The Benefits of Slow Walking

slow walking
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of wandering. Recently, at the meditation and writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg, we practiced slow walking before writing, and I mean very slow, at about a quarter of our regular speed. Natalie writes in her book, Thunder and Lightning,

The walk is not a hike; I might just circumambulate my room. I probably look like a zombie, but I’m not in a trance; I’m actually paying very close attention to my feet. I’m feeling my right foot flex – those adorable toes spreading, the light spongy mass of my heel lifting, my weight shifting to the left side. Then I sense my knee bending, my right hip dropping, my body falling forward as I move my foot a small space above the floor, then settle it on the ground again. As I slow down, space becomes immense, time is huge. Lifting, bending, placing – who am I? In this unhurried, compassionate life, what is it I want to say?

We practiced waling this way around the perimeter of the Zen center at Upaya; 70 of us walking slowly and intentionally, occasionally stopping to check in with ourselves. It is in this unhurried place where we can really see what’s right in front of us. We can hear what we have to say.

Goldberg said that most of the time when we walk, we’re focused on our destination, getting from A to B. Often, our minds are lost in thoughts about something in our lives that’s already happened, or what we’re going to do when we get to point B. Slow walking is a practice that helps us to focus on the journey, not where we came from or the destination.

She advised a radical reframing – receive the world as it comes, one step at a time, and respond accordingly.

In terms of photography, slow walking gives us the time and space to see what’s calling to us to photograph in the moment. Sometimes we need a practice like this to slow us down, not just physically but mentally as well.

Try a slow and purposeless walk sometime soon and notice how it changes your experience.
How to Slow Down – a short video with Bill Murray

The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking – Finlo Roher at the BBC

The Wander Society Book

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Bowing to Life through a Photograph

bowing to life
During the meditation and writing retreat at Upaya Zen Center, we spent much of the day in silence. We could speak at dinner if we chose to, but breakfast and lunch were always in silence. During this time, we acknowledged others and the spaces we inhabited with a deep bow, palms touching as if in prayer.

There is something very respectful about this type of bow. It’s not done in deference to someone superior or someone in power. Instead, it’s a way of pausing and honouring a person, place, or thing; a way of acknowledging and showing appreciation. Yet, even the bow can sometimes come across as rote.

One must bow with their whole being – heart, mind, and body.

Respect for all beings is a core principle in Zen. It’s an expression of what Albert Schweitzer called “reverence for life.” But it goes beyond that: we even bow to our cushion. We are grateful for, respect, and help maintain the inanimate world as well. Since everything in the universe is connected, everything is necessary for our own small individual existence. We show gratitude and respect for our cushion, the ground that supports us, the walls that protect us, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth, moon, and stars. ~ Why do Buddhists Bow?

Since arriving home, I’ve noticed that I miss the bow. In this podcast, True Prosperity: Nothing but the Bow, Genzen Kennell, one of the Zen priests at Upaya, says that once you start bowing, you can’t stop. He quotes Zen master Katagiri Roshi, who said, “Bowing is like a rock in your heart. You cannot remove it.”

Bowing is a form of humility, one of the nine contemplative habits.

In this post, The Value of Humility, I shared that the word humility comes from the Latin, “humus,” meaning ground. With humility, we place ourselves on common ground with everything, no less and no better.

We can bring this mindset of humility to our photography. In this way, the click of the shutter becomes a bow towards what’s right in front of us; towards life. It’s a form of reverence. A photograph becomes a connection borne from respectful relationship.

During the retreat, Natalie Goldberg advised us to be open, to receive and respond to the world in each moment. Every encounter is a chance to transform and be transformed. Every photograph that we receive in this way changes us.

Being open to receiving the world with humility expands our range of subject matter exponentially. Everything becomes worthy before the camera lens. Photographer Art Wolfe says it beautifully.

As an artist, I shoot without prejudice. And, it just opens up the world. I never run out of ideas.

Next time you click the shutter, think of it as a bow towards life.

Watch: Art Wolfe’s talk at Google

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Stop and Listen before you Photograph


Writing is 90% listening. ~ Natalie Goldberg

Last week, I participated in a meditation and writing workshop with author Natalie Goldberg. We spent much of the week in silence, listening to the world around us and to ourselves. The writing emerged from this place.

I believe that for photography or any other art, listening is essential. It’s something that I’ve talked about before on this blog. Below are three ways to let listening inform your photography, with links to learn more.

1. Use your ears.

Through awakening and developing all of our senses, we become better see-ers. I often focus on two senses while out walking as a way of keeping me present, for example, the feel of my feet hitting the ground and listening to the sounds around me.

As a visual person, it’s important for me to develop my sense of hearing, especially in places that we think of as silent. When you stop to really listen, you will hear all kinds of things – the wind blowing, paper rustling, doors closing, water splashing, birds singing, etc.

While at Balls Falls in Vineland, Ontario a few weeks ago, I listened to the rushing sound of the waterfalls. I saw the deeply grooved layers in the rock wall, and was in awe of how the power of that waterfall had worn away at the rock surface for thousands of years, revealing its layered history.

Practice: An Exercise in Deep Listening

Read: The Power of Listening

2. Listen to your heart.

When we use our ears, we’re listening outwards. It’s also important to listen inwards, to hear and trust what your heart is saying, to feel the emotional undercurrent of the moment.

While in Santa Fe last week, my heart was pulled towards the sensual, softly curving adobe walls and how light and shadow played with them. I pay attention to these resonances, because they show what’s important to me. This is where our best photography emerges.

Read: Listen to your Inner Teacher and Letting Resonance Guide Your Photography.

3. Open and Receive.

Active listening requires a sense of openness, a willingness to receive and respond to what’s right in front of us. There are no goals, expectations, or planned outcomes. When we’re photographing, we focus on what’s there in that moment. We welcome surprises.

At the writing workshop, we practiced slow walking – I mean very slow – where we focused on our feet touching the ground from heel to toe and what was right in front of us. This is a form of grounding in the moment.

Read: Welcome the Unexpected

Let the world come to you. ~ Natalie Goldberg

When we were practicing writing at the workshop, we were supposed to keep our pens moving and let the words emerge without thinking. This is really hard for someone like me, trained in thinking. It wasn’t until the fourth day that I began to feel like I might be writing from this place.

The aha moment for me was that writing in this way was effortless. I let it come through without worrying about whether it was good or not.

What if we were to approach photography in the same way?


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