The primary purpose of walking meditation is to completely enjoy the experience of walking. We walk all the time, but usually our walking is more like running. Our steps are often burdened with our anxieties and sorrows. When we walk in forgetfulness, we imprint our anxieties and sorrows on Mother Earth and on those around us. But when we walk in mindfulness, each step creates a fresh breeze of peace, joy, and harmony.
When we practice walking meditation, we do not try to arrive anywhere or attain any particular goal. Our destination is the here and now. The Buddha said, “The past no longer is. The future has not yet come. Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.” We do not need to put something in front of us and run after it, because everything we have been looking for—peace, joy, love, transformation, healing, enlightenment—can only be found inside us in the present moment. Where are we going? Why do we need to hurry? Where is our final destination? These are questions that help us put things into perspective.
The longer you practice walking with this connection, the more your heart will be softened and opened. Do not start with an unrealistic goal, such as practicing for an hour or so. But if you can take one peaceful step, you can then take two, three, four, or more.
Slow Walking Meditation
Stand in a relaxed posture, just like in seated meditation. Let your weight sink deeply into the ground, so that you can see yourself as a tree with deep roots in the Earth.
Keep your head and neck aligned with your spine by dropping your shoulders. Loosen your hips. Keep your knees bent. Loosen your elbows and your wrists. Your eyes are half open, looking down in front of you at an angle that does not bend your neck, so your neck is still relaxed and your head is sitting comfortably on your neck. Your eyes are looking down, but it’s a soft-eye look. We don’t try to capture anything in particular.
Breathe calmly with your belly. Keep a gentle smile on your lips.
Now, press your feet firmly on the ground. Shift your weight to your left foot, so that you feel like your left foot is sinking into the ground, and that the right leg is empty of weight. Now, shift your weight to your right leg. See if you can feel the contact between the sole of your right foot and the floor.
Now, as you breathe in, begin slow walking by bringing your left foot forward and placing it down on the floor. One inhalation, one step. As you breathe out, step with your right foot. One inhalation, one step; one exhalation, one step.
As you breathe in, feel the rise of your abdomen as you place your foot on the floor. As you breathe out, feel the fall of your abdomen as you make the next step. You may like to put one or both hands on your tummy as you walk.
Feel your weight being shifted from one leg to another. Be fully aware of the contact between the sole of your foot and the floor. When the contact between our foot and the floor is perfect, we are fully present.
You may experience some imbalance the first time you practice slow walking. Just allow your weight to sink into the ground.
When your foot kisses the Earth, kisses the floor, your mind also kisses the floor, kisses the Earth. The mind, the breath, the step, the gentle baby smile, all become one as we walk in this way. Our anxieties, our worries, our sorrows stop and rest with every step.
You can hold words in your heart as you walk. Holding words can help you to be more focused, more present, and more concentrated.
When you make a step with an in-breath, you can say quietly in your heart, “I have arrived.” As you make the next step with an out-breath, you can say. “I am home.” Or you can say “In the here” as you breathe in and “In the now” as you breathe out. Continue walking in this way for as long as you wish.
Walking Meditation in Public Places
Once you taste the peace, joy, and serenity that result from the practice of slow mindful walking indoors and in nature, you can practice walking meditation wherever you are. You can enjoy the steps between business meetings, or walking from the parking lot to your office, or in the subway, or at the airport. lt is important that you allow enough time to walk so you do not have to rush.
When you do walking meditation in a busy city, you can walk in the same way that you walk in nature. There are many more sounds and sights, but through mindful breathing and walking you can create a refuge for yourself, a little island of peace amid the noise and confusion.
Wherever you are, walk mindfully, arriving with each step you take, feeling the relaxation that comes with belly breathing. If you can synchronize your steps with your breath, do that. Otherwise, just let it all go. Come back to your heart, come back to your deep desire to relax, to be centered and calm. Allow your breath and your steps to flow naturally. As long as you can feel the solid Earth beneath your feet, your heart will remain open and you will feel your connection with the Earth and with all life.
When practicing mindful walking in public places, always breathe normally. Walk slowly, but not too slowly, because you do not want others to think you are too unusual. Walk a little slower than your normal pace and a little faster than indoor walking. In this way you can enjoy peace and serenity as you walk without making the people around you uncomfortable.
Adapted from Walking Meditation: Easy Steps to Mindfulness, by Nguyen Anh-Huong and Thich Nhat Hanh. Sounds True, February 2019. Reprinted with permission.
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