Walking Meditation (written 2002)
Everyone has likely had the experience of walking somewhere, perhaps alone, and feeling at peace. It may be a day of sparkling sunshine, or enveloping mist. It could be a day when the heat bounced from your shoulders, almost palpable, or it could be one of those cold, crackling sort of days when the snow crunches under your feet. I’ve had this happen walking in sand near lakes or oceans, walking in the woods near my home, or even walking some quiet residential street, shaded by the spreading branches of trees planted generations before my own. The point is, it doesn’t seem to matter a lot where you are or what the weather. The coming together of natural easy movement, relative quiet and time to see and feel those things your body is experiencing right now, all this is enough to bring this momentary peace.
So, I was mildly surprised to find how difficult the practice of walking meditation was for me. In walking meditation, whether indoors or out, the task, as in sitting, is to slow down. Rather than cultivating stillness and turning to the breath, in walking meditation the student must learn to break down the process of walking and to focus, carefully, on each step. Lifting the foot. Moving it forward. Placing the foot, shifting the weight. It reminds me of the kind of surrealistic movement of slow motion photography or of deep sea divers in those cumbersome astronaut-like suits.
I learned walking meditation on my own, with the help of books, tapes and a distance instructor to answer questions via e-mail. And I found it very, very hard. In walking meditation, I found myself again and again in planning mind. “I will go to the end of the hall and then turn”, “I will walk until my toes touch that shadow before I turn.” And when I tried to practice outdoors, as was suggested, the changing terrain kicked off this fore-planning to a greater degree, and the impatient dances of our family dog and his confused whining at my odd behavior wasn’t conducive to concentration either.
But then I walked a labyrinth. And the beauty of this practice was allowed to unfold for me. Given over to the looping of the path, I had no need of planning and the movements of my body, the lift and place and shift of each step melded with my breath, and slowing down was simple and inevitable. I walked the labyrinth most often with others and yet the shuffle of footsteps was no more a distraction than the breeze or some days the rain on my face, or the sounds of the surrounding village.
Standing in the petalled centre I would feel both grounded in this physical body and soaring in spirit and no contradiction in this. At home, practicing on my own, I still most often prefer to sit, but the lesson of the labyrinth lingers so that in walking anywhere I more often allow myself to relax into my body and find there serenity of mind.