“The mind can go in a thousand directions.But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.With each step, a gentle wind blows.With each step, a flower blooms.”
Walking meditation is, well, meditation while walking. It is an exercise in mindfulness, to achieve total awareness and being in the present moment. One technique to achieve that is to match our breathing with each step. If we take 4 steps breathing in, be aware of that, thinking “In-in-in-in”. If we take 5 steps breathing out, “out-out-out-out-out”. As a rule of thumb we should not take more steps breathing in than breathing out, because we should be expelling more stale air when we breathe out. In this way, our mind and body become aligned and connected to each other. Too often we feel tired because they are not aligned – the body is doing something but the mind is thinking of something else. The feet are walking but the mind is already at the destination. The mouth is eating lunch but the mind is thinking of dinner. Misalignment of the body could be the cause of many ailments as well.
We walk all the time, but more often than not, our mind is not in tandem with our body. We are walking to reach a destination, to do things, to achieve materialistic goals. In walking meditation, we are supposed to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. We enjoy the walking- walking not in order to arrive, but just for walking- to be in the present moment, and enjoy each step. This can eventually be transferred to other actions in our lives – doing everything without thinking of the past or future, simply enjoying the act of doing and living in the present.
“We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind.Our mind darts from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and we are forever pulled along by them… If we can take every step in full awareness, our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us.”
Yes, I’m still on Buddha Mind Buddha Body. This book came to me at a very timely time. When my foot was at its worst, I randomly borrowed this book from a spiritual friend’s personal library, and the first chapter read: Two Feet, One Mind. It then proceeded to give a detailed discourse about the relationship between the simple act of walking and a person’s well-being.
Of course I have not reached that level of awareness and mindfulness a seasoned practitioner would . But I know what when the pain was at its worst, and every step was agony, when I would cringe and hold back frustrated sighs as I hobbled from one place to another, this concentration on the simple act of walking itself, helped. It helped to take my mind off the pain, and focus on my breathing as an extension of my movements. It helped to make me aware and thankful that I am still capable of controlling my body and thoughts. It made me enjoy the process (slightly more), the action of walking itself, and not get (as) frustrated that it was taking me thrice as long to walk from one place to another.
This week, for the first time in almost 8 weeks, I could walk without concrete pain in the leg. I could make it to the bus stop within the span of one song in my mp3. But even as I celebrate this improvement, I realize that I had forgotten to be aware of my steps. I had allowed my mind to wander, to think about other things, because the absence of pain had freed my mind to entertain other thoughts, and my body and mind were no longer as in sync with each other. It’s so ironic that the connection was more concretely felt when there was pain. I can see why ancient spiritual seekers (and modern ones too) would pray for adversities in their lives, so that they could use their experiences to bring them closer to self-realization.
Now that I’ve had a slight taste of what mind and body in tandem can feel like, my goal would be to sustain that connection, nurture it, and not let it go.