The dictionary defines 'spiritual' (which comes from the Latin 'spiritus', meaning 'breath') as relating to, consisting of or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material; concerned with or affecting the soul; of, from or relating to God; of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred; supernatural.
I think some of us may be slightly hestitant in using with confidence the words 'spiritual' and 'sacred' these days, loaded as they are with theological, specifically Judaeo-Christian meanings. But I say it's time to liberate these words. Indeed, this process of liberation and democratisation has been happening for quite a while. As more and more new-age cults and philosophies take hold, as we rediscover ancient beliefs and practices such as druidism or paganism, as we broaden our interest in and understanding of many different world religions, the idea of what is spiritual and sacred has widened and become more universal.
For instance, the belief in the sacred, spiritual aspects of nature - with the implication that nature should therefore be respected and protected - is widespread (think of Native American culture, wilderness writing, TV wildlife documentaries, political eco-warriors). Unfortunately, though these ideas are now more mainstream, there's still an enormous, seemingly impossible mountain to climb when faced with the power and vested interests of multi-national companies, corrupt governments, greedy, uncontrolled capitalism, and all the rest. But I digress.
For me the greatest rewards of walking are its spiritual ones. Sure, walking can tone and toughen the body, soothe the mind, calm our neuroses, reduce our stress levels, provoke our sense of curiosity and wonder. But without a greater framework - you can call it a symbolic, metaphorical, metaphysical, artistic, imaginative, religious or spiritual one, I don't think it matters - a long walk may simply be just that: a long walk. It seems to be a human need and necessity to impart some kind of personal myth or 'guiding fiction' to our lives (read Loren Webster's excellent post on this here), and a long walk is an ideal method of doing this.
We can layer our walk with a myriad of meanings and significances. When recounting our walk-story to others we may raise it to the level of a myth or a fable. Funny how we exaggerate some bits but leave out other bits, isn't it? (It's interesting to ponder on what parts we include, what parts we discount, what parts we embellish, and why we do this.) Perhaps we interpret our walk as a quest, a pilgrimage, a labyrinth, a metaphorical path bristling with symbols, a trip through Dante's 'dark wood', soul-wanderings, or Stations of the Cross. Whatever our interpretations, it's a fact that both our inner and outer journeys tend to become entwined, and feed into and enrich one other.
I'm afraid I just can't contemplate a long walk, which may take up a great deal of my time and energy, as simply a way of getting from A to Z during the course of which I might admire some views, suffer muscle fatigue, chat with a few people and drink rather too much wine. Oh no, it has to be some grand design for me! I'm made that way. My mind won't accept it's no more than a long, dusty trail. It flies off continually at all kinds of imaginative tangents, making all sorts of crazy and fantastic connections.
For walking will not allow us to be mere walkers; the vital breath (the 'spiritus', or the Sanskrit 'pranha', or the Chinese 'qi') of nature, the land and the landscape - invisible, intangible, life-giving, all-important - fills our lungs and our hearts, and in doing so restores our inner being, which is also our spiritual being and our sacred ground.