I am a perpetual student of walking. I have spent a lifetime walking in the mountains and it has taught me how to live in the world.

Photo: Pelig Levi

Photo: Pelig Levi

During the placement of my feet on a concrete sidewalk I get tricked in to believing that I can depend on the path being solid, balanced, stable and generally without grave consequence that requires my attention. It is mostly true that I don’t have to be conscious of my feet, or how and where I step in order to travel my route. I can look way down the street in expectation of a future event without being attentive and I can generally get there without stumbling, unless there is even the tiniest irregularity.

On a mountain journey the ground is loose, uneven, and often has grave consequence if I slip. Walking off trail in the mountains requires a whole lot from me the walker. So much so that I still find myself a student of this practice that I learned in principle over 50 years ago. What is it that I am practicing?

Walking up a mountain requires that I am deliberate with each step. I carefully choose exactly where I place my foot. If I don't select my placement my foot will likely land on something undesirable like a wobbly stone of a slippery root. I also position my foot with intention. How I step in the spot is critical. The spot may be flat, so I can relax and save energy, or it may be sloped and wet so I need to grip the earth with my boot edge. I make myself solid.

In order to carefully select my foot placement, I have to step from a place of balance. I centre my weight over my placed foot so that the new foot or step is not committed to unconsciously.  I can stop at any point and stay in balance. My walking is not a slave to momentum, but discernment is the rule. In the core of my body is a place of stillness that is quiet and relaxed. I balance myself.

If I look too far down the trail I stumble because I am no longer present with what is happening. Eyes cast on the summit or a future goal take my attention away from balance and discernment. I create stability by remaining present.

I make myself solid. I balance myself. I create stability by remaining present. Like all things walking is a practice. If I assume I am a master, I stumble. The greatest thing that walking here teaches me is humility, that all things in life are best when they come from within, and that walking is life.