While revisiting past Hearth newsletters I came upon a series I created a number of years ago on Tending the Body Temple. I got the idea for this wellness series while walking in my neighborhood. As I enjoyed the simple moments of breeze, barking dogs, and the smell of dry grass, I wanted to share this walk with all the other mothers who get so caught up in taking care of others they forget to take care of themselves, then burn out. Over years of pulling myself up from the bootstraps, over and over again, I’ve become well versed in the various facets of wellness. This wellness series came out of a heartfelt desire to help mom’s who might also be experiencing overload, feeling lost, and needing to take better care of themselves.
The first self- care practice in the wellness series is physical movement. We all know that exercise is essential to health and well-being yet we don’t always carve out the time to take care of our need for focused movement. But, regardless of our resources or time constraints, we can usually go out our front door and take a walk. Walking is available to everyone, regardless of finances or location since it requires no special equipment or circumstances. Walking is not only great exercise, it is also a wonderful way to practice meditation. It’s a twofer- exercise and meditation. This is particularly good news for those who find sitting meditation too challenging, get frustrated and give up on it. Walking meditation is a sort of gateway practice to eventually being able to meditate while sitting still. Both forms of meditation offer different gifts, both are highly effective.
There are a number of ways to approach walking meditation. Two ways are the classic retreat form and the looser home form. On meditation retreats the meditator has the time to walk very slowly in order to experience the subtlest intention to lift the foot, aware of lifting the foot, moving the foot through space and placing the foot down on the ground. Each movement is experienced fully and the mind is focused on each sensation. Walking meditation is practiced between sitting meditations in order to keep the mind focused for a long period of time. With this sort of walking meditation we become very concentrated-quickly!
Another approach to walking meditation, one that may better suit everyday life, is to keep bringing ourselves back to the sensation of our body moving through space as we walk. Everything in our environment becomes a meditation object as we move from sensation to sensation focussing on what is most compelling. We smell the eucalyptus, feel our foot on the ground, hear the raven, feel the slight breeze our body creates as it moves through space, hear the truck as it barrels by. Without hanging on to any sensation or getting lost in thought we stay focused on the present moment. Rather than trying to avoid some sensations and hang on to other sensations we challenge ourselves to use everything as a meditation object. Now and then we may wish to deepen the meditation by throwing in a Zen koan, or meditation question, such as, who is walking?
Walking meditation is a good practice for new meditators who are uncomfortable sitting still and have difficulty concentrating. Using the sensations experienced while walking makes it easier for us to remain aware then when we are sitting with eyes closed in stillness. While sitting we can easily get lost in a daydream for a long time without realizing we’ve left the present moment. One the other hand, when we loose focus while walking we teeter and wobble, which brings us right back to the moment. Walking meditation is also a great practice when we feel angry or any are experiencing other strong emotions. The physical movement helps dissipate the emotion so it doesn’t get stuck in our body. Walking is really a threefer!
In order to stay focused on the present moment while walking it may be easier to walk alone. It’s a time to put away the cell phone and take a temporary vacation from all the lists and worries of our busy lives. Although spending time alone and turning inward is necessary to meditation, we can be alone with a friend if they are also meditating while walking. In fact, it can be really sweet to meditate with a friend this way. Although sharing solitude with another sounds contradictory, there is a special closeness created by turning within while in the company of others. The main objective is to stay focused on our own experience, our present moment. We become friends on the path.
The Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote a little book on walking meditation. In it he said, “People usually consider walking on water or on thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize; a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child-or our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” Walking with awareness helps us remember the miracle of life all around us. It takes us out of the perpetual loop our mind amuses itself with and brings us back to the present moment.
Walking meditation is a simple, powerful way to reconnect with the present moment, where wonders await and refreshment is ever present.