Wednesday, 13 October 2021

My Current Spiritual Practice

 I practised meditation for over 20 years but then felt it was getting stale so stopped, today meditating in a formal sense only about once a month. I have been a churchgoer during four periods of my life but now just attend at Christmas and Easter. I do say my prayers every morning and before going to bed but my main spiritual practice these days has become walking.

That's not a spiritual practice, I hear you say. It's just taking exercise! True, it is taking physical exercise but I find I derive spiritual benefit from it too, rather like a monk perambulating round the cloisters of his monastery. In fact, I have always been drawn to cloisters since having had the good fortune to know a couple of them quite well. First, there was the one at Westminster Abbey which I walked through most days when at school nearby.


And later on the one at le Mont St Michel in Normandy which I often visited when living in the vicinity.

Walking round these cloisters was always an aid to reflection and thought. The silence, the uplifting medieval architecture and the small central garden all working together to wipe away worldly dust and dirt and clarify the mind. The combination of the dark enclosed stone cloisters and the light-filled space of the green garden opening up to the heavens brings together feelings of immanence and transcendence at the same time. There is an innate peace and purity to be found in a medieval cloister.

My currents excursions have nothing like that, alas. Nevertheless, as I have mentioned in previous posts (for example here and here), there are some pleasant country walks round where I live, and I go out on one every day. It doesn't take long to get away from the town and into woods or onto downs. Once there, the surroundings and actual rhythm of walking itself help one to fall into a contemplative frame of mind quite easily. I often get ideas for what I write here on these walks, seed thoughts that can be developed later on. It's as though the physical act of walking in a natural setting attunes the mind in a certain way.

I am not saying that walking replaces prayer and meditation. Only that it can help to create a prayerful or meditative state. I would also recommend circular walks so that you don't return by exactly the same way that you set out. This suggests the idea of a real journey even if you aren't actually going anywhere. After all, life is a journey. The spiritual path is a path along which you proceed. And the best way to travel is by walking for that takes you at the speed you are naturally fitted to go and the one at which you can best absorb the experiences that come to you as you travel.


S.K. Orr said...

Your description of the physical aspect of the cloisters is lovely and apt. I walk twice daily with my dog in the country, and find that my heart lifts naturally to prayer during these times without even trying. My walks have become very precious to me, providing multiple benefits. Interestingly, I don't even think of the physical/exercise aspect of them; I see my walks as beneficial to my interior life.

The "holy fools" of old Russia, as described in The Way of a Pilgrim, seemed to derive much spiritual benefit from their walks as well.

Bruce Charlton said...

Always interesting to hear someone I respect spiritually talking about their spiritual practice. As is usual, the best practice seems to be 'what works best', or 'what gives the best results' - and this may vary at different points in life.

Personally, I have a few things which sometimes 'work' - but no 'thing' always works. And strategies lose their effect, and places lose their former effect. For instance, I used to meditate very well in coffee shops in the morning, but this seldom is effective at present (partly due to changes since early 2020), and I have needed to find and use other methods.

David Earle said...

Something about sitting outside late at night looking at the stars, clouds and trees and forgetting the worldly and focusing only on God and the other-worldly has been helpful to me. I sometimes like to imagine myself sitting there in different times throughout history, knowing what I'm seeing wouldn't be any different but my thoughts certainly would. I can easily do this for over an hour and enjoy every minute.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for the comments. I have done different things at different times as I say in the post but going for walks has always been important for me. I too like sitting outside looking at the stars. In fact, I was once questioned by a policeman who asked me what I was doing when I was standing in the middle of a golf course late at night gazing at the sky! It was when I first became interested in astronomy and found the local golf course the best place to go to escape the effects of the light pollution.