Earth Day Mindful Walking on the Waterfront

Written by: Sarah Bean

Walkers sit and meditate, on the beach at Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park.
Photo: Robert McCall

On Earth Day, April 22, I and about 50 others met at the Olympic Sculpture Garden in downtown Seattle to walk mindfully together in honor of our planet.  After gathering for a few words of reflection, with the warm afternoon sun upon us, we walked in silence, single file, through the sculpture park and along the water’s edge of Myrtle Edwards Park, each of us offering along the way, to the Earth and to ourselves, many moments of mindful attention.

Weeks earlier, motivated from my deep concern for our world and the extreme ecological challenges it faces, I began to share the idea of organizing this Earth Day mindfulness walk, an idea inspired particularly by the peace walks of Cambodian Buddhist monk, Maha Ghosananda.  He led mindful walks through Cambodia after the civil war and holocaust there, during the 1970s.

I had read accounts of how these powerful walks helped foster healing and reconciliation among the Cambodian people after the devastation of war, and I was deeply inspired.   I thought that in the same spirit of healing and building community–in connecting with our common humanity–a group could walk silently and mindfully on Earth Day, with our hearts and minds turned toward the planet itself.

Earth Day walkers gather outside the Olympic Sculpture Garden.

In this small way, I thought perhaps our mindful walking could help us each better feel our place and value in the flow of life, so that we could better source our own natural wisdom and compassion as we move in the world.  In this way, our Earth Day mindfulness practice could be a kind of gift, or offering, to the Earth and to ourselves.

Without having much experience in organizing or leading, I approached friends for help.  My friend, Rick Harlan of the Seattle chapter of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, was particularly enthusiastic with the idea, and immediately offered his full support in organizing and leading the walk.  As we collaborated on the planning, we both found this offered a rich opportunity to deepen our own practice and our understanding of each other.

We were pleased to find many others join us on Earth Day, and it was a sincere pleasure to meet new faces as we gathered for the walk.  Congregating on the sun-warmed amphitheater steps, we helped each other tie Earth-colored armbands on our arms as we introduced ourselves to one another. After sharing names, sunscreen, and sips of water, we formed a circle.

Rick welcomed us all together, sharing quotes from Chief Sealth, a famous 19th century leader of the Duwamish nation, about caring for the Earth.

Walkers weave through a large sculpture.

The following is often attributed to Chief Sealth: “The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth.  Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.”

Rick rang a bell after each line, space for a few moments of reflection.  I then spoke about the motivation behind, and vision of, the Earth Day walk, and offered words on mindful walking.  Next, my friend Jason Tetsuzen Wirth, a philosophy professor at Seattle University and Zen priest, spoke about interconnection, our ultimate non-separateness.

And then, the mindful walk commenced.  Rick leading, each of us filing in behind him, we weaved our way through the sculpture garden–winding among the artworks and native plantings.  Enjoying views of Mt. Rainier behind the city skyline, and of the snow-covered Olympic Mountains jutting above Elliott Bay, we continued to the waterfront of Myrtle Edwards Park, where weekenders were sunbathing, walking, and biking.

Walking the Seattle shoreline on Earth Day. (Photo: Ewa Jaslikowska)

With the sun on us and barely a breeze, we paused at the beach, facing the bay, for a few moments of standing meditation before continuing on.  With the shores of the bay to our left, passing trains to our right, with the majesty of the distant mountains and the immediacy of the city metropolis, there was much for us to observe.   A long chain of us walking in silence, we continued along the water’s edge before circling back, returning to the amphitheater in pairs of two.

As we ended our walk together, Rick led us in an exercise to help us get to know one another and share our experiences.  Each of us found someone we didn’t know and completed the sentences, “Something that I noticed today that inspired me was…” and “Something that I noticed today that was painful or fearful to me was…” After a couple of rounds of this sharing, we joined one last time in a circle for a few last words, and then broke for conversation and shared snacks.

I felt a sense of gratitude to have joined others to practice mindful walking on Earth Day, and to have offered caring attention to the planet–to the environmental devastation she is facing–in the support of community.  Many people shared their thanks for the day, and while we were resting and sharing snacks after the walk, someone shouted out the question, “Who wants to do this next year?”  A show of hands went up in the air.

About the Author: Sarah Bean
Sarah Bean practices with the Seattle Insight Meditation Society and sometimes joins EcoSangha at Seattle University. She has been considering becoming a monastic.