“Waking up one morning, a student of Zen realized he was going to be late to meet his teacher. He quickly got up and rushed out to his teacher’s hut. Upon arriving, he took off his shoes outside and greeted him.
Noticing his shortness of breath, his master asked ‘Which shoe did you put on first this morning?’ Ashamed that he did not know, the student realized he was not ready for his lessons and went home.”
Every time I’m late, I’ve always been working on something. I see the time, throw my shoes on and rush out. Along the way, I walk as quickly as possible, one foot in front of the other, driving myself to minimize the time that I’m tardy. Along the way, I only look forward; after all, that is the direction I’m headed. After I get there, I am slightly late anyway, but a little less — life goes on.
This is how I’ve always walked, and how I imagine others walking. But I want to tell you that this is not the proper way to walk.
If I fast-walk 50% faster than normal walking, then I could cut off a third of my walking time. But in the scale of a 10 minute walk, we can only save three by hurrying — insignificant compared to the amount of minutes in a day. What did that three minutes cost?
In my perpetual rush, I didn’t see the leaves beginning to be tinged with yellows and reds as fall creeps in. I didn’t notice my friend across the street, and missed out on a chance to catch up and walk together. I didn’t hear the festivities and liveliness of a family celebrating their son’s wedding down the street. All I saw was the concrete floor beneath me, going by as fast as I could make it.
The cost of walking as fast as possible is the loss of awareness of the current moment. You don’t get to see seasons changing or people living their lives around you; these become mere obstacles, inconveniences to avoid on your route. In other words, you miss out on the sights and sounds and experiences that make life worth living. When you rush to save time, you aren’t enjoying the minutes you already have. So what’s the point in getting a few minutes back?
Maybe you’re late to a meeting where you’re in charge. Maybe you are already very late, and in that case I think you’re justified in walking faster than normal. But if you ever catch yourself hurrying unnecessarily to an event, stop, and think: “Which shoe did I put on first this morning?” and slow down. Look up at the clouds billowing above you. Listen to the noises of nature or the city. Cherish the minutes you have, and look forward to the minutes to come. That is how to walk properly.