By David Jones
Want to meditate but tired of sitting? Consider Walking Meditation.
Sitting Meditation is wonderful. Sitting With the Breath has helped me a lot over the years, and there are many other techniques out there. The same is true for Walking Meditation.
The technique I’m going to present is Connection Meditation, which can be practiced while walking or sitting. Our environments and surroundings aren’t distractions to try and block out while we practice; in fact, they’re what we’re focusing on.
This has more in common with Druidic Nature Meditations and Henry David Thoreau’s “sauntering” than with most Buddhist techniques, but the goal is still mindful—to be fully aware and present with the world around us. Thoreau said it best in his essay, Walking:
“What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
The same is true wherever we are: if we’re not fully engaged in our experiences at the present moment, then we’re missing stuff. And, if we’re only focused on ourselves—our feet, our muscles, our breathing—we won’t be fully present during this practice.
Step 1: Go outside. A wooded area, park, or jogging trail would be great, but you can do it in the city, in the town, by a creek, around your street or in your yard. Remember to practice proper social distancing.
Step 2: Center yourself before you begin. It’s important to get your head in the right space before you start. This is where you form the “intention” of your “intentional walk.” In a way, you’re making a vow to walk as a truly awake person, aware and engaged.
That means you’ll treat outside thoughts the same way a sitting Buddhist would: let the thoughts come and go as they will, but when you notice that you’re paying attention to them gently guide your attention back to the walk without attachment or judgment.
Step 3: Walk, as fast or as slow as you want or need to. Remember, the only purpose is to pay attention as you walk. Where, how fast, etc. is all up to you as long as it doesn’t get in the way.
Step 4: Engage the world with all your available senses and attention. Everything around you is a part of you and you’re a part of it; learn to see that connection and you’ll find compassion waiting there.
Mindfulness is vital here. Too often we’re in such a hurry to get to work, to get home, to get to the movie or appointment or sale that all we see are Points A and B. The connected experience gets lost in the process of arriving somewhere. The destination begins to matter more than the journey. This is a cure for that.
Once you begin, your job is to pay attention to your environment, not so much to yourself. Refuse to let any part of it fade into the background or blur by like wallpaper. This reminds you of your connection to everything.
What is there to see or hear or feel? Now connect with that.
Pay attention to the individual trees, notice their variety, leaves or bare branches smooth bark or rough; sun glistening on wet leaves or grass or snow or sand; animals, people, the gleam of sunlight on water, clouds in the sky, rocks on the path—you’re a part of all of this. Smile or nod to the person passing you on the path, because they’re fellow travelers.
There are sounds all around, but can you experience each one? Bird songs and calls are particular to the bird making them. Passing sirens don’t break your practice here, they’re a part of it. Wind in tree tops, dogs barking, water running, traffic passing, children talking, an angry person yelling; all part of your environment. Feel the breeze, the warming sun, bare feet in grass, raindrops on your face.
It’s also important to acknowledge the smells you like as well as ones you don’t. No need to linger in unpleasant smells like car exhaust or a cow pasture, but it’s important to accept them. Focus on your connections to the whole experience.
What if I don’t have much time? Duration isn’t the point, embracing connections is. If you have 30 seconds, you have time to mindfully engage the world around you.
What if I have mobility challenges? You can practice using any mobility assistance you need. Wheelchairs, motorized scooters, or assisting companions don’t prevent meditation. “Walking Meditation” is just a label.
What if I’m deaf or blind? This is still a beneficial form of meditation (whether walking or sitting) because you can participate with your available senses, using them to connect with the world.
What if this is too much for me at one time? Feel free to ease into it by focusing on just one sense this time, then add on another with your next walk. Gradually try to include more in each session.
If the experience becomes frightening, overwhelming, or triggers some reaction that you’re not prepared to engage, or if your environment becomes dangerous, stop. Your safety and well-being are more important. Some reactions can be overcome with experience, others cannot. Use wisdom in your practice.
By spending time in this meditation, we’ll find that we’ve been missing a lot of things, parts of our environments we’ve taken for granted or never stopped to recognize. In other words, it helps us become more mindful in our lives.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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