I’ve been taking a hike through my blog this morning in search of nourishment to navigate this new terrain I’ve landed in. I first wrote about spiritual backwalking in December 2019 when I could not have known that our lives were about to change in ways not seen since my grandfather and his sisters died in the 1917 flu epidemic, leaving my mother destitute. Today would have been her 113 birthday, and I am only now reflecting on how her experience of a pandemic shaped her life, and consequently, my life. What fears did her trauma pass on to me? How did she imprint me with resilience? The covid pandemic is teaching me how to walk backwards, as it taught the child who became my mother.
I have recently been gifted with a profound metaphor that I will share with you, but first
TWO STORIES. A treasured member of my faith community lives with early on-set Parkinson’s Disease. When his brain stops moving him forwad, he walks backward. Healthline.com says, “It’s a simple way for you to challenge different muscles and force your mind to focus and operate differently.” Rather than stopping, my friend lets go and imagines another way to move. Backwards becomes frontwards.
In the 1960’s war novel, Catch-22, Yosarian walks backwards, “…because he was continually spinning around as he walked to make certain no one was sneaking up on him from behind.” Yosarian was experiencing the reality of war, not paranoia. The enemy was sneaking up behind him with intent to kill. His fixation on fear had taken possession of him, so he walked backwards to be safe. And now
THE METAPHOR. What if we trained our souls to stop the unhealthy ego-spin by walking backwards? This spiritual practice necessitates a profound letting-go, just as it does when our bodies attempt to walk backwards. We are awkward and afraid of falling, so we rely on a friend’s arm or trekking poles, and our progress is slow. Spiritual backwalking requires us to rely on the movements of the Spirit instead of relying solely on an out-of-control ego. We find the courage to walk inside the dangerous fissures of constant change and uncertaintly. We take on a holy vulnerability when we risk this spiritual backwalking.
Our society doesn’t endorse walking backwards. It’s motto is forward-thrust with great gusto, a speed which supports all manner of unhealthy ego-patterns, the worst of them being an inordinate drive to control self and others at all cost. This is the war zone we find ourselves in at this moment and like Yosarian, we have to walk backwards to be safe. We have to let go and trust Spirit to companion us through the change and uncertainty that bombards us.