In praise of my local park, a perfect place for all of us around here.
I like to walk in it. It is perfect for running. It’s my route to the local shop. Its my route into town. I meet friends for a cup of tea there. I sit on the bench and read. When my good pal died a few years ago, I found a bench no one walked passed and I could sit and remember him. Most weeks I play tennis there. Sometimes I just need 10 minutes out the house and in the open air and breath – and it’s down to the park I go. The trees there are a giant show of steadiness and change throughout the year.
I also enjoy greeting the dog walkers and their pets, seeing the children in the play area and parents chattering as they push the swings or stand at the bottom of the slide. I like to pause at the weekend football matches where the slightly less than fully fit players huff and curse their way around the pitch.It was a shame when the bowls club closed down, but it’s delightful now to see a martial arts group practising on the flat lawn every Saturday morning. My less charitable side finds it more entertaining than it should do watching dogs tearing around chasing squirrels and never getting close, not even once.
It was during lockdown that more of us started noticing the park,; not that was empty beforehand, but we became drawn to this place more often and in greater numbers. It was everyone’s outlet, an open area for all where we could come and do our own individual thing, but do it along with, amongst and beside everybody else. The park became more precious. And all you had to do was walk in through one of the squeaky gates to benefit from it. So I began to understand how one place could begin to take on a spiritual importance for its local community.
I couldn’t say with any honesty that I enjoy running, but it does give me a sense of satisfaction and, if I am honest, smugness as well. Whilst I was certainly pleased to complete the couch to 5k app a month ago, I feel more gratification that I am running or that I go running, than any goal I may achieve doing it. My original motivation was to be healthier, to be trimmer and slimmer, to breathe less heavily walking up hills, maybe even to live longer and with less illness. I bought some scales a year ago and was genuinely frightened by where the spinner stopped. I’ve had a few hospital visits recently too. So mortality’s foul breath is right up in my nose to be sure. Additionally, the thought of having to go return shopping for another pair of trousers the next size up was a self embarrassment lurking like a troll under a bridge in the back of mind.
I began to wonder what it was that had made me start running now. Let’s be honest, I’ve been out of condition, over weight and wheezy walking up hills for quite some time now. But something had made me finally lace up some new trainers and plod around my local park. There was some reason that had prompted my widening backside off the sofa at last and away from the fridge and out the front door. Half way around a run last week, as I struggled to the top of Hudson’s field, I began to work it out. I was running now because of the encouragement I had received from other people; most of whom do not even know they have encouraged me. It may have been just a word, or an online reply. Some people showed me by their own example how much satisfaction and self worth could be generated by completing a (half) marathon. Quite a few not only commented ‘good for you’ when I said I had started, but also checked in on my progress a couple of weeks later. There were two or three who had started running near the same time and we shared our progress and challenges with each other.
And there you have it. No one made any sacrifice or great effort to give me this encouragement. But when it was offered, it was done so with no expectation of return or reciprocation; presented to me outside of any exchange system. When I thought about this I began to see what an incredibly generous and selfless gift encouragement is. There is no tax break coming at the end of the year, no return on the investment, nor any presumption of a thank you card in the post. Instead I was boosted and supported by people who simply wanted me to do well, to be happy, to be healthy and content. Encouragement, it would seem, is full of grace and a most simple heart felt gift to give. Now that I have received it my intention is to hand it out in bundles too.
We all have those times, the times when the busy-ness envelops and fills us and there seems to be no time to take even a single breath. This has happened to me recently. So waking on Saturday morning I decided to be in NO RUSH AT ALL. Instead of my usual sitting meditation, I opted to do something different and walked out the front door having no particular aim or route in mind, apart from to take my time. Walking with no goal is a luxury difficult to pursue during the week and so it is one I love to cultivate and indulge in at other times. Personally, I find slow walking can bring me less clarity than sitting practice. But slow (as opposed to mindful) walking has a looseness to it that means it is often easier for me to blend practice and ‘normal life’. Even early on a Saturday morning there are people and events to contend with, so that just walking mindfully is difficult. So I can be aware of the feeling in my feet for a few steps but then be distracted by having to step aside to allow a man and his dog to pass and or by the noise fumes of a bus pulling away. Only sometime later being able to return to more mindful walking. However, this mix can lessen the feeling of “getting it wrong” that so often taints my sitting practice. But slow walking isn’t a cop out and a lesser activity than others. I find it helps increases my ability to sense my own surroundings. This morning I walked toward the town centre and so I was noticing features and details I have usually passed by in ignorance.
There was a tree half down from this week’s winds
And there was goal/ basketball net play area
Slow walking can bring a focus and appreciation to what is around us. We can feel happier in our selves and our environment. It sometimes heightens awareness of our senses and adds an excitement to our moment-by-moment experience. But what I really like is I when I find mindful walking having a longer and more noticeable impact on the rest of my day. After slow walking this morning and without planning to, I was just aware of the fall of my feet on the kitchen lino and later of the sight of a female blackbird shuffling on the garden fence. Slow walking enables us to better watch both our thoughts and people whistle past us. We may well see ourselves and our limitations and restrictions reflected back to us in those figures. Maybe then we might develop a little more empathy for other people’s packed and stress-filled lives as well as our own.
It is the pausing and deliberate deceleration that allows attention to be more focussed and then awareness and mindfulness to arise. Mindfulness is there always, but we have allowed it to become buried under all those other thoughts; raking over our past or planning our future. Slow walking can help us reconnect with our own experience in this moment especially if it is combined with a regular sitting practice of mindfulness. This in turn can bring contentment, a feeling of gratitude for what we have and more empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings.