Trust your steps


Dear Artist,

Walking briskly, pushing the blood to your extremities, alone and with minimal distraction along the path, concentrating the mind on the thighs’ movements, you trigger imagination and focus. In other words, brisk walking is a form of creative meditation. You need a notebook to scrawl the thoughts as they come. After the walk, you need to reassess your scrawls. I like to clarify them in my laptop. I put my really stupid thoughts into trash, but I don’t delete them.

Nimbus II, 2012 Digital C-type Print 75 x 112 cm by Berndnaut Smilde (b. 1978)

Nimbus II, 2012
Digital C-type Print
75 x 112 cm
by Berndnaut Smilde (b. 1978)

The ability to focus is challenged in our society — not just with the nerve-jangled adults but also with the new batch of kids. Richard Davidson, a psychologist known for his behavioral research with Rhesus monkeys and studies in meditation with the Dali Lama, has made some interesting discoveries. Children (some of them with learning disorders) were invited to lie on their backs with a pebble placed on their tummies. While deep breathing, they were to focus on the pebble going up and down. After this exercise and for a period of time, they enthusiastically concentrated on schoolwork and other tasks. I haven’t tried watching pebbles going up and down on my tummy, but I sometimes look down at the movement of my feet while walking. It induces a lovely trance. I don’t recommend doing it in traffic. Brisk walking removes dark clouds, refreshes the artistic mind, encourages the interbreeding of thoughts, and plucks new ideas out of the blue.

Nimbus Minerva, 2012 Digital C-type Print 125 x 188 cm by Berndnaut Smilde

Nimbus Minerva, 2012
Digital C-type Print
125 x 188 cm
by Berndnaut Smilde

Walking itself is a time-honoured path to spirituality (think Camino de Santiago across northern Spain). There can be no doubt walking stimulates the imagination. Walking is a readily available antidote to a sedentary life. Different artists get different results. Mine are all over the place. Here are a few purged from my laptop: “The same object seen from two sides.” “A work of art dependent on gradation alone.” “Teaching art by not talking, just showing.” “A way of temporarily gassing fanatics so they just lay down their arms and become nice.” “Encouraging autonomy in others by being autonomous yourself.” “A better way to fix that sky.” With the brisk walk, you make up your mind. It’s as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking. No matter how long the walk, the best stuff comes during the second half. You may find the last minute is spent running to the studio.

Nimbus Cukurcuma Hamam I, 2012 Cloud in Room C-type Print on Dibond, 125 x 184 cm by Berndnaut Smilde

Nimbus Cukurcuma Hamam I, 2012 Cloud in Room
C-type Print on Dibond,
125 x 184 cm
by Berndnaut Smilde

Best regards,


PS: “She was wrapped up and sold, coming home from an old fashioned walk.” (Irving Berlin)

Esoterica: Dr. Davidson thinks happiness, compassion and a sense of well-being are simply skills learned in the same way a person might learn the violin, tennis or painting. Time and practice are necessary. Apparently, the brain is built to change in response to training and the use of ploys. Whether you are a Rhesus monkey or a student in third year industrial design, focus is key. There are many ways to improve focus. Trusting your steps is just one of them. The system is just outside your door, and it’s free.

This letter was originally published as “Trust your steps” on February 21, 2012.

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“What is now proved was once only imagined.” (William Blake)



  1. I have practised walking/xc ski meditation for years. Swimming lanes has a similar effect — any rhythmic activity that once begun doesn’t involve decision-making. What I do differs from what Robert Genn did because I don’t focus on anything. I let the activity take over. Of course you can walk along and think about art or whatever, but that is not meditation, which is another art, the art of temporarily losing focus. Creativity doesn’t work well with prescription; goals limit possibilities. If you want a restful, regenerative moment in your day, don’t go out with a notebook. Think no thoughts; enjoy that moment for what it gives you, not for what you plot and program during that time. You will be amazed at the result. The problem you couldn’t solve is resolved; a new way forward opens up. Now you can focus, after letting go.

  2. What a beautiful article! It was articles like this that I marveled at Robert’s writing. I have a severe case of dyslexia. I was mercilessly bullied for the first eight years of my schooling. Not only from the fellow students, but from the teachers as well. Eventually (trust your steps) I became better at reading and writing – and in the 00s I found myself in AWE of Robert Genn’s writings. The style. The information. Articles like this one. He was a great painter, but, articles like this he was painting with words. Like this article, I would read the paragraphs over and over. I just loved how he painted with words. There are many great writers in the world, but, Robert Genn is my favourite. Because of articles like this.

    When I shared some of my thoughts through my writings, Robert really embraced them. “These are good ideas. Worthy ideas,” he said. Because of Robert, and, as well, to please him – I would write far more. I trusted him. He gave me the steps. Robert Genn is found in everything you read at

    Thank you Robert!

    R.I.P. (Rest In Print/Paintings) Robert Genn

    As always, love is the way,

    Miles Patrick Yohnke


  3. Another great letter. Something that isn’t often mentioned as a benefit is the breathwork done while vigorously moving. Sure, walking is rhythmic and steady, that plays a big part. But so does oxygenated blood pumping through your system. I like to think of it as a moving meditation.

  4. First, I want to say how much I love Berndnaut Smilde’s digital prints–I could look at them all day. They project a meditative sense of peace. I know I have problems focusing, and I have lots of unfinished art pieces all over my studio. Before I can finish something, I’ve already become interested in something else, which also probably won’t get finished either. It is so frustrating and I don’t know how to stop doing this. I’m like the personification of a favorite quote by H. Jackson Brown: “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.”

  5. Two books, one just released and the other only 2 years ago, touch on this topic. Stolen Focus, the most recent, talks about the authors journey to recapture his focus from technology and the second 7 1/2 Secrets of the Brain, explores how the brain works. Both written for easy absorption and well worth the exploration, as we all are looking for ways to use our attention to best advantage in our work. Onward.

  6. This is such a timely, insightful and welcoming letter, thank you Robert! Solvitur Ambulando has become somewhat of a personal mantra in the past decade or so; so much is solved by walking. I too walked to the ends of the earth (on the Camino, to the coast past Santiago), so your observations are spot on. The rhythm and (as you put it) trance are part of the mystery and magic of walking, especially when we go long and far. (Ditto the via Francigena) It still astonishes me how our creative impulses, bred from that trance-like, meditative movement – of brain as much as body, are conjuring up solutions and epiphanies. While I walk (and while I paint), I’m always filled with gratitude and awe.

  7. I’ve done some serious hiking with my siblings in Peru and Nepal, and lots of lesser treks. In between I walk and play golf, walking. My favorite new book is Zen Golf, an oldie. So much good stuff in there, and I find that it carries back to the studio, as it is a game of walking, and planning and breathing, with a nanosecond to make contact with the golf ball. Love the between parts of golf more than the results. We played with another couple of guys on Sunday who were in a cart and drinking beer. Totally different game for them. Sigh.

    Just wish it all transferred back to the computer in the same way as it does my painting.

  8. I walk every morning. When it gets light by 7 am or 6 am during the spring, summer and fall, i walk at sunrise. Nothing is more inspirational than a three mile walk as the sky starts to brighten and then the fireball comes over the treetops or distant landscape. Inspiring it is. and the endorphins are sparked. It is the best start to the day. ( I really miss it when the winter temps go below 20 degrees or there is ice outside and I need to ride my stationary bike instead. that doesn’t do the same thing as a good walk in fresh air. ) If one can walk , it is a blessing.

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No Featured Workshop Beauty, Autumn
16 x 16 inches
acrylic on board

Featured Artist

We all need beauty, especially at a time when it appears to many that the world is in chaos.

Painting is the way I view my life, and it helps me keep my mind straight and my eyes on the positive. I look for beauty wherever I go. For that reason, I know that my life will not be long enough to paint all the ideas that I have.

I am painting because the Lord put the passion and desire in my heart to glorify Him in this way.

I have dedicated my life since 1983 to creating a body of work that testifies of His Creation, majesty, power, beauty, life and love.

Light and how we see it on the earth is the subject of all of my paintings.

I paint the landscape because I believe that we can see the Creator in His Creation, if we just look for Him there.

Since all who are sighted may see our surroundings, I believe this is one of the most evident ways we may see Him.

If I were to give a name to my entire portfolio of paintings, I would call it “The Sight of Heaven Touching Earth.”This Scripture, Romans 1:19-20, is foundational to all of my work: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.”

 Beauty, order, and the possibility to love is all around us—all we have to do is want to see it.


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