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Finding life in the gaps between thinking

Walking is something I have done all my life. Unquestionably, it is recommended for all ages, but as we age, it is even more important.

The old adage "move it or lose it" is true for all humans regardless of their age. But as we age and find ourselves eating three meals a day, we also find ourselves starting to gain some extra pounds. So, we need to commit to walking, which is one of the cheapest and wisest exercise programs. But even more important than keeping our bodies fit is that what I call "true walking," which is also very good for the mind.

Think about how many people walk — oftentimes with someone else while constantly chatting. There is nothing wrong with this because more social interaction as we age is very beneficial. But, true walking is mostly walking by oneself, but very attentively. This means you become very observant of everything around you.

German philosopher Nietzsche said, “It is the little things that creates the most happiness.”

An interesting cloud formation, a full moon, flower arrangements, dogs, cats or the unique architectural variety of homes. It seems you always meet someone on your walk and if you listen you discover or learn something very fascinating about another fellow human.

What you discover is that while walking your conditioned mind, which is 97 percent of one’s habitual thinking, is either about the past or the future.

Begin trying this little experiment. Tell yourself you are going to be very alert or watchful. Be like a cat. They are very alert to every leaf or bug that moves and they can sit in front of a fish bowl and watch for long periods of time.

With this focused alertness, see if you can catch yourself thinking. This won’t be very difficult because many of us are in this habitual thinking about the past or the future. Aha, you catch yourself thinking about this or that, and in that very millisecond, like a cat, you look up or around you and for a brief millisecond there is a gap of stillness. You look at a tree or flower and you cannot believe the clarity.

Then you begin thinking again. It is OK, because you are in this lifelong habit of thinking. Be patient and slowly begin to catch a few thoughts each day. You will notice that these brief gaps get a little longer and you will find yourself marveling at the intense clarity. The beauty of nature will literally bowl you over. The grass will be greener, the sky bluer, the flowers and shrubs will sparkle with incredible beauty.

An example of this true walking or true seeing is the American poet and essayist Walt Whitman. He walked slowly or sometimes laid down in an open field and observed the different hues of color from dawn to dusk.

We may not get this extreme, but by gently reminding ourselves to be here and now (catching ourselves thinking), we create better relationships. Instead of our usual preoccupation of thinking about what we are going to say while the other person is talking, we actually really listen with our whole being. This heartfelt listening results in much more loving empathic responses.

This gentle practice of true seeing, of being more and more in the stillness gaps of no thinking, can and does create more peace and love.

— Medford resident Jim Hawes is working on his new book, "The Jewels of Aging."