Thursday, February 27, 2014

February's Interview: Walking with Julie Mitchell

On the fourth Thursday of each month I introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirit.

This month meet Julie Mitchell whom I consider one of the "stars" of my years in Ohio. Yes, she was one of my spiritual directees, but really I was one of hers, for her ongoing openness to learning about herself and the desire to live a life worthy of her best self and the person she is created to be was always inspiring. I think you will be inspired meeting her as well.

Julie Mitchell, MA, is a walker, talker, listener, life-long learner, master teacher, amateur musician, blogger, mentor, networker extraordinaire, avid reader, catalyst communicator, consultant, coach, and experimental cook who is always curious about what's next.

Her business, Coachwalks® serves individual clients and leading organizations in the US and beyond. She offers expert, customized communication and leadership skills development, plus direction for navigating work/life transitions or achieving goals.

Julie and her husband live happily with two cats in Durham, North Carolina. They seek adventures close to home and travel whenever possible, especially to destinations featuring sailing and beaches.

Julie, I know that walking is your main spiritual practice, and I wish we could be walking together as you talk about the role of this practice in your life. How did walking become your main spiritual practice?
Perhaps the practice started with routine, enjoyable childhood walks. I have happy memories as a 3-year-old in Ann Arbor walking around campus with my Dad or on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario--my first beach walks.

I remember wonderful walks and talks with my beloved Scandinavian Grandma to the big Lutheran church where I was baptized or to the "dime store" for treats. My grandmothers loved to walk, and all generations were expected to step out after holiday dinners or other family gatherings, even on Christmas Eve in the snow and ice after eating a huge turkey dinner and before heading to church.

As a five-year-old I was already well grounded in walking--from the safety rules admonishing me to "look both ways" to the joys of exploring new territory. My adult companions taught me about the path's opportunities, and obstacles. Everything from identifying poison ivy to appreciating a gorgeous sunset. 

Starting in 1964, I walked to kindergarten by myself in all kinds of Michigan weather. This seems odd now, as times have changed, but it was normal then. I continued walking to school until 1972, walking alone for the most part both because other kids didn't live on my street, but also because I was a quiet, introverted child and preferred my own pace and company. 

Such wonderful memories, Julie. I want you to know that my grandchildren, who are in kindergarten and fifth grade, walk to and from school everyday. I love the fact that we live in a neighborhood where walking is easy and encouraged. When did you begin to consider walking a spiritual practice? 
That did not happen for decades; however, by my late teens, I recognized an inner nudge and sometimes even an intense craving to walk, clear my head, relieve stress, release energy, or relish a beautiful day.

By the 1980's walking was widely recognized as good cardiovascular exercise, and I was motivated to walk off extra pounds, plus the heavy weight of sadness over an ill-advised marriage and subsequent divorce. I walked my way through grief over the loss of loved ones or when I felt like a failure. During that time I became more humble, willing to pray and ask for help, and open to receiving answers  I began to recognize how walking was healing my body, mind and spirit.

A multi-purpose spiritual practice! Tell me more about your walking journey. 
In my 40's the answers to "what's next?" career/life/spiritual paths questions came in both subtle and overwhelming ways while I was walking in places of incredible beauty. I am a life-long learner, and I squeezed every ounce of knowledge out of life and work experiences. I walked labyrinths on retreat with monks or nuns and race-walked at a holistic wellness spa in Mexico. I experienced solitary, reflective walks and deeply generative treks with wise elders from all over the US.

 I became more mindful and present, as I navigated challenging northeast Ohio trails over steep hills, creeks, and deep root systems. I was both "forced" and gently led to watch my step---to be keenly aware of my surroundings. After falling a couple times, I learned to pay more attention, not only while putting one foot in front of the another, but while interacting with my loved ones and clients!

In time I experienced the woods or lakeshore literally come alive, seeing everything more deeply, feeling entranced, moved and amazed by God's creation. I also began to trust that my walks would provide direction when I was feeling lost.

Are there any specific walks you remember and can share?
I remember a particular walk vividly. I was mourning my latest bad love affair, feeling lonely, unloved, misunderstood. I had been having recurring dreams of walking with a beloved companion, but I was in my 40's and feared I'd never find him. I drove to a favorite nature trail where I knew I could walk alone with my sad, restless and yearning heart. My tears began to fall, and I spotted a bench. On the bench was engraved "You'll never walk alone." My tears turned into a flood of recognition and gratitude. I felt Divine Love and companionship in that moment. 

Another life-changing walk occurred in 2002 when I realized I wanted to make a significant, scary shift in my "business plan." I was walking in the woods and asked out loud, "What should I do next with my business?" The answer came like a direct deposit from the heavens to my head: COACHWALKS. It felt absolutely right. I knew then what I needed to do--integrate consulting and communication skills practice with walking. I would literally walk with my clients. 

Very moving--literally and figuratively. Do you walk everyday?
No, and, in fact, there have been times, such as when I had my leg in a cast for months, when I have not been able to walk, but I always returned to walking. Restarting walks after the latest mishap or lapse represents "getting on my feet" again or a fresh start. 

For at least 15 years I've been very consistent with my walking, and in 2011 I walked at least one hour every single day. When I have to skip a walking day or two due to travel or other conflicts. I feel something is missing…and when I'm able to walk again, it renews me. When I walk with a client, helping him or her find clarity and direction, it's a joy and a privilege. I'm so grateful.

And I'm so grateful for you and your open and articulate way of sharing yourself and your spiritual practice. Any hints or advice you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?
Be open to exploring different paths and trust what feels right. Don't be limited by what you were taught or what you believe you "should" be doing. Be willing to stay with fear, discomfort, and anxiety as you practice…it's part of the journey.

Gurus, experts and spiritual guides may counsel you to pick "just one" practice, to be disciplined and single-minded and perhaps that may be right for you, and going deeply into a single practice can be beneficial, but I've found it's helpful to have more than one practice. At different times in my life my spiritual practices have included journal writing, reading, prayer and meditation, playing piano and organ, and being an active church member. It's okay to change your mind, return to a practice you thought you had left long ago, or follow your curiosity--or the "still" small voice--calling you toward a new direction. God has spoken to me in more than one way, and I don't believe in just one "true" religion or faith tradition.

Can you recommend any books about walking as a spiritual practice?
There are so many, but here's a "first steps" sampler.
The Spirited Walker by Carolyn Scott Kortge
Walking with Thomas Merton by Robert Waldron
Surprises Around the Bend by Richard A. Hasler
Walking a Sacred Path by Lauren Artress
Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss

I knew you would have much wisdom to share with my readers, and I am sure I am not the only one who feels inspired to put on my boots and head out on a wintry path.  Thank you so much, Julie. 

Julie's Contact Information
Julie's new Coachworks® website is under construction and will be available soon. Visit her Coach Notes blog to learn more about her services and see photos she has taken on her walks. Her email address is  and you can also read her at

An Invitation
I invite you to walk. Walk with intention and an open, expectant heart. What do you notice and feel? Could this be a spiritual practice for you? Julie and I would both like to know. 


  1. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. Sundays I typically go out with a friend or two. The quality and tone of the conversation varies greatly but overall, no matter the discussion, I feel energized. And I know my husband really misses me when he invites me to walk with him--a reversal of the norm. Cathy

  2. Thanks for your comment and such insight that your husband is missing you when he asks to walk with you. Very sweet.

  3. Thanks from me, too! Someday I may write about the spiritual practice of walking with one's spouse or partner...

  4. I love to walk with my husband and on my own, especially on hiking paths in the parks near our home. There is a calming aspect to this practice--settling into the pace and breathing pattern, and paying attention to the beauty of nature. Walking a labyrinth is a favorite meditative practice, along with tai chi walking. Thanks, Julie and Nancy, for reminding me of the gifts of walking! Charlene


All respectful and relevant comments are welcome. Potential spam and offensive comments will be deleted