Lockdown Walks as a Contemplative Practice:

By dave tullett

As part of this year’s programme for the Winchester Institute for Contemplative Education and Practice (WICEP), Rosie Holmes and I (Dave Tullett) had planned to offer a lunchtime session, on campus at the University of Winchester, that would explore walking as a contemplative practice. We wanted to investigate the potential of walking as a practice for learning, reflection, creative thinking and problem-solving. However, with the University’s campus closed and face-face meetings impossible, because of Covid-19, we decided to run the event remotely combining Zoom and walking, which we noticed had become ‘one (popular) form of daily exercise’ during an unprecedented lockdown.

The event itself was also a combination of approaches using original research on the benefits of walking for mentoring relationships; research into how walking is already being used in education for learning, deeper reflection and dialogue; and the ‘Street Wisdom’ walkshop approach. We ran the event over two sessions, separated by a few days. In Session 1 – We offered a short introduction and presentation on the subject and benefits of walking as a contemplative practice, including an historical overview, a presentation of recent research findings and academic literature on the subject. This included an opportunity for discussion and dialogue. We then introduced the idea of ‘Street Wisdom’ – “walking based problem solving and direction finding. A navigational aid for people in complex times. A mix of psychology, mindfulness and cognitive science.” We shared the ‘tune-in’ exercises and then invited participants to use this approach during one of their ‘daily lockdown exercise’ walks, at any point between session 1 and session 2. We encouraged participants whilst wandering to pay attention to the physical and emotional sensations they experienced whilst walking.

Session 2: Feedback: participants were invited to share their experiences from the walk. We discussed this in pairs, before a broader discussion with the whole group. Feedback included: gaining new perspectives; realising the original problem had been too narrowly defined; experiencing new sensations and emotions; and making new connections with the local environment. We wrapped up with a discussion on how ‘wandering with purpose’ might fit into contemplative pedagogy at the University of Winchester.

WICEP is concerned with exploring embodied pedagogy, alternative forms of cognition, slowing down and reflective thought; all of these are supported by contemplative walking. We discussed how walking might be used in our various roles: might seminars or tutorials be conducted whilst walking to encourage better dialogue? Could walking be integrated into curriculum design?

We were delighted to welcome participants from a wide varieties of job roles (academics, writers, professional services staff, mentors, researchers) geographical locations (across the UK and Germany) and backgrounds. Some were very familiar with contemplative practices within education and walking; to others the ideas were completely new. The feedback has encouraged us to plan a second event later in the summer, when lockdown restrictions may be a little more relaxed.