In an effort to get more exercise and spend less time cooped up at home, I started taking daily walks.
My meanders are not particularly long or difficult.
I move at a comfortable pace and usually walk about a mile before returning home.
I'm sure people in cars passing me on the road think I'm crazy, but I made peace with being a weird neighbor a long time ago.
There are many benefits to daily walks. In addition to exercise, I find that my mood improves every time I go outside to stretch my legs. The fresh air feels good in my lungs and I am able to think more clearly. I am also becoming more familiar with my surroundings.
It seems strange, but I don't think I knew much about my neighborhood until I started walking through it. In the countryside, cars are the primary means of transportation, and many details escape us as we travel around the world at forty-five miles an hour. When driving, you barely notice the places where the earth juts out in a steep climb or the places where rainwater collects, forming mini-lakes at the side of the road.
Yes, we see the houses and the animals in passing, but we don't really see it see them. It's impossible to know which cows are friendly and which make a point of not seeing you in a car. It's hard to fully appreciate the treehouse in your neighbor's backyard when you only see it through a car window.
But this all becomes clear when we put one foot in front of the other and walk past them at a leisurely pace.
Sometimes I like the things I see. The old barns around me form a dashing silhouette against the sky. And I'm always impressed by the endless miles of corn and soybeans my neighbors grow.
Sometimes I don't like the things I see. One of my walking routes takes me past an abandoned property that has a multitude of junk cars and trash piled up in the yard. I also had to step over dead animals hit by cars.
Walking through the countryside allowed me to establish a more intimate relationship with my surroundings. I know the land and the people more deeply than before. And I feel changed as a result.
In Buddhism, I think the practice of sitting meditation is comparable to taking daily walks.
In our ever-changing, fast-paced world, most of us are forced to run throughout life. We move quickly from one task to another in a desperate attempt to check a few more items off our to-do list.
We are like the people who drive past me in their cars every day, laser-focused on the destination and having no time to take in our surroundings.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Each of us must work hard to meet the demands of daily life. But it can become a problem if we don't take the time to slow down and study the inner workings of our minds.
In our endless rush to get things done, we risk missing out on the stark beauty that can be found there: fond memories, feelings of satisfaction, or skills we haven't used in a while. time.
On the other hand, we may find ugliness that needs to be remedied. Maybe we have a habit of speaking unkindly to others or maybe there are daily activities we should avoid because they leave us exhausted and unhappy.
Every time we sit on our cushions and adopt the noble posture of Buddha, we are doing the spiritual equivalent of walking on the road.
We slow down and use the practice of sitting meditation to turn our attention inward. When we do this, we establish a more intimate relationship with our mind and are better able to see both the good and bad things that may be there.
This way we can derive greater joy from good things. And once we have identified the problem areas, we are able to study the sutras to determine the appropriate medicine – prostrations, incense offerings, visualizations, etc. – for our spiritual ills.
Of course, we can't live every moment this way. There will be times when we have to jump in the metaphorical car and go as quickly as possible from point A to point B, paying little attention to the scenery as we get there.
But that’s why Buddha encourages us to set aside time every day for spiritual introspection.
In my experience, daily walks and sitting meditation are similar in that consistency is key. It's better to do a little every day than to do a lot every now and then.
Living this way allows us to see both the beautiful and the less beautiful parts of life. And that helps us answer both.
Namu Amida Butsu!
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