There is something I’ve been meaning to share for a while: a walking meditation. This sort of meditation can leave me mesmerised and intensely happy. It allows me to experience the outside world in that state of stillness, balance and well being. It also gives me exercise and fresh air!
You can do this meditation anywhere whether in nature or in a city. It doesn’t need to be quiet or peaceful, but if possible find a walk that doesn’t require you to think about the walking itself, such as having to watch out for cars or other dangers. With a bit of experience that isn’t a problem either but a park or walk in nature is probably a good place to start.
I tend to try and still the mind before I start the walk. Sometimes I do a short meditation in my car before setting off but even just stopping the incessant thinking on my way to the walk is enough.
At the start of the walk, I try and find my walking rhythm. I do this by feeling my body and breathing quietly. I feel my toes and feet as they press on the ground. My calves, knees and thighs make themselves known and as I move up I feel the regular movement of my hips, torso, arms and head. Relaxing my tongue and releasing the pressure from eyes, I stop my mind from going off on its own. At this point, I pay no attention to my environment, even if there is beauty to be appreciated, I let that go. I need to find stillness first. Keep your eyes open, or else, you’ll bump into a tree or a person, whichever comes first.
If you have meditated before, than you know what a still mind feels like. If you haven’t then you’ll know it when your walking has reached a steady rhythm, your breathing is slow and long and your eyes are neither flitting around taking in the environment nor are they focussing on anything in particular.
If you are used to meditating with your eyes closed, as most of us do, then not looking at anything with our eyes open and stilling the mind may be hard at first. But we have all done it. It’s like those times when you are staring into space, lost in thought, except that this time, you have stopped thinking.
If you have difficulties doing this, don’t worry, the next stages of this meditation will make it easier. It shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes to find your rhythm and stilling your mind.
As you continue your walk in this relaxed manner, notice the sounds around you. Do you hear birds or the rustle of leaves? There may be cars or distant noise of travel, that’s perfect too. You will hear your own breathing and the step of your feet. Perhaps there are other people and children and you can hear them talk or laugh. Listen to all of this without judgement. Any sound is equally welcome and don’t get annoyed when a passing train drowns out the sound of a nightingale. The objective is to take in the entire sound canvas without picking out any particular sound. This is much like listening to a classical concert: each sound is part of the whole and is equally important. A hooting car is just another instrument in the composition and without it, the picture is incomplete.
You are still walking peacefully and every time a thought comes on, you let it go. Any thought triggered by a sound or something you see, let it go. If you find yourself distracted by such thoughts, redirect your attention to feeling your body, your feet, your calves and so on.
Having brought sound into our experience, we must now bring sight along. Look ahead of you. Observe the scene that is there. Your natural approach will be to analyse the scene. You may look at a tree or the road ahead of you. Perhaps there is a road sign or a rubbish bin. Try not to do this. You need to look at the scene as you would look at the TV or a painting. This is very different, when you look at a painting you will first look at the scene as a whole, only after a while do you start noticing the details. With this meditation, you need to let go of the urge to look at something specific. Don’t dart from one thing to the next to escape looking with such focus. This is hard at first and you may be straining your eyes to un-focus and then find that the scene blurs. Relax your eyes and try and se a few things at once. The point is not to focus on specific things but to look at them as coloured shapes and forget that they represent mind concepts. A car is not a car, it is a moving shape with a colour.
I find that it helps me to look at the world as an impressionist painting. See the scene as big brush strokes of colour, see the textured shapes. The sky is a big stroke of blue. Trees are daubs of green with course strokes for branches. A bin is a blob of grey next to a surface of darker grey that is the road. You will see the structure of these shapes. The vertical lines of trunks, the diagonals of the path you’re on, the rounded of wavy shapes of nature. A bird is a dot that pops into existence.
See this scene as a painting. Whenever your eyes latch onto a specific thing, it will trigger a thought about that thing. When that happens, un-focus your eyes again and reduce your sight to seeing the colours and shapes. Listen to the symphony of sounds and while you do that, look at the scene before you as a symphony of colours.
I don’t know if I can really convey the best way to do this meditation by writing a how-to. At least, I can recommend that you try this. Perhaps you’ll manage for short while to get in that state of holistic seeing and hearing. When you do, I promise you’ll see a world you haven’t seen before and surprisingly, more so if you are in a familiar environment. You’ll see it as if for the very first time. It’s like seeing the Niagara falls for the first time, or the first time you saw snow. It will leave you in that state of reverie that you felt when saw the Eifel tower after having longed for it for 20 years. You’ll have brand new eyes.
If you continue to practice this walking meditation, there will come a point when you will change your perspective on your relationship with the world. But like deep meditation, this is a state that needs to be experienced like a new flavour of ice cream. Feel free to share…!