As people open to growing in the Fruit of the Spirit (including gentleness), we need everyday practices done daily that facilitate this growth. Two such practices that the Christian meditation community use are meditation (of course), and contemplative walking.
Our growth in being gentle will show up in our bodies. How tense the body is, how stiff, how rigid – these can reveal a psychological hardness, a hardness that can get in the way of gentleness. The Holy Spirit can move in the body to heal, gentling us back into being so we can express our deeper selves bodily.
Contemplative walking is a deliberate practice that works with this gentle work of the Spirit. The key, as in meditation, is in the use of attention. Attention, as a practice of the mind, is in and of the body. As such, the nature of our attending will profoundly affect how we live bodily. To attend gently is to be embodied gently. As we grow in this gentle use of attention we grow in gentleness of body.
This gentle growth is a fruit that grows on the way, it is not a goal and as such need not be a focus. It is a fruit that grows of itself as we practice gentle attention. We need not focus on gentleness itself for gentleness to grow.
In a wholistic sense, any contemplative practice facilitates our human journey into oneness with God; it is not about ticking off a checklist of fruits – the fruit grows as we attend and becomes the way we attend. Secular practices of mindfulness and meditation do not include this aspect of human life oneing with God. Because of this, secular practice is more prone to a focus on the fruit (or the benefits) as ends in themselves. Contemplatives are not of this focus. In this regard at least, to grow contemplatively, we must become less secular. There is no goal – there is only how we attend.
So how we attend as we walk, and what we attend to, will influence whether we are walking contemplatively or not. The how is that we practice attending gently and in the moment; the what is on whatever is in the moment – or of the present moment with us now.
Our bodies are of the present moment, they can be nowhere else. So, as we walk, we attend as gently as we can to our bodies as they move. To help this gentle attending along, we walk slowly and deliberately. As our feet touch the ground, for example, we can attend to the sensation of this. If you start to feel impatience, notice this impatience, don’t analyse it (where is this coming from, why am I experiencing impatience etc). Simply experience without thought this impatience as you walk. So too, if you feel peace or joy in the moment of walking, that moment is not the time to observe it. Simply be this peace, this joy as you attend to walking. This is the subtle difference between conscious (or contemplative) practice and self-conscious (or thinking) practice.
Contemplative walking is about being as you walk, not thinking as you walk. Being is being in the moment. As we walk this way, we do so deliberately and gently. If you can, find a place where you can walk in a circle or back and forth: in the back yard, the garden, the living room, the bedroom – where ever there is a greater chance that you will not be disturbed by others.
* Photo taken by Naomi Downie during her walk.