Transport isn’t spiritual?

“Oh no, if you’re walking as transport, that isn’t spiritual.”

I was in a conversation with someone who had expressed an enthusiasm for embodied spirituality, and was told this. My idea of spiritual walking – namely that all walking is, or can be spiritual – was apparently wrong.  I don’t know how many other people believe this – that to be spiritual, an activity has to be redundant in practical terms – but it makes no sense to me. How can we talk about embodied spirituality, but only have it apply when we aren’t occupied with the physical realities of living? What it means is that Tai Chi and Yoga and standing meditations and walking that is deliberately constructed to be a spiritual exercise can be spiritual, but getting somewhere is excluded.

To do something that has no use to you may seem like a good act of dedication to the divine. Time and energy poured into an act that has no purpose other than to express adoration for the divine. If that’s your path, by all means, follow it, but it isn’t mine and never will be. Central to this is that I do not want this neat divide of sacred and profane. I don’t want to see some things as special and other bits as not special – for me this is intrinsic to embodied, experienced spirituality. All of the earth is sacred. Any act of engaging with the earth can therefore be sacred if we want it to be.

As a Pagan I want to engage spiritually with the physical realities of my existence. I want to live in my breath and my movement – something I don’t always do well. I want to live as greenly as I can – walking for me is part of being sustainable, and being sustainable to the best of my abilities is for me, a key act of Pagan dedication. I need to get places – to work the soil, to share bardic expressions, to buy food and clothes, to meet people. None of these things strike me as being intrinsically unspiritual aims. I seek relationship and survival.

There’s another aspect to this in that green living takes time. I cook from raw materials most days. I hand wash my clothes. I don’t have a car. Things that are the work of minutes for some people take me hours. This does not leave me with a vast amount of time and bodily energy to devote to doing spiritual things that serve no practical purpose. My choice to live lightly is in no small part a spiritual choice.

It doesn’t matter where I am or why I am walking or who I am with – I always pay a lot of attention to my surroundings, to the elements and the wildlife around me. Anyone who is walking can. I am more conscious of the exact shape of the land when I walk than when inside any mode of transport. I feel and acknowledge the wind, the sun, the night time – there’s conscious connection and presence for me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve popped out for a loaf of bread, or am coming back from a party – I could still see a fox, or hear an owl, and I’m alert to all of that.

To walk (or cycle) for transport is to make a big commitment to living lightly. Cars cause all sorts of problems – emissions, contribution to global climate change, wars fought over oil, noise pollution, air pollution, the need for roads and parking spaces requiring land to be covered in tarmac, the death toll of wildlife on the roads, the interruption and destruction of habitats for roads, the deaths of people on the roads… I think anything any of us can do to reduce this has to be good. It is not easy or convenient to do without a car in a culture that assumes car use as normal. It can be socially alienating and makes jobs and key infrastructure – like healthcare – much harder to access. It is, by any measure, a sacrifice.

But of course no one is selling expensive courses in getting from A to B on your own two feet. No exotic walking to work retreats, no walking to the supermarket gurus, and so on. It is ‘pedestrian’ with all that suggests to us. No one gets to be important by walking to where they need to be, and no one will be impressed by how special and spiritual you are if they see you doing it.

We evolved to get around by walking. We have this unusual body configuration precisely so that we can put one foot in front of the other to get where we need to be. Walking is ancestral, it is fundamental, it is intrinsic to being human. Walking to get stuff done is a major part of the history of our species. How can this not be spiritual?


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Transport isn’t spiritual?

  • Mary Walker

    Your post struck a chord. I have always hated exercise for exercise sake. I don’t mind at all digging in my gardens or tending my plants, or baking bread. Those are all forms of exercise but I get needful things done at the same time. I agree that something you do for a purpose can be spiritual while exercise for the sake of exercise may or may not be. For me–not so much.

  • Buddhist Tarot Chick

    Its interesting how the word comes up. We “walk” through a new door. Or “sleep walk” through that part. Or someone just “walked” into my life. It seems so basic and profound at the same time.

  • sophiaschildren

    Thank you, Nimue. I too have made this health & eco commitment to walking (“human-powered transport” as an elder friend of mine calls it!), though I’m in a community now where such a thing is strange, not normal (vs. San Francisco, where it was very much normal!). So many benefits from it, despite going against the ‘normal’ culture tide. I think too, though, that there are quite a few traditions in which walking is spiritual … walking meditations, etc. In any case, lovely to see a walking-kindred in the spheres.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    We had the newly sworn in President Carter, created quite a stir back in the 70s, when he got out of the car and walk back to the White House. We had a Governor ridiculed as Governor MoonBeam when he persisted on driving a small car and refusing to travel by limo.

    I agree there should be no divide between sacred and profane. If there is, then you are merely playing a part of being religious, rather than living you religion. While a new religion practice may start as something separate from day to day life, it should over time merge with day to day life if it actually is going to mean anything and maintain value in your life.

  • juliebond

    I agree with the idea of there being no divide of sacred/profane. To me it’s all sacred, it all matters.

  • inanna

    you should so run that expensive course on getting from a to b on your own feet!

  • Argenta

    One of the least true things I have ever tried to learn — and am still unlearning — is that the everyday is by definition profane and cannot be spiritual. I believe every little thing, if done in the right frame of mind, and with right motivation, is “spiritual”. <– This time it is in quotation marks because in this sense, the rigid division between matter and spirit vanishes. I think zen has a lot to teach us about being present and understanding these divisions, like many dualities, are not necessarily (if at all) true.

  • karenenneagram

    Well, paganism aside, the comment with which you started this blog indicates a person of profound spiritual dickheadery! You need have nothing more to do with them (I hope) – or, if you can bear it, invite them to walk with you to go shopping – how unspiritual could that be? Better not, though, you need no lame ducks in your life. Chuckle.

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