"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Take a Hike, Buddhy!

"Some people say that only walking on burning coals or walking on spikes or on water are miracles, but I find that simply walking on the earth is a miracle. "
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, "A Guide to Walking Meditation

"I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, 
works at about three miles an hour. 
If this is so, then modern life is moving faster 
than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 

This morning's meditation was buzzy.  
It was one of those days when even a few moments of a clear, calm and open awareness were greatly appreciated.  Most of the time I was immersed in the the high volume prattle of discursive monkey-mind. 
It seemed like I had chosen mantra practice rather than mindfulness practice.  Unfortunately, the mantra wasn't something exalted like the Tibetan Buddhist "Om Mani Padme Hum" or Zen's "Gate, Gate, Paragate" Today's mantra was the simple mental note "thinking thinking. " I had learned this long ago as "what to do" when I became aware during meditation that I was thinking rather than focusing my attention on my breath and allowing my heart's awareness to expand into the boundless realm of One Love.
Today "thinking, thinking" was repeated over and over.  

And over.  

And over again.

And Then

Fortunately, after the bells sounded, I had places to go and things to do around town.  Since they were all within walking distance, I could get some needed cardiovascular exercise as well.  It was a no-brainer.  I left the car keys on the counter and headed out on foot. 

I'm so grateful that I made this choice.  
I came to my senses as soon as I walked out the door.  The morning air was cool and crisp on my face.  The neighborhood birds were singing their praises to a clear blue sky.  Just opening to the sights and sounds and smells of the world altered the nature of my reality immediately.  I took a deep breath and felt my body moving down the stairs to the sidewalk.

Mindful of body and breath, awash in the sensations of sight and sound and smell, I was again made aware of the Ongoing Miracle of life as it isI felt a great gratitude for the practice of walking meditation in my life. 
 Sitting, Standing, Walking, Laying Down

Walking meditation is widespread among the various traditions of Buddhism.  Although in American Buddhism today many folks may consider only sitting meditation to be the "real thing," this has not always been the case historically.  In fact, there are four postures of meditation cited in classical Buddhist literature: sitting, standing, walking, and laying down.  There are ancient statues and drawings of each throughout Asia. 

At Monday Morning Mindfulness we practice the "slow walking" form of meditation that I learned at Insight Meditation Society back in the 1980's.  Focusing on the sensations of the feet and lower legs, moving very slowly and deliberately, a mental noting practice is used to engage the discursive mind in reinforcing that focus rather than drifting off into endless streams of thought.  The mental note can be as simple as "stepping, stepping" with each step or breaking down each step into three components.  I was taught "lifting, moving, placing," but over the years I came to use "lifting, placing, shifting"to accentuate the quite exquisite sensation of transferring my weight from foot to foot.  (I think that emerged as a result of practicing tai chi years ago.)

Of course, walking in extreme slow motion isn't really practical outside the privacy of the practice studio or your own home or back yard.  Although you may be able to pull it off in a public park as well, you may draw a lot of strange looks while walking down Main Street or at the mall.  

Thankfully, you don't have to walk in slow motion to practice.  Just getting out of our heads to place our attention on the sensations in our bodies, the contact of feet on the ground, and then expanding our awareness to include the visual, auditory, and olfactory fields of our experience can change the quality of our consciousness and alter the nature of our reality.  
This can be quite healing.  In fact, many folks I've talked to over the years who don't "meditate," who have told me how special "taking a walk" is to them.  The light in their eyes as they describe their experience makes it pretty obvious that they are Present to their lives in a qualitatively different way while out for that walk.
Take a hike, Buddhy!
If you want to explore "formal" walking meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a host of helpful techniques and insights into walking meditation in Walking Meditation: Peace is Every Step. It Turns the Endless Path to Joy.  It is now available with a companion DVD and CD as well.  There is also a briefer presentation in his article, "A Guide to Walking Meditation".  For those who identify with the Christian tradition, former Trappist Monk, James Finley, Ph.D. devotes a chapter to walking meditation in in his book Christian Meditation. There is also an interesting Christian approach shared by Eric Munro on the web at Christian Walking Meditation

The bottom line? 

Take a hike, Buddhy!

Although walking through the grandeur of Mother Nature along a country road is certainly quite wonderful, anytime we are on our feet moving through time and space we have the opportunity to get out of our heads and into our bodies, to come to our senses.  

Even getting up from your desk and walking to the door can be an opportunity to Practice.  You can feel the contact of your feet on the floor, feel the texture of doorknob on the skin of your hand as you open it. With Mindfulness that door may open into the Miraculous.

(I mused about introducing walking meditation for the first time to a couple of folks at MMM in "Step by Step" awhile ago. )

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