The women in my family are not meditators or deep breathers. They are not contemplative types. They are walkers. My sixty-nine-year-old mother traipses several miles a day through town, rain or shine; her seventy-five-year-old sister thinks nothing of hiking over the hills to view a promising sunset. My grandmother, of hearty Russian stock, would visit when I was a girl, and even stumping from toy store to library to park, shooing away oncoming cars with her cane, she still managed to stay a few steps ahead of me.
So it’s no surprise I grew up to become a walker myself. But I live in the aggressive, fast-paced setting of New York City, and, without
realizing it, my walking has gradually adapted to this urban environment and become—well, aggressive. Fast-paced. Striding across the broad city streets, I push my way through the rush of bicycles and cars. I zip from errand to errand, dodging the pedestrian throngs. On weekends, I power-walk around the park, striding shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other type A exercisers. The traits I love about the city—energy, cacophony, movement—are the same traits that drive me to exhaustion, and so I try to temper the insanity with my practice. I sit during open sessions at my local meditation center. I attend weekends of meditative sitting and walking. But then the weekends end and I am disgorged back on the thronging street, and zip! I’m off, back to my fast pace, a warrior no longer of the mind but of the urban jungle. How to integrate my learning with my lifestyle? I started to despair.
And then I became pregnant, and the tiny teacher inside me set about changing my habits posthaste. Fatigue hit with the force of a Mack truck; no more dodging the traffic, and forget race-walking around the park. Six months later, I hardly recognize myself, physically or emotionally. Because of hormonal changes, I am breathing harder; as I walk, I am conscious of each slow, deep breath as it fills me and nourishes my baby. Thanks to increased metabolism and blood flow, I feel my blood moving and my pulse beating under my skin. Because my abdomen is so large, my center of balance has shifted, and I find myself moving with care – each footstep deliberately placed, each movement mindful. Despite my bulk and my slowness, I feel graceful, like a dancer. I feel aware.
To my delight, this awareness has extended to the world around me. I’ve strode through busy downtown a million times, but only now, moving at a snail’s pace, do I spot the intricate detailing on the otherwise drab corner office building. For years I’ve hurried down my block, rushing to get here or there; only now, moving slowly along the sidewalk, do I spy those few gorgeous summer roses peeking out from behind the fence next door. And how long has that tree by my apartment housed a sparrow’s nest? Today, two of the inhabitants are on the ground, hopping through the weeds at the base of the tree. One sparrow is full-sized, while the other, peeping indignantly, is smaller and covered with downy fluff. Mother and baby! The baby is insistent and raucous, hell-bent on getting fed. As his mother forages, he scurries behind her, cheeping and imploring her to share her loot. I picture a voracious teenage boy, home from school, rummaging through the fridge and yelling “Mom, where’s the peanut butter? What happened to the cookies? Don’t we have any bologna left?” The mother drops tidbits into her baby’s mouth; every now and then, she swallows a morsel herself, taking care to keep up her own strength while she feeds her chick.
I am mesmerized. Mother Sparrow hasn’t read any childrearing books, she doesn’t have friends she can turn to for answers, and yet here she is, a capable and nurturing parent. I think of the tiny creature inside me and feel a surge of hope. “I can do this,” I whisper to myself.
I know that at some point after my baby is born, I will resume my power-walking. I miss the rush of wind against my face and the surge of endorphins that leaves me exhausted and happy after a turn around the park. But I will take these walks out of choice, not out of mindless compulsion. I will practice what my baby has taught me: the art of taking the path, or the sidewalk, or the street, one mindful step at a time.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.