Walking a Winding Path

By Jeremy McCarthy / October 1, 2011

One step in front of another and away you go. Walking is not only a means of getting from place to place; it is also the most popular physical activity in the world. And an enjoyable walk can be much more than a simple form of exercise. Adding mindfulness to your walking creates a form of moving meditation that can bring your mind and spirit into the pleasure of the moment.

Walking is conducive to meditation because of its sheer simplicity and ease. Each step provides a syncopated rhythm that helps to regulate your breathing and heart rate so that the whole body is moving harmoniously forward, with just enough effort to keep you completely connected to the moment. Keeping that connection to the moment and clearing your mind of all other thoughts is what makes a simple walk become a meditative experience. You are training your mind to let go of anxieties and enjoy simply being in the present.

An ideal path to practice meditative walking is one that leads to nothing in particular so that you can walk in the moment without too much investment in reaching a specific destination. My favorite setting for a mindful walk is a rugged nature trail. The scenery captivates attention and commands awareness. And the slightly rugged terrain forces me to be alert. Like walking on stones across a gently running stream while trying to keep my shoes dry. If I lift my gaze to see the opposite bank, I am almost certain to miss a step and dip a foot into the water. I am forced to live in the moment.

Many ancient cultures have used labyrinths, winding paths etched into the ground, as a way to practice meditative walking. A traditional labyrinth is “unicursal,” meaning it only has one route in or out, with no wrong turns to mislead you. In fact, since there are no walls to speak of, there is really no mystery at all. You cannot possibly get lost and you can see the center (your destination) from anywhere in the diagram.

This is the point of walking a labyrinth. For the duration of your walk, there are no decisions to be made, no wrong turns, no mistakes, and no failures. The only requirement is that you stay present and follow the path that appears before you. Sometimes the path winds you closer to your
goal; sometimes it appears to lead you away from it. But there is no need to get too attached to these appearances. Following the path, wherever it leads, is guaranteed to bring you to the center. Consider these tips to help you on your journey:

1. Walk without a goal. There can be a destination you are moving towards—like the center of the labyrinth—but the goal is achieved by being in the moment, not by keeping your eyes on the horizon. Each step forward, made with consciousness and conviction, brings you closer to your
2. Be aware of where your attention is pulled. Are you focused on your path, or on some distant objective you hope to accomplish? Is your next big promotion, a new car, a bigger house–all winking at you from some far-off horizon and preventing you from truly living in and enjoying the
3. Experiment with a new perspective. If you are constantly looking ahead to the top of the trail, it never seems to arrive. When you focus on the steps you are taking and enjoy the world around you: the sound of a nearby brook, the wind rustling through the trees, a butterfly landing nearby—the importance of the destination begins to fade, and you are fulfilled by the moment.

By walking carefully on the path you are on you will be surprised by your achievements. Any goals you fulfill may not be the same ones you set for yourself, but they are yours nonetheless because you found them on your path. Take credit for them and keep moving with the moment. If you ever feel lost, you have probably taken your eyes off of your path in search of some distant objective. Come back to the moment. Look around. Take a breath. And keep walking calmly and deliberately forward on the narrow path that opens up before you.


Contributing writer Jeremy McCarthy is the director of global spa development and operations for Starwood Hotels.

Jeremy McCarthy

Jeremy McCarthy

Group Director of Spa at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
Jeremy McCarthy is the Group Director of Spa for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group leading their internationally acclaimed luxury spa division featuring 44 world-class spa projects open or under development worldwide. He has over 20 years of experience operating luxury spas in resort and hotel properties worldwide and is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing. You can find more of his writing on his blog at http://psychologyofwellbeing.com.
Jeremy McCarthy

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