“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead. Walk beside me… just be my friend” ― Albert Camus
What do you think about when you go for a walk?
What an odd question to ask. But, hang on a moment. What do you really think about when you go for a walk? If you are like me, you decide to go for a walk for the exercise; to walk the dogs (we have two); to be with friends or family on a day out, or perhaps to visit and see something new. You don’t go on a walk to think? Or do you?
I also use walking as a time to reflect on the life events going on around me. Work; the social activities; or even family and friends. But more than that, I also use it as an opportunity to be present.
What is the third approach (after exercise and reflective thinking)?
The walking meditation is one of the key elements of the MBSR – Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programme. Central to it is being present; being aware of the act of walking. You normally don’t think about where you are walking; where you are placing your feet; how you are placing your feet; how it feels to be walking and the affect on your body. This is the basis for the exercise.
So how do you do a Walking Meditation?
- Find a location. Find a place that allows you to walk back and forth for 10 to 15 paces. A place that is peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed. A slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it!. You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside. I prefer to be outside, but the choice is entirely yours.
- Plan your walk. Start walking the steps along the place you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, Turn once more and continue with the walk. What is critical is to focus on the component elements of each step you take.
- The component elements of each step. Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking the steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step. These are:
a) the lifting of one foot;
b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground. Then the cycle continues, as you:
a) lift your back foot totally off the ground;
b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.
You are focusing on the physical act of walking. Something we have not thought of since we learned to walk all those years ago.
- What do you do with your hands and arms? Whatever feels most comfortable and natural to you. It is not an exercise in holding your arms or hands in an unnatural position.
- Walking speed? You can walk at any speed, but the idea behind a walking meditation is that it is slow and involves taking measured small steps. That is why most people perform the exercise somewhere quiet, as seeing people walking slowly makes people uncomfortable. The most important thing for you is that it feels natural, not exaggerated or stiff.
- You will find you focus on something. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted. Perhaps the weight of your arms. I noticed when I did the exercise that my arms were different weights. Why? I was wearing a heavy man’s watch on my right wrist. I had never noticed this before. Perhaps your breath as you walk; the way your arms move; the sounds around you or looking more closely at sights around you, I noticed individual pebbles when I did the practice on a path. The glitter and sparkle of each stone.
- Finally, that damn wandering mind! No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will wander. Guaranteed. When you notice your mind wandering, don’t give up of get angry, but simply try again to focus it one of those sensations. You will find that will a little practice, you will be able to be more present when you walk and notice more.
I went for a brief walk today with some colleagues and as I walked along I noticed that there a nail on the path. I picked it up and threw it in a bin. Was I more observant than everyone else? Or was it due to the walking practices?
I leave you with the following quote, from one of my favorite books and films of all times.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”