You’ve probably heard that walking is good for you. It’s one of the most highly-recommended forms of exercise. It’s gentle on the body, and good for the psyche. The physical activity can get the juices flowing and even create a little endorphin high. Going for a walk is good for clearing the mind, and it’s also a great technique to use for controlling anger. Just being outside for a while and touched by the sky can lift the spirits. But this isn’t the kind of walking I’m talking about.
I’m talking about a simple practice called walking meditation. It’s different from regular walking, in part because the pace is slower. Its benefits are more profound than regular walking. It is a spiritual practice, and like many spiritual practices, the purpose is to support us in a different kind of awareness than our usual consiousness.
Our usual consciousness involves a lot of thinking! It is sometimes called our egoic mind. We use it to function in the world—planning how to talk to a coworker about a problem or new idea, deciding what to make for dinner, remembering a warm moment with a friend. As you can see, the egoic mind is usually oriented towards the past or the future. Don’t get me wrong—the egoic mind is useful, and developing a healthy ego, which includes a sense of being a separate self and other characteristics that ego psychologists have listed, is an important developmental achievement for humans. But it doesn’t stop there!
We are much more than our egoic minds, but unless we are remarkably lucky or have done a lot of inner work, we may not be aware of what that “more” is. Actually, we may not be aware THAT there is more. I believe that the midlife crisis is a waking up moment when we realize that the life of the egoic mind is not entirely satisfying. Perhaps we’ve raised a family or achieved career success. Relationships may have ended or they might be continuing, but somehow didn’t bring all that we hoped for. Maybe there’s a feeling that something is missing. A richness and aliveness that we remember life having when we were children. Or a sense of being at peace. There are many qualities to our being and to the nature of all that is that we might long for and sense are possible, but don’t experience as often as we’d like.
Walking meditation is a way to drop out of the busy thinking activity of the egoic mind and open our awareness to what else is true in the present moment. It can be a doorway into a more expanded awareness of reality. I’ve learned different forms of walking meditation over the years, at Naropa University, at Diamond Approach retreats, and elsewhere. I taught walking meditation as part of a meditation class I taught in Merritt, in which I introduced students to a variety of meditation techniques. I think having a daily meditation practice is very difficult, and also very important for developing our capacity to be aware of more than the egoic mind. I think it is so difficult that without a context such as a spiritual understanding to give meaning to the activity, and without the support of a spiritual community, it is probably not possible. But I could be wrong—if you disagree, or have had a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.
I stopped teaching meditation because I felt that without the support of a spiritual path, people wouldn’t be able to sustain their practice. But on the other hand, even meditating once and never meditating again might have a benefit. So I’ll invite you to try this for yourself, and see what you make of it. Whether or not you have a spiritual practice or want one!
Preparation: Choose a place to walk where you can walk slowly without worrying that people will think you’re weird. This could be in your home, or outside. Decide how long you’re going to walk for; I suggest 5 or 10 minutes the first time.
- Let your eyes rest gently on the ground about six to eight feet (two to three metres) in front of you. Soften your gaze so your eyes aren’t focused on the details. Walking at night is good too.
- Clasp your hands loosely in front of you, with your arms relaxed and hanging naturally. One way is to insert your right thumb between your left thumb and forefinger, so your left hand clasps your right thumb, and the rest of your right hand clasps your folded left hand.
- Bring your awareness down out of your mind and into your feet. Feel your feet. Feel how they feel in your socks and shoes, or sandals, if you’re wearing any. Feel how they feel making contact with the earth.
- Begin to walk slowly, keeping your awareness on the sensation in your feet. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your feet.
- At the end of the time you have set, increase your awareness to include the space in and around your body. Take a few moments to notice what you are aware of.
Blessings on your journey.