I’m writing this post from a summer cabin my grandparents own next to the glacial river Jökulsá í Lóni. The weather is beautiful and birds are chirping all around. What a privilege.
I started my day by drinking a litre of ice cold spring water and then I headed off to the mountains, hiking to a high point above the cabin where I met a few little lambs and a ptarmigan still in winter clothes even though it’s already June. The scenery was and is breathtaking.
I want to write about walking meditation. Its a concept that I had difficulty grasping for a long time, but I feel like I’ve got a better understanding of what it means.
Especially after my 800 km hike across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, where I decided I would train myself to be mindful even while on the move.
Sitting meditation is a wonderful thing, but unless you live in a monastery or a cabin in the wilderness like the one I’m in now, you will hit snags in the practice. It may be travel, work, illness or lethargy, but we all hit a point where we can’t seem to find the time or energy to sit for an hour or two every day.
I think this is a fact of life. Nobody’s perfect, nor should we expect ourselves to be. After I consciously accepted my imperfection, I feel a lot better about not being able to stand up to my highest ideals every now and then.
That doesn’t mean that I allow myself to get lazy, far from it.
It means that I free myself from feeling bad when something that I can’t control breaks up my routine. And that freedom from constricting emotions actually helps me to get back on track faster than if I allow myself to wallow in self-pity and despair.
However, there is always a way to practice, wherever you are and whatever’s going on around you. If for whatever reason we feel like we just can’t sit still, or we can’t manage to concentrate, we can go for a walk.
Taking a walk, especially in nature, clears the mind and calms the nerves. This is, I believe, common knowledge, and we’ve all experienced this at one time or another.
This makes walking all the more ideal for meditation, although for the longest time I couldn’t figure out just how to do it.
First off, remove external distractions. Don’t listen to music or podcasts. Unless that’s the reason you wanted to take a walk, in which case listening to something is perfectly fine.
But if you want to meditate, just do that.
Then, do your best to remove internal distractions. Become aware of your thought-stream. Are you agitated? Serene? Neutral? Excited? Become conscious of your emotions.
If you’re out in a natural environment, find a place to sit down before walking further, just to center yourself.
Tune into your senses, hear the birds, feel the wind. Feel the sun on your face. Or the rain. Feel the rock under your butt. Feel what’s going on around you. If it’s not freezing outside, taking off shoes and socks and feeling the earth under bare feet is wonderful.
Tuning into sensations in the body is the easiest way I know for calming mind chatter and expanding consciousness.
Give yourself a few minutes for this grounding process.
Then when you feel ready, start your walk. Try to retain the tranquility of mind you discovered while sitting. Feel the pressure and support of the earth in every step, feel the air entering your nostrils and mouth, filling your lungs with oxygen.
I like to practice concentrating awareness into specific sensations, such as the breath and footsteps, and then expanding it into the entire body, allowing myself to simply experience myself and the world around me. No thinking, no judging. Just being.
The natural world is full of distractions. Birds flitting around, wind in the leaves, insects buzzing. Observe these with an easy mind. Don’t judge anything. Nature is our greatest teacher. If something seems fascinating, allow yourself to be fascinated. Take a look, touch and listen.
Then when you’ve sated your curiosity, go back to awareness of your breath and footfalls.
To be sure, walking meditation is a bit more challenging than sitting in silence, but with a little time and effort it becomes a wonderful way to continue spiritual practice, even when we think we don’t have the time or energy.
It’s also a bridge between general mindfulness and formal sitting meditation, a way of infusing the mundane with awareness.