“I have always had a fascination with the North.”
I am on the phone with Bhaktimarga Swami, a 63-year-old monk in Toronto. We are talking about the visit to Whitehorse he has planned for late September.
Better known as The Walking Monk, at 63 he has already walked across Canada four times, as well as across the United States, Ireland, Israel, Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad and Guyana.
He walks as a way to meditate and to slow down. He uses mantras – repetitive phrases with spiritual meaning – when he walks, to instill introspection and mindfulness into his treks.
During his cross-country walks, he often walks eight hours and 33 km a day. One day along the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec, he walked over 90 km.
“When you’re walking, you take some time,” says Bhaktimarga Swami. “It’s introspective walking, meaning you do some meditation when walking.”
Bhaktimarga Swami believes in the power of walking for health and for community. He sees walking as an act that takes us away from our technological devices and puts us into contact with our neighbours.
He refers to his long walking expeditions as “friend-raising” for their ability to introduce him to new people. The marathon walks are a traditional monastic practice that is about inspiring and being inspired by those who come into your path. Like everything that Bhaktimarga Swami does, the walks are meant to “share the joy of life and that’s what you want to give out.”
“What makes walking so nice,” he says, “is you’re doing something physically while also doing something on the spiritual side.”
Through the relationships built with others and through the physical benefits, Bhaktimarga Swami finds that the walks keep him in prime condition to take care of and serve others.
“Many issues are overcome by walking because you allow the time to process thoughts, plans and dreams. Introspective or mindful trekking is like therapy.”
In 1973, at the age of 21, he joined the monastic lifestyle. Bhaktimarga Swami always had a spiritual inclination. He visited an ashram in Montreal, settled at one in Toronto, and found the whole lifestyle came easily and naturally. The whole practice for him “ignited that spark from previous existence.”
Bhaktimarga Swami is a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga – a spiritual practice focused on the cultivation of love and devotion. Within Bhakti Yoga, everything is done in devotion and in gratitude – everything is done from the heart, says Bhaktimarga Swami. He extends this practice to his walking, to daily life, and even to the work he is currently doing on a friend’s tomato farm.
“Whatever you’re doing,” he says, “when you redirect it, channel it more, whatever you’re doing is an offering to the divine… it changes your mindset. You begin to appreciate your work.”
He dubs this mindset an “attitude of gratitude” and credits it with bringing joy into the everyday, no matter what it brings his way – chores, work, and even walking.
Having had a longstanding desire to visit the North, Bhaktimarga Swami says he is excited to visit and walk in Whitehorse. He is looking forward to meeting the community and sharing his experiences and lessons on meditative walking. While in town, he will be leading workshops and the mantra meditation at the free weekly Sunday kirtan and vegetarian feast at the United Church, on the end of Main Street in downtown Whitehorse.
Thursday, Sept. 29
Yukon College, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1
Canada Games Centre, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 2
United Church, located at 601 Main St., from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.