A spiritual path should consider aspects of life that are social, collective, in relationships with other people, involving conversation and dialogue. A conversation can be considered a piece of road we cover together: we start a path, maybe with a simple “Hello, how’s everything?”, and we talk exploring together what comes out. This aspect of the spiritual experience can be considered fundamental because it includes in itself the basis that gives rise to everything else. It can be said that every cultivated spiritual experience is always a fruit that has at the beginning an experience of walking together with other people. Walking arouses an experience of inner life, a feeling that touches our sensitivities, our taste, sets us in motion and directs us to walk again. In this context, spirituality as such, distinct from particular spiritualities, pays special attention precisely to walking; that is, particular spiritualities are paths, while general spirituality is a deepening of the experience of walking itself, of the dynamics it liberates, of the meanings that walking takes on in human existence. Once walking gets such a central importance in spirituality, it follows that spirituality can never mean stagnation, inertia, absence of growth, the same way as a walk with a friend without saying even a word would soon prove to be an experience far from what we consider human, enriching, unless that silence is part of a plan, but this would confirm as well that it is not inertia. Stopping is certainly not forbidden; on the contrary, it is a fundamental human need, but it will always be just temporary stops, moments of refreshment, perhaps even for celebrations, but always in view of further steps to enjoy the pleasure of experimenting. From another perspective, we may consider that every walk is always subjective, that is, it may happen that a friend seems too still not because he really is, but because he does not reflect our personal idea of what walking should mean. In this case, the problem is not the fact that our friend is not walking; it is rather us who have too a limited concept of walking, a concept that prevents us from realizing ways of walking that are different from those we are used to. For example, for us Westerners, some tribes of Africa or the Amazon may seem too slow or too backward, but it is easy to object that these are people who walk in ways that our narrow-mindedness does not make us appreciate. This way we can deduce that the spirituality of walking must necessarily also be a “walking of walking”, that is, subject to continuous updating, continuous self-criticism and listening about the concepts that we have formed on what walking means. To do this, the collective aspect is of fundamental importance: it is the walking of others that provokes us to a continuous revision of the idea we build about what walking means; the feeling of other’s hand in our hand tells us that there are ways of walking that differ from ours and may even be better.
When we walk together with other people, we need to think about distancing from each other. For example, when we walk together holding hand in hand we might get in each other’s way, we may even fall down, while instead, if we distance ourselves, we can walk better. On the other side, however, if we distance from each other too much, we are no longer really walking together, there is no longer communication. This need for distance oneself happens also in families, when adolescents, at a certain point, dream of running away from home, to live a life of her own, to make their own experiences. Another example is the study of history. The further away a historical period is, the easier it is for us to study it objectively, in what it is, with detachment, while, when a historical period is something of which we are still part, it is more difficult for us to evaluate it, because we are still in the middle of it, we are still conditioned by it.
All of this can be considered as seeing things from different perspectives. That is, distance, distancing, is nothing but looking at or living an experience from a different perspective. Therefore, distancing allows us to experiment pluralism and even criticism. By moving away from an object, or from a person I am walking with, I can realize that there are different ways of seeing the other person, or myself, or our path.
This moving away, this distancing, to know better, to walk better, to also know the critical aspect of things, can also be experienced towards ourselves. I can move away from myself to look at myself better, which contrasts with what is sometimes said, “Come back to yourself, look inside yourself, be yourself”, etc. Sometimes doing the opposite may be better: distancing yourself from yourself. This distancing from oneself can happen when we consider the perspective of the other person. When the other person looks at me from her point of view, which is obviously further away from me than I am from myself, the other’s opinion about me allows me to look at myself with more distant eyes and therefore to know myself from other perspectives and in some ways to know myself even better.