When I first experienced mindful walking, I was on a weekend meditation retreat learning how to use various supports for my practice. Walking meditation wasn’t on the bill, but a few participants kept pushing for a session on walking meditation. It soon became apparent as to why this form of practice was not scheduled in. The course leader clearly did not practice walking meditation. When she took us out to the little park at the side of the retreat centre, she gave no instruction, but simply to walk slowly with our hands by our sides.
Later, I stumbled across the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose instruction on mindful walking is not only exemplary, but his teachings are a love song with instruction to ‘walk as if your feet are kissing the earth’. He encourages practitioners to use gathas or small verses, such as ‘I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell’. In this way, the practitioner can really get a sense of walking in an embodied way without destination. Instead, walking becomes the support for resting in the present moment, not as a means to arrive anywhere but in the here and now.
I soon came to really love walking meditation. The sensation of not trying to get anywhere, but to know I have already arrived was liberating. It became my main mindful movement practice.
Then I saw Anna Zubrzycki (from Mindfulness Association Poland) deliver a session on mindful walking and I was blown away even further. Not only does Anna incorporate Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise words into her sessions, but she takes things one step further. She encourages her practitioners to really notice the ways in which we interrelate with others as we walk and as we move about the world.
One of her sessions had the participants walking within various interrelating methods; such as, side by side, or choosing a partner unbeknownst to the other that they were chosen; group walking with eyes down, then with eyes up; one person leading, the other following. She instructed the group to notice preferences, attitudes, what was arising in the body: it was fantastic!
There are so many ways we can engage in mindful walking as a meditation practice.
This week’s mindfulness challenge is to incorporate mindful walking into your daily life. However, see if you can bring mindful walking onto the street. You do not need to slow your gate or chant a gatha, instead, see if you can stay with the sensation of feet on earth, breath in body, but also notice how you are interrelating with those you meet. Are you avoiding eye contact, meeting eye contact, falling into step with another, etc…Also, notice what is happening in the body in response to others, as well as noticing the quality of your thoughts as they arise in response to others.
To hear Anna give a bit of instruction on mindful walking, see her Street Presence video below:
To learn more about her work with Mindfulness Association Poland, see below:
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