Anxiety and fear provide the internal Coronavirus. It overwhelms practices to calm and meditate. It is often impossible to sit and meditate, but we can walk with normal breaths for 15 minutes – in our home, in our back yard or around our streets – making sure we honor distance from others.
We know from our experience of hikes in nature, or neighborhood walks after dinner, that sudden flashes of insight often arise in concert with our footsteps. We then see clearly how to handle a predicament or solve a problem. Imagine what can happen when we add conscious awareness to our footsteps. When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we actually have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body. When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice designed for our times. We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe. We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – we make a contract with Mother Earth to leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use. All from walking with awareness, our breath, our legs and noticing how our feet touch the earth.
With this concentrated focus of walking meditation there is very little opportunity for the mind to worry about past events or future anticipations. The meditation keeps us present, here in the moment of being fully alive. It slows us down step by step so that our mind enters silence. This is aided by another component we can add to walking meditation – a gentle half smile to nurture the peace and silence within. With the deepening of this internal silence, insight naturally occurs.
Walking meditation is a powerful methodology for healing ourselves. We start by breathing in and out with full attention to the in-breath and to the out-breath. Co-ordinating our breath with our steps we breathe in, saying silently to ourselves – “Breathing in” – as we take two or three slow steps. Then as we breathe out, we say – “Breathing out” – as we simultaneously take two or three slow steps. Practice this for several minutes just to get used to the concentration and the co-ordination of breath and steps and be fully aware of breathing in and out, and of walking slowly step by step. Sometimes you will take two steps, sometimes three or four steps, sometimes there will be more steps on the out-breath than on the in-breath. Allow the breath and lungs to find a natural rhythm with your steps. It is the concentration and awareness that matters, not whether you take two or three steps, but do remember to wear a half smile on your lips! If you take two steps with the in-breath, say to yourself –
“Breathing in” (on step 1), “In” (on step 2).
If you take three steps on the out-breath, say to yourself –
“Breathing out” (on step 1), “Out” (on step 2), “Out” (on step 3). As you take each step, you can add a concentration that brings you solidly into contact with the earth. Concentrate on your foot touching the ground in this sequence – heel, ball of foot, toe. This particular concentration assists you to be fully with your stepping on the earth, keeping you alert to earth rhythms.
At Carleton University where I used to teach, I would walk from the bus stop and take a detour around the greenhouses of the Botany department and come to the Rideau River that runs along one side of the campus. From there I had a kilometer of riverbank to practice walking meditation before arriving at my office building. It is quite secluded in parts and the river has sets of rapids that greatly enrich my walk. One section of the path took my steps through a cedar grove, and I always felt a sacred blessing from these beautiful trees. I slow my walking right down to a three – three rhythm when I enter the cedar grove. The path is never the same, as the seasons change its character. Autumn leaves give way to snowfall as winter leaves her embrace. My clothes and footwear change, yet my steps, breathing and feet touching the earth remain constant. The rustle of autumn leaves is replaced by the crunch of snow and ice, which gives way to the mud and rain of spring before the heat of summer allows me to walk in sandals or barefoot. The birds and foliage change with the seasons, as does the river – iced over in winter, turbulent in the spring and calm in summer and fall. Students with their books and friends congregate by the river when the weather is sunny.
I notice the changes in the seasonal round of nature, yet remain with my breathing, footsteps and the earth – so that I am not drawn into unnecessary thought. It takes me approximately twenty minutes to arrive at my office. I am in a clear, calm state and better able to be of assistance to students and colleagues and bring my own sense of calm and clarity to the university. On leaving the university I retrace my steps of walking meditation along the river before going home, or to appointments in the city. The experience engenders the same calm and clarity. This walk is Paradise, and a constant reminder to me for those occasions when I am not in touch with the earth mother. We do not need to walk on water, or over hot coals.
We simply need to walk on the earth and touch her deeply with our full awareness. That is all that walking meditation is.
Dr Ian Prattis is an author, speaker and Zen teacher. His recent books are found at his website www.ianprattis.com