Walking meditation. Meditation in action.
Have you tried meditation? Many have. Many have failed. Meditation is more difficult to do well than a novice would suspect.
Walking meditation might be a good way to enter the practice of meditation. It is easy to practice. It enhances physical and mental well-being. It has no cost. It gets you outdoors (usually).
It is a practice found both in Taoist and Buddhist traditions.
One problem I have with meditation is my own physical inability to sit still for any long periods of time.
I may get some argument from “experts” on my personal take on walking meditation, but I see the focus in walking meditation is with my body walking. In seated meditation, the focus is on the breath.
This is eyes open meditation. You are not so much withdrawing from the world as with the seated form of meditation. Your are IN the world. (Yes, it can be done indoors too.)
You need to be aware of things around you – if only not to trip and fall – but aware of the sunlight, shadows, the wind, raindrops, bird songs, and even people or traffic. Being someone who is too easily distracted, I feel less guilty when my mind wanders in walking meditation.
You might think that walking meditation sounds like just taking a walk. If you walk from your home to the corner store to buy a lottery ticket, is that walking meditation? It could be, depending on how to make that walk.
In walking meditation, you need to be very aware of your own body. The first time I did it (with instruction) was in a wooded setting where we could walk for a half hour without encountering other people or signs of man. It was not an “interesting” wooded path, but rather just a dirt path through a fairly monotonous landscape.
The idea was, of course, mindfulness or awareness of our own self with a minimum of distractions. I suppose that a master of walking meditation could walk through the New York Port Authority Terminal and stay focused.
Walking meditation sessions are generally 15-60 minutes. They are not hikes. In fact, you could easily create a loop walk that takes only ten minutes and complete it several times.
In my first experience, it was used as a break between two sitting meditation sessions.
You could do it in a large empty room indoors. You might think that a large Gothic cathedral might be a good place indoors, but think of all those distractions – including the connections to other contemplative and spiritual practices. A shopping mall? I think not. That’s for exercise.
Wherever you choose to go, you should walk without a destination. Focus on being somewhere rather than getting to somewhere. It really is the journey and not the destination.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
from “Little Gidding” (No. 4 of the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot)
Most practitioners start by walking a bit faster than normal, and gradually slowing down to a normal pace and then even slower, until the pace begins to feel somewhat unnatural.
You certainly don’t ignore your breathing. You are mindful of it without trying to control it or have it control your walking. Your breath should be deep (from the diaphragm) but not so artificial that it takes away your attention. You can coordinate it with your steps. Perhaps as you inhale, step with your right foot and with the left foot, exhale. Again, if this feels like some kind of exercise, it’s wrong and it will take practice to do this without thinking about it. You breathe all day without giving it any thought – so it can be done. To do it with thought is harder.
Your eyes can be focused on the ground in front of you. Some people suggest walking with a kind of soft focus vision where the eyes relax and unfocus. Your vision is not blurred, but wide, taking in all around you, but not in detail.
There are many guides to this meditation – some online and others as books – that can formalize the practice and expand on the philosophy. But I suggest you begin on your own with these simple instructions.
I find that the woods in winter has a simplified landscape, and the cold air has a way of heightening my hearing that is helpful in my meditation.
4 thoughts on “Walking Meditation”
great post. I prefer to walk and meditate too, so you are not alone.
I agree that this is an excellent entry point into meditation. I also think that one should have a guide/mentor (I suppose minimally a book) in order to progress.
Good post. The Hahn books are all very good and in his writing you can go far beyond walking meditation. I think you are right about it being meditation in action.
I use the beach in the very early morning as my place for walking meditation – but the waves were an incredible distraction at first! You have to lose the beachcomber instinct in all of us to reach down and pick up the shell – do that on the walk back.
Hanh’s book is very good