By Dimitri Ehrlich
Anyone who has ever attempted to sit down on a cushion for 30 minutes knows that meditation is difficult. Most of the challenge, of course, is mental. Stabilizing our wild monkey minds isn’t easy, and penetrating deeper levels of consciousness is an endless challenge. But another thing that often interrupts our seated meditation practice is something much simpler: pain in the back or knees. Which is why walking meditation can be a wonderful tool for our spiritual practice.
There are many ways to practice walking meditation, but all of them have to do with bringing awareness to our breathing and our body while walking slowly. There are some practices that involve walking back and forth in a limited space. There are formal group practices done inside monasteries, and of course you can simply go for a walk in nature by yourself. If you are more open to visualization, you can imagine you are walking toward enlightenment—or what some Buddhists call “a Pure Land.”
One simple method of walking meditation is simply to count how many steps you take for each inhalation, and how many you take as you exhale. The goal is not to control the pace of your breathing or walking. Just walk and breathe at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Your pace may change if you are walking uphill or down, and if your energy waxes or wanes. The point is simply to bring complete awareness to our bodies as we breathe and walk—two activities that we normally do on autopilot.
In our usual way of walking, we may dawdle, dragging our feet if we’re on our way to a meeting we’d rather not attend. We may walk like a weary donkey dragging ourselves uphill on a hot day. Or we might find our pace expresses impatience and aggression, especially if we’re late for an appointment. Sometimes the habit of walking in a hurry is just that: a habit.
Often our minds are focused on a screen in front of us, or distracted by thoughts about the past or future. Walking meditation is a way to bring the mind back into the body as an antidote to our habitual distraction.
Our breath can be like an ambassador between our body and mind, because it is directly linked to our mental and emotional states. When we’re tense, our breathing becomes choppy. When we’re nervous or excited, our breathing speeds up. When we’re calm and peaceful, our breathing deepens. By linking each step we take to our breath, we connect body and mind, and deepen our relationship to the world around us.
Some points to keep in mind as you practice walking meditation:
•Notice each step. Feel the sensations of the ground as your foot rolls from heel to toe, and as you shift your weight from one foot to the other.
•Become aware of your arms swinging, your hips twisting, and the feeling of wind or sun or rain on your body.
•Move in an unhurried way, grounded in the present moment. If you pass other people, meet their eyes with a gentle smile.
•Walk not as a means to get somewhere; instead, simply enjoy the process of mindful movement.
There is no right or wrong way to practice walking meditation. Simply relax, put away your earbuds and notice the sights and sounds around you and within you. When you practice walking meditation, there is no goal. The only destination is a peaceful mind. Wherever you find yourself, you have arrived.