“A Journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.” Lao Tzu
I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day with something different and fresh. My Ghanaian colleague, Brigitte, had told me of mentoring walks taking place across the world, part of the Vital Voices women’s leadership programme (www.vitalvoices.org). I was inspired to follow their example and so created Walking the Stories.
The concept was simple – a Mentoring Walk followed by a Storytelling event. Professional coaches would be invited to participate, offering the possibility of coaching conversations whilst we walked. After the walk, we would gather for a storytelling event to celebrate women’s courage and hope through the ages.
News of our Walking the Stories event spread via Twitter and the Vital Voices network as far afield as USA and Africa!
On Sunday 6 March, twenty women left their business suits and smart heels behind and turned up in warm coats and stout shoes, for a Mentoring Walk along the River Dee. After the walk, we returned to Riverside Campus where Cheshire West & Chester’s Councillor for Diversity, Razia Daniels, opened the Storytelling event. We built on the walk’s reflective mood by exploring our personal associations and feelings inspired by traditional folk stories from Scotland, China and India.
But why Walking? We don’t usually connect walking with personal development. We walk to work, walk the dog, or walk to the shops. Coaching and mentoring usually take place sitting in a consulting room or office, or over the telephone. We also pursue personal development through courses, sat in a training room or at our computers.
Yet, there is a long-standing connection between walking and reflective thinking. Aristotle walked around the Lyceum in ancient Athens, sharing and exploring ideas with his followers, who became known as the Peripatetic Philosophers. Today we can still see this legacy of walking and learning in our medieval church cloisters. Even today, women around the world still share learning and stories as they walk, to the well, to the market place or farms.
Falling into an easy pace with a companion seems to harmonise our thought patterns, and allows us to be easy with ourselves and with others. Our brain waves slow down from Beta waves (associated with critical thinking) to slower Alpha waves, which we experienced as a child. We begin to emerge from our hermetically sealed “pods”, our cars, offices, the worlds we inhabit inside our Blackberries and iPhones. We begin to notice things outside of ourselves – and inside of ourselves.
The proven health benefits of walking are not just for the muscles but also for the soul and the brain. The Ancient Egyptians knew this, and prescribed a walk in a garden as a cure for the mentally ill. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that regular walking improves memory and increases the size of the hippocampus (responsible for learning) by 2 percent volume in seniors, thus reducing the risk of dementia. When we walk, our breathing becomes regular; we oxygenate the brain, and let go of tension and stress.
Walking and talking and “sorting things out” go hand in hand. Whenever my husband wants to solve a particular problem, he paces around his office. “Solvitur ambulando” (It is solved by walking), said Saint Augustine.
Walking is a mindful experience; it grounds us and connects us to ourselves again. A Mentoring or Coaching Walk persuades you to let go of “getting from A to B”, ticking off a mental To-Do list, or texting as we walk. We begin to notice our thought patterns, and bring our attention back to simply experiencing “our space”.
“When we walk, the two halves of our brains converse,” says Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way and Walking in This World). Walking with a coach or mentor can help you make sense of this conversation.
Our Walking the Stories participants spoke of having “more time to reflect, less pressure. I enjoyed being mindful of the scenery and light and to find the journey metaphors on our walk.” Another spoke of the “sense of togetherness” and the natural flow of conversation. This ease comes when we let go of our habitual boundaries and allow ourselves to “learn from Nature” as a walking coach describes it. Walking along a road is clearly a wonderful metaphor for our Journey of Life.
Coaching and Mentoring Walks can have real business benefits too. Clearer thinking and decision-making emerge as our reflective “muscles” wake up. We face our working week with renewed enthusiasm. We have better ‘Conversations’ to take back to work, resulting in higher engagement and motivation all round.
Managers and team leaders can readily incorporate Mentoring Walks into your work routine. Walk around the nearest business or city park. If the weather is inclement, walk the corridors or atrium. The space is free.
What’s next? We may make Walking the Stories an annual event on International Women’s Day. In May, I am leading a coaching walk with delegates attending the Social Solution Academy’s Leadership Boot Camp for social entrepreneurs (www.socialsolutionsacademy.co.uk). I have also put in a bid to a local teaching hospital to facilitate Mentoring Walks for staff. And, following on from the storytelling session, I am launching The Story Café™ on 15 May.
I now incorporate walking into my practice as a coach and coaching supervisor. My clients tell me that a Coaching Walk helps them to gently unravel problems and anxieties. They feel more present, less burdened with everyday distractions. I encourage you to walk with a coach!
“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula K. LeGuin
Power of Stories™ coach