Woman walking dog in front of neighborhood building

This spiritual practice takes walking from an experience of observation and listening to a contemplative experience to increase your self-awareness and your feelings of deep connection to your neighborhood. It is designed to encourage such democratic values and virtues as caring, generosity, service, and consideration.

First, grow your awareness of yourself by walking in your neighborhood. In The Four Virtues: Presence, Heart, Wisdom, Creation, professor of psychology Tobin Hart recommends simply observing your surroundings as you walk. Afterwards, reflect on what you noticed about your surroundings as well as what you noticed about how you typically move through the world: Are you usually in a hurry, rushing too much to notice your surroundings? Or do you tend to walk around with an open heart and often feel hurt when others don’t respond in kind? Or do you operate with a level of protection and defensiveness as you go through your day?

Once you’ve identified your habitual way of moving through the world, consider how Hart’s reflective questions might open you to new ways of caring for yourself:

  • What is it like for you [to move through the world in this way]?
  • What has this done for you in the past?
  • Where did you learn this?
  • Is there a change you would like to make to your style?
  • What would it look and feel like?
  • How might you make it happen?
  • Do you have concerns or doubts about a change like this?
  • How might you address them?
  • What will you do?

With your new self-awareness and thoughts on self-care, extend that awareness and caring to those around you by taking another walk—this time as if you’re taking a tour of the neighborhood. Consider your awareness of and consideration for others in your neighborhood with these reflective questions:

*What do you observe? Is there trash in the street? Are there signs of water problems—like dying grass and shrubs? Signs of someone having trouble "keeping up"—like a visible need for house repairs? Or signs of someone doing well—like a new car or improvement project? Are people sitting together outside or is there no sign of anyone around?

Are your observations of your surroundings on this walk different than they were on your first walk?

What might your observations indicate?

Does what you see in any way impact your conclusions from your self-reflective walk?

Keeping in mind democratic virtues, how do you want to respond to your neighborhood observations? Share your answer with someone in your household and/or a neighbor.

In partnership with our friends at Spirituality & Practice, we are sharing practices to help us all “practice democracy” from the inside out. This practice is from their free, downloadable guide, "Practicing Democracy in Your Neighborhood." Visit Spirituality & Practice's The Practicing Democracy Project for more practices and a wide array of resources.


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Spirituality & Practice (S&P) is a multi-faith website devoted to resources for spiritual journeys. While respecting differences among traditions, S&P celebrates what they share in common.