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Rabbi Joseph Meszler Headshot

Walking With Children

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"Come on guys! Catch up!"

I have been saying this to my family for years. I am 6 feet tall, and I have always walked fast. I try to slow down when I am walking with my 9- and 10-year-olds, but inevitably, I find myself several paces ahead. My wife says, "Honey, slow down," but every time I do, I feel like I am walking like a penguin.

I know I am the problem, not them. I am thinking of all the things I need to do, I feel rushed, and oh, look, they're back there again. How did they get so far behind? I ask myself, feeling aggravated. Sometimes I hold their hands, and then it feels like I am pulling them with me. And I think sometimes they move extra slow just to assert their independence.

I found a solution to my problem in an unusual way. Recently, I have attended a spiritual retreat where I was taught about walking meditation. Rather than think of walking as something you do just to get somewhere else, walking meditation is about actually paying attention to... well, walking.

Right step, left step. It is about feeling the weight on each foot. It is about not taking for granted the actual motion of walking: ball -- toe -- lifting - holding -- descending -- heel -- planting. It is about slowing down and being present. It is about noticing the things around you. It is about seeing color, feeling balance, and paying attention.

It was on the way from the pharmacy to the parking lot that I realized walking with children and walking meditation go together. Not the super slow mode of meditation, but the step-by-step kind of noticing. Just this step. Just this step.

I found I was holding my child's hand, and I wasn't pulling. I found that we were able to have a real conversation. I remembered that the reason I went on a retreat and learned a spiritual practice was because I was practicing for real life, and walking with my child is as real as it gets.

There is a biblical precedent for this lesson. In the book of Genesis, the conflicted brothers Esau and Jacob meet. Esau says that they should travel together, but Jacob explains that he must walk, as it says in Hebrew -- l'regel hayeladim -- at the pace of the children (Genesis 33:14). Esau, ever the aggressive one, races ahead. Jacob the patriarch walks at the pace of the children.

Perhaps Jacob was one of the first practitioners of walking meditation. Or maybe he just didn't want to miss out on his kids.

Everyday things matter, even how we walk. Meditation is practice for life. Learning to slow down and notice how I walk also enabled me to connect with my children. Perhaps they were -- in their own way -- trying to teach me this all along.

It is time I remember to take the right kind of steps.