Since our puppy, Penny, joined our family this Spring, I've taken a lot of walks. A lot. Oftentimes I use our morning walk to listen to audiobooks that grow or stretch my faith. My recently played books include titles by Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Austin Channing Brown, Eckhart Tolle, and Jen Hatmaker. Through these recent (and yes, varied) listens I've been inspired to practice kindness with my neighbors, smile more often (I don't mean to always look so serious), slow it down, face my fears, realize everything really is spiritual, and truly strive to practice presence.
And while books and knowledge fuel, me, I don't always read and walk. Sometimes I pray when I walk, sometimes I listen to a favorite playlist, and sometimes I simply have to stay focused on training (AKA wrangling) our new puppy.
Walking has become a habit for me - twice a day, every day. I'm not quite ready for the Tennessee winters but I don't think Penny will let me break this habit. She loves walking, it's an automatic response to the start of her day. It took some practice for me to get on her plan but quickly it became a habit. I then realized our habit was becoming routine and at moments I dreaded it. Maybe like me, you often walk on auto-pilot. Do you ever wonder... How did I get to the other side of the house? Why is my face always in my phone? Or... What was I doing on my way to the mailbox?
Our minds wander and so having a focused purpose helps me stay present in my walks and break the cycle of worry (which I've carried my fair share of lately). Presence keeps us present! But we don't always need a book or music in our ears to practice presence. We can use our own bodies and breath to practice awareness with a purposeful walking meditation.
The first time I practiced walking meditation was on a retreat with a group of teens. It wasn't easy but it stretched us all and we learned a lot about ourselves. To start, I suggest practicing in your back yard or even at home if you can't get outside. It's nice to have some privacy to allow yourself full presence so you're not worried about being distracted or even stepping out in front of a car. Yep, that happens. Practicing alone gives you more confidence to start, then you can practice walking reverently throughout your day. Walking meditation isn't about exercising yourself or your pet but it is about healing, it is about being fully and completely present in your body.
In walking meditation you feel your feet hit the ground, each and every step. You notice how mindfulness in your body can bring you into the moment. You go slow on purpose. You walk and breathe in sync and allow your body the space to be fully present. While being present in this way is not easy, it is indeed transformational.
Ready to try it? Need some help in discovering presence with a short mindful walk? Listen to the Walking Meditation podcast below. Then use some of what you learn to begin incorporating presence and breath in all of your walking - about the house, to the car, or around the block.
Walking has become a natural way for me to destress and unplug. I have a long way to grow my mindfulness while walking (especially with a puppy in tow) but I'm glad to keep practicing.
How do you practice mindful presence while walking?
Will you take a walk with me?
How's your focus and attention these days? Believe it or not, mine has found a renewed sense of clarity in the season of this pandemic. While there is plenty to overwhelm my body and my spirit (the hurts of our world, the effects of a mysterious virus, the longing to end racism) there is a new pace that helps me be more mindful and present.
Slowing down came naturally to me after my stroke and brain surgery 15 years ago. Honestly, I didn't have a choice. My ability to multitask ceased and life as I knew it shifted drastically. Not that long ago, I reflected and lamented with a friend about this longing to again juggle too many balls in the air. As she listened, she told me, "what a gift this experience of forced slowing down was for you!" And, I realized she was right. I am re-opening this gift of slowing down. Will you join me?
How are you intentionally slowing down in this season? What gifts are you discovering in the midst of a pandemic?
The Lenten season is a symbolic journey toward the Cross. For many today, that journey has become an opportunity to let go of certain foods, activities, or habits that distract us along the path. For others, it is a time to cling to disciplines that give life and draw us closer to our God. You may have given up chocolate or let go of your grasp on Facebook, yet this invitation is much more than cocoa or status updates (both of which I cling to often). No matter your plans for Lent, I invite you to consider this a season of receiving God’s healing and wholeness offered us through the gift of his son, Jesus.
For over a decade of my young adult years, I was plagued with chronic health problems. During an appointment one day, a practitioner asked me a profound (and what I honestly thought at the time to be rude) question. She asked, “Whitney, do you believe you can be well?” My response was silence. She shocked me and I couldn't believe she would ask me such a blunt and obvious question. Of course, I wanted to be well; I had taken the time to make an appointment to prioritize my health! My efforts proved I was working hard at it by investing time, energy, and plenty of resources.
But guess what? After my initial shock wore off, I realized I wanted to be well but didn’t believe I could be. It did not seem possible that I could live a life free from the pain that plagued me. And suddenly, as that truth sank in, I began to believe I could be well in a much broader sense than she could have understood. Her words slowly and steadily seeped into my soul.
Since that question, I have changed my thinking. I don’t believe I will always be physically well on this earth, but I will always be whole in Christ. There is nothing wrong with seeking guidance for health and wellness from wise practitioners (as a matter of fact, I recommend it), yet we can only seek true healing and wholeness within from our God. My practitioner knew this fact and planted that seed in my heart.
What is wholeness?
In order to live whole lives, we need to put to death thoughts that are not life giving. When putting to death old ways and embracing life-giving alternatives, my biggest barrier is often myself. Scripture tells us, “in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10, NASB). Did you catch that? God has already completed us. The creator has made us whole. It is not about stripping away; it’s about receiving that promise. That is what we are moving toward this Easter season—wholeness. And we must believe it is possible.
What’s your story? Do you long to be whole? Do you believe it is even possible? No matter your story, God is offering you healing and wholeness this season.
While there is no one answer for each of us regarding what wholeness looks like, there is one response: say yes. Yes, I want to be made whole. And trust me, you can say yes before you understand how it may even be possible. What are you afraid of? What might happen if you let go of the old patterns of unbelief this Lenten season and embrace God’s promise of wholeness?
How can I embrace God’s wholeness?
Read the following Scripture, slowly, three times. Ask yourself if there are any words or phrases that stand out to you as you read. You may even choose to read aloud or listen to an audio version of this passage. However you listen, truly hear the words Jesus spoke, as if they are spoken aloud to you today:
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:1–9, NIV)
Do you want to be made whole?
Do you believe you have already been made whole through Jesus’ gift to you? Do you believe you can be well? How many years have you been sitting at the pool’s edge of healing waters? Are you just sticking your toes in the water? Who or what are you waiting for? Grab your mat and walk toward Jesus this Easter season.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC