13 Masters on Mindful Walking
Take a stroll through 13 pages of walking meditation with Buddhist masters.
An American teacher of Insight Meditation offers basic instruction:
Pick a place to walk back and forth that is private and uncomplicated - one where the walking path can be ten to twenty feet long. If you walk outdoors, find a secluded spot so that you won’t feel self-conscious. If you walk indoors, find a furniture-free section of your room or an empty hallway. Then you can devote all your attention to the feelings in your feet as you walk.
Keep in mind that this is attentiveness practice and tranquillity practice, not specialty walking practice. You don’t need to walk in any unusual way. No special balance is needed, no special gracefulness. This is just plain walking. Perhaps at a slower pace than normal, but otherwise, quite ordinary.
Begin your period of practice by standing still for a few moments at one end of your walking path. Close your eyes. Feel your whole body standing. Some people start by focusing their attention on the top of the head, then move their attention along the body through the head, shoulders, arms, torso, and legs, and end by feeling the sensations of the feet connecting with the earth. Allow your attention to rest on the sensations in the soles of the feet. This is likely to be the feeling of pressure on the feet and perhaps a sense of “soft” or “hard,” depending on where you are standing.
Begin to walk forward. Keep your eyes open so that you stay balanced. I often begin with a normal strolling pace and expect that the limited scope of the walk, and its repetitious regularity, will naturally ease my body into a slower pace. Slowing down happens all by itself. I think it happens because the mind, with less stimuli to process, shifts into a lower gear. Probably the greed impulse, ever on the lookout for something novel to play with, surrenders when it realizes you’re serious about not going anywhere.
When you walk at a strolling pace, the view is panoramic and descriptive. When your walking slows, the view is more localized and subjective. If we could see running readouts, like subtitles, of the mental notes that accompany walking, they might look like this:
“Step . . . step . . . step . . . step . . .
arms moving . . . head moving . . . smiling . . . looking . . .
stopping . . . turning . . . bird chirping . . .
stepping . . . stepping . . . wondering what time it is . . .
thinking this is boring . . . stepping . . . stepping . . .
swinging arms . . . feeling warm . . .
feeling cool . . . I’m glad I’m in the shade . . .
deciding to stay in the shade . . . smiling . . . stepping . . .”
"Pressure on feet . . . pressure . . . pressure disappearing . . .
pressure reappearing . . . pressure shifting . . .
lightness . . . heaviness . . . lightness . . . heaviness . . . lightness . . .
Hey! Now I’ve got it! Now I’m finally present!. . .
Whoops, I’ve been distracted . . . Start again . . .
Pressure on feet . . . pressure shifting . . . lightness . . .
heaviness . . . lightness . . . heaviness . . .
hearing . . . warm . . . cool . . .”
Slow is not better than fast. It’s just different. Everything changes, regardless of pace, and direct firsthand experience of temporality can happen while you are strolling just as much as while you are stepping deliberately and slowly. The speed-limit guide for mindful walking is to select the speed at which you are most likely to maintain attention. Shift up or down as necessary.
Now, try a period of walking meditation. Start with thirty minutes. If you [have] a timer with a pleasant “ding,” set the timer and begin. If your watch has an alarm, you can use it as a timer. As you walk note how many times the impulse to check the time arises. Don’t do it. Just walk. This way, in addition to composure and attentiveness, you get to practice renunciation, a fundamental factor in awakening.
Excerpted from Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, reprinted with permission from HarperSanFrancisco