Zen and the Art of Walking


nude in grassindigo-signature-bannerRecently I have been walking.

I am aware that it is a wonderful pastime (let us not take our healthy, working legs for granted) but not necessarily unexpected. But I am becoming dizzy with happiness from it. I have, within my reach right now, two huge ordinance survey maps. I can reach my day sack and compass in about thirty seconds. I recently upgraded to a two-litre water holder so you can tell I mean business.

I am so happy when I walk that I can hardly eat; it is as though I get energy from expending this energy. I force myself to stop for lunch and then end up leaving my food for the birds. I find chocolate and nuts in my pockets at the end of the day. I am a woman on a mission, a pedestrian mission but still a mission. I like to walk about fourteen miles; ten makes me bored and eighteen makes me tired, and I like my day to include a big hill or a mountain when possible.

But I am drawn to an area where there are no mountains, and instead there are endless hills and rolling dales. And what is very odd is that for years I have avoided this area as though it were plagued.

I attended weddings and funerals there with a brisk air of sufferance. I would not pause to look left or right but would dash in and out with a purpose. The very geography of the landscape pained me. The white stone walls, the sloping hills, and the curling rivers reminded me of what I once was and made me feel as though if I paused they would take me back and I would die.

I could not go back. Writing this now I have to emphasise to you that it is not all right. It is not forgotten. I remember the urge to tear my own flesh from my bones. I remember knowing back then that I could survive only because there was the possibility of suicide. Knowing that I had this option made it possible to face each day.

But I walk there now.

I am remapping the area in my mind, learning where one dale leads to another, where one village is in relation to another and it is all about relations. In every churchyard I can find a family tomb, markers showing where one farmer’s daughter trekked across a field to meet a suitor or a man left home to find his lover or his living. I can see hope, love or whatever passed for love making tiny geographical movements across the green curves of this space.

Before I walked there I had a child’s view of the place. I knew that to get from one village to the next, I should sit in the back of the car and be silent. I would be done to. If I sat very still and waited then I might be vilified, ignored, hurt, although briefly. And if I expressed a preference of not being in pain then the abuse would intensify until I gave up the idea of no pain.

I don’t like explaining this to you. I resent remembering. People would say how lucky I was to grow up in such beauty. I would snarl and declare I had never been surrounded by such ugliness.

Writing this now makes me nervous. It makes me worry that someone will think I have forgiven and I am happy to go back in time, that somehow what was done was acceptable. It was not. It is not.

But now I walk there, with others sometimes but I prefer to walk on my own. I like to be alone, to be free to set my own pace, fast on the flat, old sheep slow on the hills. At first every step made me nervous and I had to joke or swear or find another way to fight memories, but this has changed.

Two days ago, it occurred to me that the rivers and dales are me. These shapes, these greens, these smells and textures are in my blood and my bones. This geography is who I am.

I am not finished with these trails yet. I want to know where each village fits. I want to see the history of my family in the neat limestone walls that are etched into the landscape. I want to know where I come from. But I want to find out on my own using my own power, walking across the fields like generations before me.

Two days ago I realised I have been returning to a river without meaning to. I have walked for miles along it, I have crossed it, looked down on it from various hills and more than once sat on its banks and thrown sticks to watch they bob and bubble downstream. But until two days ago I never noticed that I kept on coming back to the same stretch of water.

I grew up on this river, in different houses and different villages but this river was a constant. The river accompanies me as I walk. I followed it without thinking. I have pictures of myself on this river as a child, and it did not occur to me that I was drawn back to it but here I am.

This is what I am starting to learn. There is a passive state as when I stayed away, hating and allowing the hurt to be on me. There is an active state, as when I would try to therapy my past away talk it and fight it and wrestle it from me.
There is a state somewhere in between.

This is a way that involves being and walking, not the impact and energy of running, and not the internal effort of philosophising, but just being. I am being by the river and my heart doesn’t break as I realise that it is my river, even though I am crying as I write these words. I will walk it in silence until I can hear it for what it is. There is no special effort required, and in fact an effort will drive away anything the river has to say, I can’t look for the secrets of the dales, I just have to be there, walking my path.

ind 1A while ago I started to learn about Taoism. I am curious about everything and Taoism seems to be about everything. I am especially fascinated by the concept of wu wei.

Wu wei involves knowing when to act and when not to act. Another perspective to this is that “Wu Wei” means natural action – as planets revolve around the sun, they “do” this revolving, but without “doing” it; or as trees grow, they “do”, but without “doing”. Thus knowing when (and how) to act is not knowledge in the sense that one would think “now” is the right time to do “this”, but rather just doing it, doing the natural thing.

The literal meaning of Wu Wei is “without action” and is often included in the paradox weiwuwei: “action without action” or “effortless doing”. The aim of wuwei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao and, as a result, obtain an irresistible form of “soft and invisible” power.

It was only when I started to write about my walking that I realised I am living this now. I am following a path that I had not meant to. And when I wanted to write about walking, saving the topic of wu wei for another day, I realised that one is the other, even this writing of it fits into wu wei.

The reason I am telling you this is because we all fight a lot of battles. We struggle with perceptions and labels, particularly in this thing we do. We attach words, names and meanings to our desires and what we are. It can make being who and what we are terribly hard.

Sometimes when life can be hard with DJ and I. We try to define what we are doing and our relationship, which on so many levels makes no sense, and we get snagged on the words. But then we forget to think about it. I turn and catch his eye and he smiles down at me, I stick my tongue out and he gasps. I fly through the air and end up overturned. He spanks me, I pout, we kiss, and we are. When we just are, it is perfect, no matter where we are, and what our days get filled with we just are what we are. We do our thing and are so enriched that if I tell you how it alters us it would seem like boasting.ind2

Then consider all of us; there are fifty-seven reasons why spanking or being spanked should not be as it is. There are five hundred reasons why this whole thing that we all do should not make sense. So don’t label it or labour it. Do not compare yourself with others. What we do doesn’t require therapy.

Stop thinking about it and do it. Walk the path in front of you and breathe the air.

You are the geography and the landscape. You always were and when you let yourself exist in your own space and accept it you will realise what an amazing space that is. ind 3


8 Responses to “Zen and the Art of Walking”

  1. 1 MrJ

    Thank you so much for sharing, Indigo. I am happy you have found this mode of dealing with what happened. May be it is (also) about appropriating – place, past, oneself,…
    Than you for thew wuwei insight

  2. Ah Indigo….what a chord you strike with me on a miserable wet Wednesday London morning… I have a dreadful cough after a week of fluey cold and feel awful and was just wondering how to face another day of it. Wu wei seems the perfect way. Don’t fight it, flow with it…. like your river.

    I love the way you write about your pain. My childhood was similar to yours. Trapped in abuse. I have agoraphobia, so thinking of you walking the dales is particularly poignant. But really, what you pinpoint is such a beautiful release from the past. I often tell myself “it’s not where you are that matters, it’s THAT you are” – to comfort myself about not going out into the world much. And you describe that feeling of “it’s all right, I’m still here. My true being is allowed just to be” so well.

    It’s such a long quest. Sometimes it feels like the abuse ruined everything. Sometimes it feels like the cleanest, most honest way of living because everything from my childhood has been stripped back and seen for what it is. And that knowledge is also a great help to others struggling in the same way.

    And your knowledge helps ME. Thank you for another lovely piece of writing.


  3. Rivers are powerful things. I am a river girl myself. I grew up on a huge, mighty churning brown froth, and I walk now next to a gentle meandering happy bit of water. I will think about what you said today when I walk there again. I hope you’ve read The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. I feel sure you have. Xo

    • I have and they inspired me much as you do every day. Your wicca story has made me ponder and ponder some more. X

  4. I like when you say, sometimes we forget to think about it and we just are. So true. Such a beautiful post. thanks for sharing!

  5. 8 Anonymous

    You write beautifully. Your words at first seem careful and delicate, but in fact are very strong.

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