“I had an hour to kill at lunchtime when I was away on business. The venue of the meeting was a big complex by the airport, a bit of a wasteland. Just building sites and the motorway. But I walked, slowly, to fill up the time. Then I saw the flowers. All along the hard shoulder were blossoms in yellow, red and purple. There were wild orchids, poppies, dog roses, thistledown – so incredibly soft – and then I saw the bumble bees. They were digging deep into the petals for nectar, and then moving on, buzzing from one plant to the next, ignoring me, the cars, the noise. I saw how perfect their colouring was, their furry bodies, their complexity, their intelligence. Me and the bees in a strange landscape, hurtling through space on the blue planet at 67,000 miles per hour.”
The words of a company director, away from family and routine work, suddenly becoming aware of his life.
Walking meditation is one of the most widespread forms of Buddhist practice, and has the advantage that it can be done anytime. It brings the meditative experience into our daily activity. The idea is to make the simple experience of alternating the left and right foot naturally into one that takes in all of the senses. Concentrating on our breathing and the contact of the earth with our feet helps to bring a sense of a true present. Normally when we walk we are consulting our watches or fixating on the destination. In walking meditation the goal is the walk itself.
Now and then we stop, and look at the patch of ground beneath. We examine the patterns it makes and feel who we are, in what times we are living and what other conscious creatures are sharing this space.
Walking meditation is simple, but so alien to the way most of us get about it feels odd not to relapse into the directed walking where the mind is projecting into the past or future. Often it is good to start at home, so as not to feel self-conscious. When we have selected the place, we divide it into 3 sections, and cross the room in a mindful manner. We may find we have not really noticed the details of the room as intensely as we do now. Another way is to walk in a circle, and then to bring circular walking into the outdoors, such as in a park, to remove the connection between walking and destination.
The Buddha described five benefits from practising walking meditation:
1. We are fit for long journeys 2. We are fit for striving 3. We have little disease 4. Our food and drink is properly digested 5. The composure gained by walking up and down is long-lasting.
Mindfulness can also be sought when doing routine tasks, such as washing or preparing a meal. We observe what we touch, its texture (the water, the food) and become aware of the sensations in our body and against our skin.
If the mind wanders we repeat : my steps are those of the most peaceful person on earth. I am healthy, secure and happy. All anxiety has gone, and I claim liberation.
It is not difficult. It begins with a single step.