Tales from the Trails - The Walking Monk
A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!
A high school friend that I recently reconnected with on social media asked if I would ever be interested in hosting an event with one of his teachers, ‘The Walking Monk.’
The title of the man had me intrigued to say the least. His name, Bhaktimarga Swami, was a given devotional name when he entered his monk calling.
Prior to becoming a monk, he did chores on the family farm in Chatham, Ontario, lived a ‘party life’ and was a college student of Fine Arts. He took to a monk’s life in 1973 as a youthful 20-yearold young man.
The Walking Monk first stepped onto the trails as a marathon walker in 1996 to honour the centennial year of his guru for pilgrimage and connection to the Divine through nature. Since, he has walked across Canada four times and adventured abroad walking the lands of Ireland, Poland, Ivory Coast, Figi, Trinidad and Israel. Last year he travelled the USA and this summer he completed a walk from NYC to San Francisco and hopes to walk the Camino de Campastella in Spain. As well he would love to do the entire Bruce Trail in Southern Ontario.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about monks and why someone would devote over 20 years to walking the Earth solo, but I sure was excited to find out.
Prior to hosting this event, I sent him some questions to see just what made this man tick. My first question: Why become a monk at 20 years old? His response, quite simple, was “to seek higher consciousness and to pursue a simpler, yet deeper way of life.”
Well that resonated with me. With stress being one of the largest forces of unhealth or unhappiness, simpler makes sense. I am a lover of travelling the globe so I was naturally intrigued how he had been travelling for two decades, as it was my understanding monks don’t have an income source.
“I’m quite accustomed to camping out, however in the US, many have opened up their motel rooms and homes. Events are often sponsored and people may offer donations,” he replied.
Just celebrating his 65th birthday, I questioned him why he continued this journey and if he found it lonely to be single, celibate and walking the world on his own.
“I’m an addict. Walking is natural. Therapeutic. It gives you the time to dream, plan, and process. There are people who join me on the walk from time to time. I have a support guy that travels with me but it never gets lonely on the road when you realize that there’s a witness in your heart. There’s also always people coming forward to interact with you. Someone to offer a ride (which I don’t take) or food. Walking is fun, and so when you have fun you’re not lonely. You are sharing the road with millions of people. There’s a lot of motorists out there, and some days I’m waving at people like crazy.”
I asked him to share one of his favorite or profound journey stories from his trails.
“One morning I prayed to see a bear, and the great Creator responded almost immediately. It was a grizzly, and he was big, and I was walking with my support guy, and the bear became clearly interested in us. The road was lonely, no people around. Shouting wouldn’t help, so we said mantras of protection. Finally, a massive truck came and scared the bear away.”
(Be careful what you wish for, is coming to my mind.)
Recently the Swami came to Tillsonburg and I finally got to meet him. He is playful, whimsical and cheerful. He jokes a lot, and shares when on the road in his orange Monk robe he has been called many things - from a prison escapee to moving pylon, to a Kevin Spacey monk. (He totally looks like Kevin Spacey.)
When asked at our meet-the-monk event to speak about one of his most profound spiritual experiences, he shared the bliss and simplicity of walking in a forest and of the uncomplicated yet profound beauty of the colors of the leaves and creatures and creation, all around him.
He was asked if he walks the world to share his religious points of view. He smiled and replied no. He basically described how I feel: That at the base of all religions is the spirit of goodness, kindness, compassion and love for one and another and that it is in the spirituality that all of creation is connected. Swami told a story of a young ‘Bob Marley’ looking Rastafarian man, who he enjoyed walking the roads with for some time.
“I just like connecting to nature and to people and promoting a greener way to live, through walking.”
His answers were simple, honest and candid and although I wasn’t about to become a monk (can women even become monks anyways?), I did take away from my brief encounters with this man, that keeping life simple, holds great value.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” - Confucius.
I started to think more of how non-walking-monk-folks can create simpler, healthier, less stressed and happier lives. Here is my simple short list:
1. Appreciate nature and its beauty more.
2. Chill out: unplug and go for a walk.
3. Be kind, compassionate and loving to everything.
4. De-clutter: home, mind and so on.
5. Clarity: know what is important in your life?
6. Mindfulness: savour each moment.
7. Gratitude: appreciate your blessings.
8. Give: how do you make the world a better place?
9. People, places, things: do they expand you?
10. Joy: find ways to feel good and be playful.
11. Set high intentions with low attachments.
If you would like to see an article on a specific topic, please email email@example.com.
Kelly Spencer (left) with Bhaktimarga Swami, 'The Walking Monk.'