Very early in life, I developed the habit of walking and thinking and meditating. I came from a rather strict home, and the only way I could get out of the house at night was to walk the dog. So, I did. I would walk the dog for miles and miles, and sometimes for several hours at a stretch. Nobody worried about me if they knew I was walking the dog. It is one of the happiest habits I have developed in my entire life, and the habit of walking a lot has stayed with me through all the years. It has always been the primary way that I think, meditate, and pray.
After I became a pastor, I hit upon a very happy discovery. When I began to have the normal responsibility of doing a considerable amount of counseling, especially with parishioners, I learned that if I took a walk with the person I was counseling and we did our talking that way (these came to be known as “a walkin’ talk, with Rich”), the fruitfulness of our talks was always multiplied. It is so much better than sitting in chairs or at a table and looking at each other, which is almost always at least slightly threatening to the person being counseled. It is much better to walk and talk, going the same direction. It seemed to facilitate thinking together rather than having one person in the position of the helpless counselee. Then, when I would invite people I was meeting with for various other reasons to take a walk, I found the same thing. It was a much more fruitful enterprise than sitting together.
Over the years, I have had various people share their own walking experiences with me. One gentleman, who has held many highly responsible and important positions, told me that he had learned years ago that if he had to meet with somebody who he knew was angry or hostile and they went for a walk together and talked, by the walk’s end, almost without fail, the anger was gone and it was much easier to reach real accord.
In recent years, in light of much modern research, it has begun to occur to me that walking and meditating may achieve many of the same results that EMDR Therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy) achieves with trauma and post-traumatic stress syndrome patients. The point of those therapies is that the physiological movement from left to right with the eyes redistributes traumatic memories—seemingly stuck in one place on one side of the brain—all over both sides of the brain and makes them “digestible” so they can pass into the long-term memory system. Walking, talking, and meditating is also a process of left/right/left/right and may well facilitate the same things. In my own personal experience—and particularly my counseling experience—it would definitely seem so.
We are certainly the most sedentary civilization in all of history. We do not have to walk or use our bodies, and we sit more than any people ever have. We are also, most notably, a very traumatized people. Tribal people had dances that ritualized almost everything, including terrible things that happened in warfare. In WWI, the first war in which soldiers were transported almost everywhere by vehicle, we suddenly hear about the epidemic of “shell shock.” It had always existed, but it was suddenly much worse.
The great Greek philosophers were called the “Peripatetics” (the walkers). In most of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates is out walking and talking with his disciples. Maybe the traditional constant sitting for hours and hours in our schools is retrograde. Jesus walked and taught constantly with his disciples all through the Gospels, as they wended their way ultimately toward Jerusalem during Holy Week. And Paul told us to “walk in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16). Maybe sometimes we should be more literal in our Bible interpretation!
How much better decisions would come about if corporate boards, and House and Senate subcommittees, made their decisions not sitting around big tables or in large meeting halls and rooms, but walking together down some beach, or through some forest, or next to some river (left/right/left/right/left/right)? Decisions might be based far less on trauma, anxiety, anger, and fear.
New discoveries are often a recovery of the very old.
Richard Bledsoe is a Theopolis Fellow and works as a chaplain in Boulder, Colorado.
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