Since 2011, Libby DeLana has walked every day, traversing over 25,000 miles—equivalent to the earth’s circumference. In her first book, Do Walk, she writes about how walking can be a grounding and spiritual act, bolstering your connection to the natural world. We have a conversation about her mindful ‘Morning Walk’ practice and how it can help us to be more fulfilled; she considers it “a mindset” for “adding energy and space to your day.” Libby shares what she’s learnt from her many walks from her home in Newburyport, a coastal city in Massachusetts, on both an everyday and more profound scale.
Do Walk is your first book. What was the writing process like for you, coming to it for the first time?
I'm a creative director in the advertising world, so I'm around writers a lot and I really admire the craft. I suppose I've been writing this book for ten years because it's about this Morning Walk practice. In many ways, the subjects that I was writing about were bedded within me. It was just a matter of giving shape.
I can certainly see that. I can imagine when you're on your walks, you have an internal monologue. Was it easy to write because of that?
That's a great question because I'm not sure it was, I don’t think I was able to initially put words to what it was that I was feeling. But once I knew I was writing a book, I would think about it chapter by chapter and ask myself, what was the lesson? What stories might be interesting? I also asked others what they’d find useful. It was through people sharing ideas that I was able to coalesce a cohesive book.
That's interesting. I was thinking that walking can be quite a solitary thing. Or does it actually make you feel connected with other people?
Especially during the pandemic, it was my primary source of connection. I have a bunch of walking friends and we all felt safe with our masks on going outside and walking together. Over the years, I've also met incredible people in the walking community through Instagram. I've met up with some of the most lovely, generous, kind people as a result of it.
That's really lovely. So what made you start considering walking as a mindful practice—when was that crossover point, when you started approaching it differently?
When I first started, it was because my life had become so consumed with to-do lists and errands and meetings. I was missing a key component that makes me happy: being outdoors. It puts things in perspective; I find it incredibly healing. So at that point I made sure that being outside was a part of my day. At the beginning, I'm not sure I would have been able to have said that it was meditative walking—I probably wouldn't have even used the word practice. That shift came a couple years into it when I realised what I was getting from it, which was much more spiritual in a way. Then I started reading about Buddhist practice and Thich Nhat Hanh and thinking about pilgrims and walking as a spiritual practice, so things began to slowly shift.
So that spiritual feeling you get from walking, that helps you emotionally from day to day. On a grander scale, have you had any significant, important realisations?
Yes. I no longer wear earbuds because I'm finding more and more that in the quiet is where the answers are for me. And when life is going on or I'm listening to music or podcasts I don't often tune in with what my heart's feeling about something, what my gut says. It's so easy to dismiss the information that comes from those two centres. I probably hadn't allowed much time or space for those sort of gut reactions, instincts, more subtle information. And I could only hear that for myself when it became quiet. Creating the space through walking provided that. I tend to walk in magnificent places, with these trees like cathedrals. It makes me feel such humility, because boy, do you feel beautifully small, insignificant. There's a lot of learning in that.
Do you think it's possible to have a meditative experience on a regular walk, say to run an errand, or do you have to set out with that intention?
I can tap into that mindset, but that's because I've been doing it for a long time. If you were to ask people who have a seated meditation practice, ‘can you tap into that feeling if you're sitting in a meeting?’ I think they would say yes. It's back to breath, it's back to staying present and grounded, and making sure that you're attentive to the moment. And I would say it's no different for the walk. I like the sensation of movement; movement for me is comforting.
And do you ever push yourself to go walking, even if you're not really feeling in the mood?
Yes. I've committed to go every day, no matter what. But if I'm feeling really ill, it's probably not a great idea to stay out for two hours. I had pneumonia a couple of years ago, and I knew that obviously my big walks were not going to be beneficial, but I also did know that getting outside was going to make me feel better. I didn't have to go fast. I didn't have to go a long distance.
Is that the advice you'd give to someone who wants to get out more, but is finding it hard to make the move?
The other thing is to look at where the barriers are, because I think for all of us, there are moments when it feels like, oh, screw it, it's raining too hard, or my toes are cold. The way I look at those moments is as opportunities and friction areas to address, to put a little attention to. What I needed to solve was remembering to go out, so I put my shoes right by my bed, then I can get up and go. The thing that I have really learned is that a walk always makes things better. Even if things are great, now that I know they can be even better, I'm like, heck yeah, I'm going for a walk!
Are there any other activities that you think are similarly meditative, for those who are less able to walk or less able to get out and about?
I do think seated practice is great and brings you to the same place. I have a friend who lives in a situation where it's harder for her to get out into the sort of natural spaces that I find healing. And she has a seated practice and she puts plants next to her.
So she can still be close to nature?
Yes, and where she practices is next to a narrow window, and I think her cat actually sits with her! A Morning Walk practice doesn't have to look like mine. There are many beautiful, unique ways to tap into the things that can be powerful.
What, above all, did you want to achieve with this book?
Part of my hope in writing this book was that it might inspire somebody to think about going for a walk a couple of times a week, and feel comfort hearing from somebody that, as you noted, there are days I don't want to go, but I know in my heart, in my head that it's a nourishing tool. It isn't about how far or how fast you go.
Interview by Alice Simkins.
First photograph by Michael Piazza.
Do Walk by Libby DeLana is published by Do Books.