Tonight (7pm, meet us on the Manhattan side of the Bridge) we’re walking, mindfully and meditatively, across the Brooklyn Bridge with the Brooklyn Zen Center. The Brooklyn Bridge, iconic and beautiful and fun to walk across, is sort of a perfect physical metaphor. Bridging traditions, connecting mindfulness to daily life, and if you haven’t been outside today, it’s pretty much the perfect autumn afternoon.
There’s something profound about walking meditation- really feeling the sensation of walking and breathing and paying attention to each step and sort of expanding your awareness as you walk to not just your own steps and breath and thoughts but everything around you. John Muir said, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out until sundown: for going out, I found, was really going in.” There are different types and levels of silence and stillness. Sitting in meditation is one way to connect with our breath and divinity. Just as chanting, prayer, creating art, dancing offer different ways and forms to connect, walking is a profound practice. Thinking about walking immediately calls to my mind the Abraham Joshua Heschel teaching: when asked why he marched in Selma instead of staying in New York and teaching and praying, Heschel replied “when I march in Selma, my feet are praying.” Tonight we’re not going on a protest march, we’re not even marching. We’re simply walking together, with community members, friends, and people we haven’t met yet. We’re taking a little bit of time, some of our daily commute from work to home, and transforming it into a spiritual practice. By paying attention as we walk, we come together to the present moment, where regrets and anxiety don’t have a place, where we can practice the peacefulness and joy that we want to create in the world. This walking meditation across the Brooklyn Bridge is a reminder to ourselves that we can always walk with mindfulness, we always have access to peace and the present tense, we just have to step into it.
There’s a song that I was recently reminded of that is a standard Jewish camp song, and I never knew what it meant. The song is simple. It starts with “kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tsar me’od, gesher tsar me’od, gesher tsar me’od.” The translation is “the whole world, is a very narrow bridge, a very narrow bridge, a very narrow bridge.” The song ends with “veha’ikar, lo lefached klal (and the main thing to remember is to not be afraid at all).” The song is attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and stems from his teachings that life is a very narrow bridge. It’s hard to navigate through this world, feeling danger on all sides and a deep precariousness in everything we do. The bright side is that from this bridge, this life, we have the most amazing views, and also, it’s the only way to get somewhere.
I love that the song doesn’t say “don’t be afraid.” Instead we sing that the most important thing is the remember not to be afraid. It’s softer, more doable; the instruction lets not being afraid become a practice instead of a destination. A lot like walking, don’t you think? Tonight, as we walk over the Bridge, we know where we’re going to end up, geographically. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter, really, where we’re going or where we think we’re going. Wherever we’re supposed to be, we’ll end up there somehow. Let’s, instead of being afraid and worrying about our destinations, allow ourselves to pay attention to the walk itself. We might as well enjoy the journey- there’s no other way across.
Listen to the song here and here.