In my first substantial post on this blog, I mentioned that walking meditation is one of the foundational practices to support arriving home within ourselves. I’ve discussed it briefly in other posts, including this one about the calligraphy, “Peace is Every Step.” I also have reflected on how helpful it can be when my mind is quite restless and sitting meditation is proving to be a challenge. However, I haven’t yet described how I relate to walking meditation in detail. So, I figured I’d start by introducing it by reflecting on a few quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh.
It’s like sitting meditation, except you walk
Walking meditation is a lot like sitting meditation, so if you’ve read my post from a few weeks ago about sitting meditation, you’ve already got a great start. You should be able to simply adapt those same concepts to walking meditation.
My first walk
Walking meditation was actually the first practice I experienced with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village community. I arrived at my first meditation retreat (2011), at Magnolia Grove Meditation Practice Center in Mississippi, right as walking meditation was being introduced by Thich Nhat Hanh. The entire group of retreatants, over 1,000 people, then proceeded to walk in silence with calm and ease through a path in the forest. I had never experienced that kind of collective energy. It was like everyone was walking as one collective organism, and so as I walked, I had the support of every person around me.
I didn’t have to know anything about meditation to enjoy that kind of walking.
Dear reader, if you haven’t experienced walking meditation like this, maybe you’ve been to a concert or a sports event with over 1,000 people? There is a collective energy there too, and it is infectious. This is the same as walking meditation, although as you can likely imagine, the collective energy is quite different. Everyone concentrates on their steps with the purpose of enjoying the act of walking and being together.
Thich Nhat Hanh, who we call Thay for short, says the following in his book, No Mud, No Lotus,
If someone were to ask, “What’s the purpose of walking meditation? What’s the point? Why do you practice it?” There are several answers we can give. But for me the best answer is, “Because I like it.” I enjoy every step; every step makes me happy. There’s no use in doing walking meditation if you don’t enjoy every step you make. It would be a waste of time. It’s the same with sitting meditation. If someone asks, “What’s the use of sitting and not doing anything?” The best answer is, “Because I enjoy sitting.” If you can’t produce peace and joy in sitting meditation, then it’s of no use. It wouldn’t help you even if you sat ten hours a day. We have to learn how to sit so that we can produce peace and joy during the time of sitting. We have to learn how to walk so that we can enjoy every step.
(Nhat Hanh, 2014, p. 37)
So, it sounds like it’s a process of learning.
We learn to enjoy the act of walking.
I certainly do not enjoy every single step I take in my day. It’s not that I dislike my steps, but I’m not truly there with them to notice them. I am often not even really aware that I’m walking. Rather, my mind is already at my destination, and I’m planning what I’m about to do or say. Even though I haven’t yet arrived at my destination, I am already there in my thinking. This is especially true on a busy day.
Dear reader, I invite you to bring some awareness to this over the next 24hrs, 48hrs, or 1 week. Do you have a habit of planning or thinking about what you are going to do when you “reach your destination?” Consider this even during a short walk from one space to another in your home.
I certainly have a strong habit of mind that takes me into the future. Thay likens this to “running” in his book How to Walk (Mindfulness Essentials),
In every one of us there’s a tendency to run. There’s a belief that happiness is not possible here and now, so we have the tendency to run into the future in order to look for happiness. That habit energy may have been transmitted to us by our father, our mother, or our ancestors. Running has become a habit. Even in our dreams we continue to run and look for something. The practice of mindfulness helps us to stop running and see that everything we have been looking for is here. Many of us have been running all our lives. One mindful step can help us to stop running. When the mind is focused on breathing and walking, we are unifying body, speech, and mind, and we are already home.
(Nhat Hanh, 2015, p. 24)
So, it sounds like walking is a process of arriving home 🙂. Dear reader, in case you didn’t know, the title of this blog, “Arriving Home” is a direct pull from the first dharma seal of Plum Village from Thich Nhat Hanh, “I have arrived, I am at home” (if you want to dive in to this, go here).
I’m not convinced that I have a conscious belief that “happiness is not possible here and now” (as Thay writes above), but occasionally, I think that narrative might be running subconsciously. For example, if I know I have some chocolate cake to eat after dinner, during dinner it is possible for me to miss enjoying the dinner food because I’m anticipating the chocolate cake. So, in a way, there is some kind of belief that I will be happy only once I get the chocolate cake.
Of course, there are other times when this is not the case. I can have a beautiful meal and then a beautiful slice of cake. It depends on my frame of mind (and maybe on how delicious I anticipate the chocolate cake to be 😉).
Walking meditation is also a process of recognizing our habits of mind, or our habit energies, as Thay calls them. The interesting thing about walking meditation for me is that it can either be effortless and extremely difficult to bring my mind to the present moment while walking.
Often, it is precisely what I need in a moment of feeling some distress. I might walk out of my house on a cold winter evening, feel the rush of winter air on my face, and each step helps me to stop my non-stop thinking. I can truly arrive in the present moment and it is enjoyable.
Other times, my habit of running to my destination takes over. For example, earlier this week, I took a mindful walk on my own in the morning as a way to start my day. I was planning to write this post about walking meditation, so I thought, “Why not start my day with some walking to prime the system?” Funny enough, as I was walking, my habit of planning for the future took over. Instead of enjoying the walk, I frequently wandered in to planning what I was going to write about my walk. I missed most of the walk!
As I recognize this, I remind myself that any meditation practice is one that I learn and re-learn constantly.
As I change, grow, and shift what I’m doing day to day, I adapt my practice to that.
My practice responds to each moment and period of my life.
Walking on the Earth
I want to leave you, dear reader, with this final thought from Thay about walking,
Walking on this planet is a very wonderful thing to do. When astronauts return to Earth, one of the things that they’re most happy to do is to take a walk. Coming back to their home, they can enjoy the grasses, the plants, the flowers, the animals, and the birds with each step. How long do you think they enjoy walking on the Earth after they’ve returned from space? I’d guess that the first ten days are wonderful. But eventually they get used to it, and maybe a year later they don’t feel as happy as they did in the first few months after coming home. Every time we take a step on this Earth, we can appreciate the solid ground underneath us.
(Nhat Hanh, 2015, p. 14)
As spring arrives, please, dear reader, see if you can enjoy each step as if you are an astronaut that has just returned from a long voyage in space. See if you can maintain a beginners mind as you walk. Enjoy the smell of the fragrant earth and the spring flowers.
Know that it is ok if this energy of joy comes and goes. It is a practice.
As you notice your mind dwelling in the future or analyzing the past while walking, gently invite yourself to consider, “what would it be like to take my first steps on earth after not feeling the pull of gravity for a while?”
Allow yourself to rediscover the comfort of walking on this planet earth, the place you have called home your whole life.
If you haven’t practiced walking meditation before, even though I haven’t gotten too too practical in today’s post, I’d encourage you to try it out with just what’s written above. Accompany your steps with your mindful breathing.
See what you discover and above all, enjoy.
Nhất Hạnh, Thích (2014). No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering: Parallax Press.
Nhất Hạnh, Thích (2015). How to Walk (Mindfulness Essentials): Parallax Press.
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