Book Review : Walk Like a Mountain by Innen Ray Parchelo
Walk Like a Mountain: The Handbook of Buddhist Walking Practice by Innen Ray Parchelo published by Sumeru Books is a comprehensive guide to walking as a Buddhist practice for all levels and flavours of practitioners. Essentially a ‘how to book’ it provides information on the physical side of meditative walking such as posture, hand positioning, foot mechanics as well the inner work such as breathing and mantra work. It is an exploration as to how wisdom and practice work together and exposes many types of walking practice beyond what many of us are used to, namely the ‘oh good it’s time for walking practice so I can stretch my legs – run to the bathroom- look out the window’ work. We are encouraged in walking practice to work with our minds just as precisely as we do when seated on the cushion.
The what, why, how, where of walking is all covered within the pages and the author draws upon various traditions, from Buddhism to Eastern philosophy and practices such as acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and the like. Small and long journeys are featured as are near and far travels. Details on the materials required, physical goods that assist in journeys, mental and emotional preparations, considerations to take into account for bodies/ages/abilities as well as what to wear are all detailed. Helpful photos related to the mechanics of a step and posture are also found in this handbook.
Honestly, everything related to contemplative walking practice can be found within the pages of this book.
Walk Like a Mountain truly takes the reader on a journey – through time in tracing the roots of various walking practices and through history – examining the start of the Buddha, the noble sangha, past Bodhisattvas and dharma masters and their journeys for teaching and spreading the dharma. Numerous mentions of traditions, geographic locations, spiritual traditions and notable figures are featured throughout the book and support the author in his efforts to cover a lot of terrain on the subject.
The metaphor of the journey is key to the framework of the book and Parchelo structures the book in a way in which the reader/walker prepares for the journey, undertakes the journey and various practices and then returns home. It is a clever technique but also maps the content in a way that progresses nicely for the reader.
One area of interest I had related to the author’s assertion that it isn’t possible for jogging to count as part of contemplative practice as this goes against the claims of several teachers including Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who wrote a book recently titled Running With the Mind of Meditation which also inspired a mind/body training app.
I can agree with Parchelo that dogwalking is not very meditative given that I have two scramble-footed, loopy pugs that alternate between pulling me into traffic and lagging a far distance behind. Perhaps different dogs might convince me otherwise. Sorry pups.
I appreciated the material on walking as activism as I’ve taken part in a few marches in my days and the author touches upon the idea of alms gatherings as being similar for walking for charitable causes. I think that this is quite an interesting approach to looking at contemplative walking for sanghas to explore and I have to give a shout out to the Montreal Shambhala center as it regularly participates in Earth Day walks.
Walk Like a Mountain: The Handbook of Buddhist Walking Practice by Innen Ray Parchelo is a useful read for Dharma students but it specifically piqued my interest as a budding Dharma teacher as there are many students and fellow practitioners that I’ve met for whom walking practice really resonates for them. This book is a must for those who are so inclined towards walking practice and I’m certain will prove useful for those teachers who also wish to explore walking practice within their communities.
The book is a comprehensive overview of contemplative walking and Innen Ray Parchelo presents a well-documented presentation of the merits of contemplative walking as complementary to sitting practice. It features a comprehensive bibliography full of sutras, articles, and recommended books on the topic to check out and it’s worth mentioning that the book itself was developed as a handbook for contemplative walkers so stay tuned for future add-ons for the book which are in development as well as community-building initiatives. There is also a blog for The Society for Walking as a Contemplative Activity to help organize others who value this practice.
Please visit the book’s website for further information.