Friday, June 16, 2006


Poet Beth Vieira poses the question:

It seems as though it is an odd topic to mention in light of poetry, but I have been reading Thoreau on walking.  And I wondered if people take walking seriously, so seriously that it becomes part of poetic practice.

In Zen there is the practice of kinhin, or meditative walking, done at a maddeningly slow pace. In haiku there is a practice called ginko, which is a haiku walk in which you just notice and then write immediately after. Many poets (and thinkers and writers) have used walking as part of their creative pursuits. Do you walk?  Does inspiration come?  Do you do something else akin to walking that stirs you?

I respond, thusly:

"Like a long-legged fly, his mind moves upon silence."  —Yeats

This is very much at the heart of my creative practice, and not just for poetry.

I wrote, some years ago, in connection to photography:

This is my own practice: I have developed the habit over the years of taking what I call camera walks. I do this periodically, or any time I feel particularly un-centered and un-balanced by the difficulties of living. At those times, I grab a camera and walk out of the house, and start taking pictures. Almost randomly, whatever catches my attention, with no goal in mind, and no destination for the walk. Very soon, viewing the world through the lens–the camera’s monoptic eye–I come back to myself and regain my center, letting go of whatever was bothering me. The photographs taken on these camera walks are occasionally exquisite, and usually quite ordinary. However, my own eye–the ability to see what is–has always gained clarity.

The process takes one out of oneself, out of the daily worries and chronic concerns. As they say in Zen, “Lose the self to gain the self.” Robert Leverant writes, in Zen and the Art of Photography, “We have allowed the picture and the picturetaker and the picturetaking to become one. Inseparable in a moment of no time.” Exactly! After many years of this practice, I find that I take fewer pictures overall, and that the “hit rate” of good pictures has increased. I don’t take credit for this: it is just part of the process.

As to kinhin and ginko, I practice these, also; but I do always have a camera of some kind with me, as well as a notebook and pen. Meditation first, photo side-product. (The nice about digital is no processing time or cost, and that nice Delete button.)

For direct walking meditation, I am a veteran Labyrinth walker of several years' experience. I walk them all the time; I seek them out wherever i travel. There's an annual gathering in June, which I have yet to get to, but someday. Designers, builders, teachers, walkers, all converge for a long weekend of walking and talking about walking, etc.

Any walk can be a Zen walk, all it takes is getting into the mindset. The purpose of a camera walk is to get into the no-mind, the Zen mindset, the emptiness, the quiet; any photos that come of the walk are gravy. Still, I find, when I get into that mindset, the creativity is a bottomless well full of frothy black water just waiting to come out via whatever handy creative channel it can find. The Well of the Dark Goddess; the salmon of knowledge.

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