was encountering older pain from childhood, I started to extend my trek. The deeper struggles rising up to the surface required more time in a bilateral motion for me. This kind of movement has been a strategy for stress relief and a way for my mind to get out of its own way.
If I begin my walk from my front door, I am guaranteed two miles to the park and back. If I include walking on some of the trails there, I can finish five or six miles by the time I get home.
The woods became my sanctuary. Not only did they provide a beloved ritual of walking with my dog, an active way to bond and build trust with him, but they were also my escape from mundane life into great beauty. I began to find that every day, the woods looked different to me. And as seasons changed, I watched the cycles of life churning in front of my keen eyes.
It has now been six years since I’ve been haunting these woods with my dog. I’ve seen many a sprout blooming there, the mayapples peeking out for what seems like just a moment in time, and then the leaves turning orangey-brown, falling, and the trees becoming bare for winter.
I’ve seen birds of every color. I’ve seen chipmunks and deer, spiderwebs like works of divine art, and always the Rhododendron, one of the only plants I feel assured I can recognize.
Some trails lead to the river, which I have seen in all its forms. In the morning, there’s some stillness there. In the evening, it is like a thick blanket of depth and darkness. Sometimes it is high after we’ve had so much rain. Low times, I can walk further out to get closer to it. I walk out to glimpse the rippling current, reminding myself, “This too shall pass.”
Some days, when we think we can’t possibly walk, our bodies contracted, or our tears unceasing, we can choose to put both feet on the ground and start moving. Time stretches out and stops, posing an artificial structure on our day. On our arrival back to our homes, we feel better for the journey. We are fulfilled in a way we couldn’t reach before we put on our boots.
We think of walking as a thing we do, not as a thing we are. Yet sometimes walking is, in fact, something we are. The act is not separate from ourselves. Moving our bodies is part of fulfilling our bodies’ destiny. Though I am usually alone with my dog, not with any other human, walking is like the company of a good friend. We become our own companions through the empowerment of our movement. A companionship accompanied by the symphony of the great many sounds of the wild.
With each step, the woods receive our sorrows and our joys. Our bodies accept what we’re working through, without judgment, without resistance. Gradually, it all moves out through our limbs, a meditation fully embodied. Whatever was there gets recycled into the earth where it is transmuted into steadier ground for the ones who will come after us. In each adventure, our steps follow themselves until we are—once again—made aware of our wholeness.
There are times I still get lost out there in the woods. Most of the trails descend slightly downward. When I lose my bearings, I remember to follow the paths that are at an incline and I’ll find my way out.
It is my metaphor for life.
Whatever challenges are presented to us, just keep walking up.