Hearts at Work
A Column by Jim Tipton
The Corner Grocery
Last month I wrote about several incredible journeys on foot, some for thousands of miles, and I wrote about the profound effect these journeys can have on the consciousness of the journeyer. But even the little journeys we take each day, perhaps only to the little grocery on the corner, can have a profound effect, can take us toward the holy land inside of us.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist, has written a short and lovely book titled A Guide to Walking Meditation, in which he writes, “The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving.” Nhat Hanh suggests that we “Walk straight ahead with dignity, calm, and comfort. Consciously make an imprint on the ground as you step. Walk as the Buddha would.” Again and again he stresses the importance of awareness, and the peace that develops out of that awareness or “mindfulness.”: “In order to have peace and joy, you must succeed in having peace within each of your steps. Your steps are the most important thing. They decide everything.”
Walking is far more important than anything we can say or think: “It is not by preaching or expounding the sutras (scriptures) that you fulfill that task of awakening others to self-realization, it is rather by the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you sit and the way you see things.”
Nhat Hanh is convinced that “We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are walking. Whether human beings can wake up or not depends on whether we can take conscientious and mindful steps. That is why the future of human beings, as well as the future of all life on earth, depends on your steps.” Attend well, therefore, to your steps!
Whether we are walking the length of the Appalachian trail, or around our neighborhood in early evening, or down a hospital corridor, or even climbing the stairs to sleep, we can open up new energies in ourselves, become mindful, become aware, become present, and this requires patience, concentration, sometimes enormous inner effort, perhaps even the energy of an Ernest Shackleton, who simply through iron will and focus, and intelligence refused to let any of his twenty-five men die in their two year trek across the Antarctic wastelands. We have our own frozen wastelands inside of us. Getting through those wastelands, getting “home” to where the heart is, is what we are after.
William Stafford, in his wonderful collection of poems, Allegiances, writes, in a poem titled “How I Escaped,” this line: “I walk what I mean.” And when we begin to walk “what we mean,” then “Light comes inside the brain.” As we begin to walk with more and more mindfulness, awareness, presence, the world itself begins to glow. His poem “Earth Dweller” begins this way:
It was all the clods at once become
precious; it was the barn, and the shed,
and the windmill, my hands, the crack
Arlie made in the axe handle: oh let me stay
here humbly, forgotten, to rejoice in it all.
In the title poem, “Allegiances,” Stafford begins,
It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.
And so, yes, that short walk to the little grocery on the corner where we intend to buy a few onions and carrots, can, when we are mindful, aware, present, help us to “locate ourselves,” help us to move closer to the Holy Land inside of us.
Then, as in Stafford’s poem, everything in that little store might become precious to us…the worn shelves, the hands of the old woman holding out our change, the five packages of toilet paper on sale, the bulb that no longer works in the Coca Cola cooler, the widower just outside the door, smoking his Farolito cigarette as he leans against the lamppost, and…the sudden feeling of our own presence…“Oh let me stay here humbly, forgotten, to rejoice in it all….”