Struggling with Doubt? Walk it Out

Some people start the year with resolutions, a vision board, a list of goals, a flow chart or other reminders for how they want the next months to unfold. Those can be wonderful tools for folks already on a particular trajectory. What if your path is unclear or your life unsteady at a time when others are moving headlong into the future?

If you can, walk.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about walking (along with morning pages and going on ‘artist dates’) as a way to foster creativity. When I first worked through that book eight years ago during a life transition, I pooh-poohed walking for being so basic. At the time, I wanted to believe that being creative required a more elaborate or exotic ritual. In a culture that reveres strength, power and speed, why walk if one could run or hike instead? At that time, walking felt boring if not “lesser than”, something one did if they couldn’t do anything else. I walked begrudgingly, as if it were a chore. Because I didn’t trust its subtle power, walking didn’t give me much in return.

It wasn’t until 2012, when I traversed El Camino de Santiago, a 520 mile pilgrimage route from southwest France across northern Spain, that I learned walking can be an athletic endeavor, a form of self-expression or prayer, perhaps all three. Observing fellow pilgrims, I noticed there are as many ways to walk as there are cultures, people, moods and physiques. One can march, drag one’s feet, saunter, hurry, scurry, stroll, strut, stride boldly or trudge miserably. One can walk with their head held high or hung low, eyes forward in a fixed gaze, downcast or glancing around. One can walk easily or with an injury, with a limp or a shuffle, sideways or even backwards as I did, which proved to be a less painful way of ascending a hill.

One can walk with deep faith. One can walk with even deeper doubt.

If doubt is your companion, if your inner compass is spinning so fast it can’t find true north, or if your mind is a tilt-a-whirl of possibility, unable to land on an initial direction, walk. You don’t have to leave the country, buy special clothing or even walk far. Walk as often as possible, just not in the way we in this culture often do. Don’t walk to get from point A to B, with your eye on the clock, your pace purposeful, muscles tense. Don’t walk to log 10,000 steps, burn 1,000 calories or check it off a list. Don’t walk for distance or speed. Those activities can be rewarding, but they’re not the kind of walking I’m talking about. Not if you’re filled with doubt.

Instead, walk with awareness, with every cell of your body and fiber of your being engaged, humming and alive as much as possible. Walk so you can feel how your feet make contact with the ground, how the air brushes against your skin, how the sun warms your back or brow, how the wind plays with your clothing or hair or, perhaps, pushes you around. If you’re in nature, walk without earbuds to tune into the sounds around you, whether a chorus of birds, skittering squirrels, rustling leaves or even a plane overhead. Walk with relaxed and receptive eyes so the world can meet you and you don’t have to chase after it. Walk slowly enough so you can pause to look or listen if something catches your attention. Walk long enough to find a rhythm but without exhausting yourself. Walk at different times of day; as the sun changes its angle, something new might come into view.

I used to walk with the goal of working through a problem or resolving a doubt, but I discovered that trying to accomplish something specific didn’t always work, amplifying my frustration. Now, when my mind swirls with doubt and indecision, I walk with awareness and curiosity but without expectation. When my only intention is to connect with the environment and my own senses to become as present as possible, what had once felt like an intractable issue might soften or, like a cloud, change shape, refreshing my ability to respond calmly and remain patient in the face of uncertainty, rather than taking hasty action for the sake of making a decision.

More than once, I’ve fantasized that one day I’ll be certain about most things, if not everything, that I will banish doubt forever. Except that neither I nor the world is static, nor am I insulated from changing circumstances. If life has taught me anything, it’s that doubt disappears and reappears, often at moments I least expect. Whether doubt taps me on the shoulder, trips me up or knocks me down, its presence reminds me that, in fact, I do have faith: in walking.

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