Tag Archives: Insight

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a wonderful legacy left to us by the Buddha. It is a meditative form that can be used for many purposes – for calming and slowing down, for insight and looking deeply and also for healing. 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 walk more lightly on her surface and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint.

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. We slow down internally with the focus on breath, steps and contact with the earth. This is aided by another component we can add to walking meditation–a gentle half smile kept on your lips 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 and the earth. 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 take two or three slow steps, 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.

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 the important first stage of meditative practice, Samatha, learning to stop our busyness and mental agitations. When we come to a stop internally, then the opportunity is there to see deeply into ourselves and know the true nature of our reality.

First of all we must close the external doors of our preoccupations with judgements, ego-attachments and illusions; for then the inner doors to the heart begin to open. That is where Vipassana happens, deep looking and insight into the heart of ourselves and of all matter. Both arise in walking meditation, as we slow down internally with the focus on breath, steps and gatha. With the deepening of this internal silence, insight naturally occurs because in the present moment we touch our true nature and enter heart consciousness. From this consciousness we experience our interconnectedness with all, touching the Divinity in ourselves and others. In this consciousness all our relationships are shaped by the experience of oneness, for our relationships are with Buddha consciousness, with Christ consciousness, with whatever term comes naturally to you to describe the Divinity within all.

Walking meditation is also a powerful methodology for healing, as we automatically discard our distress and anxiety while we are doing it. If we closely observe animals when they are injured or hurt, we would notice that they retreat to a safe place and slow their breathing and metabolism down, so that their internal energies of healing are activated. They do not eat, remaining still and quiet they come to a deep rest and heal as they stop. This is all done instinctively; no one has taught them about Samatha–it is simply the first step animals take in healing themselves. If our modern medical doctors would learn this lesson from animals and the Buddha they could guide their patients to stop and meditate, enter inner silence and enhance the recovery process by allowing the internal energies of healing to arise. All of the components of walking meditation – Samatha, Vipassana and healing – become a single focus as we maintain our awareness of being in the present moment. We just need to practice it.

ian at brook

At the 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 takes my steps through a cedar grove, and I always feel 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.

Autumn Sunset

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, 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.

Buddha's Geet

Dharma Detective Investigates Great Difficulties

TOOLS: Center in Mindfulness
: Taking Refuge: Deep Looking/ Deep Listening
: Skills to Garden in the Mind
STAGE ONE: Locate Difficulty in Time & Space
: Sangha Eyes: Deep Looking/Deep Listening
STAGE TWO: Remember Feelings
: Use of Teachings & Practice
STAGE THREE: Deep Looking into Blaming and Complicity
: Understanding, Impermanence and Transformation
STAGE FOUR: Deep Reflection
: Learning Curve

Start by recognizing the mind-state that causes suffering, be prepared to stop and skilfully look deeply into suffering by placing it within a practice of mindfulness. Just these initial steps can prevent us from being hooked and taken down by strong emotions and wrong perceptions. The tools are not those of intellectual self-analysis where we rationalize our suffering away. To recognize the significant elements of our suffering we need mindfulness, concentration and insight. Above all else we need to locate in heart consciousness – that still place of calm that is available by first of all stopping and then centering in mindfulness. This is so your mind-state is calm and grounded for the investigation.

Your time of great difficulty – locate it. What happened, where and when? What was the time frame? What do you think caused it – was it something in you or were the causal elements also around you? Do your best to establish the nature of the different factors that caused you to suffer at this difficult time in your life. Know also that your perceptions and recollections of the situation may well be skewed, so it is wise to take refuge in sangha eyes, to find out from dharma brothers and sisters just how you were at that time in terms of your actions and reactions. In this first step of being a dharma detective there is the importance of being grounded, of deep looking and of relying on sangha eyes to remember clearly.
Christmas Dharma Talk

Stage Two takes the process deeper. You have recognized your suffering but do you remember how you felt at that time? Did you become overwhelmed by it all or did you apply the practices and teachings in any way? Were there dharma friends available to help you or did you not seek help because you had lost faith? We need courage with this part of the inquiry, for it leads to the very difficult next stage of looking deeply into how we tend to take refuge in blaming instead of taking refuge in the Three Gems. We have to be a “Hercule Poirot,” truly a dharma detective, for now in Stage Three we list in our notebook how we blamed – the other, the situation, the Buddha, Jesus – even God! How did you lash out during your suffering? How did you try to harm and discriminate against the one you hate and any one else who got in the way? Did you shut them out or run away? Did you seek complicity with someone to help share your hate?

We all love our dramas, so much so that we tend to seek out someone to agree with our suffering – but there is no support in that, as only deeper suffering ensues. Were you lucky enough to find true support, someone steady to direct you to a greater understanding of the particular hell you are investigating? Did you come to an understanding that blaming, punishment, shutting off, running away, seeking complicity – none of these are motivated by understanding and compassion? Did you begin to realize that suffering is impermanent and that understanding and compassion illuminates impermanence, that this is the way out? If you have these realizations then progress is surely being made.

The Fourth Stage is a process of deep reflection on what would you do now, if faced with a similar situation. From the investigation of your time of great difficulty can you identify a learning curve that will enable you to not repeat the same mistakes? You may see for yourself the value of taking refuge in sangha eyes to guide your perceptions; of taking refuge in the practices, mindfulness trainings and sutras for guidance in order to apply the energy of mindfulness to the energy of suffering. This exercise is a wonderful one that all of us can do. The practice of mindfulness comes alive as a highly strategic set of tools and skills to produce transformation of the suffering caused by difficult and painful circumstances. Life is full of crises, curve balls and disasters. But even so, we do not have to be overwhelmed, hooked and crushed by them. Mindfulness practice helps us. Understanding and compassion hone our skills so that we become excellent gardeners of the mind.

The importance of taking refuge is to make fully alive the reality that we inter-are. We are never alone once we realize that Interbeing is a basic law of nature and of the Universe. Our scale of difficult circumstance runs through a vast range. The suffering and pain can be from a divorce, a son addicted to drugs, loss of a job, the death of a loved one, childhood abuse or brutal discrimination. The suffering can also be there from the situation in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis. The dharma detective operates well in all domains – personal, national, international – providing an instrument to focus our mindfulness, concentration and insight to whatever difficulty we suffer from.

Ian is the resident Zen teacher at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in the west end of Ottawa, Canada. Teachings and dharma study are offered on Thursdays 7.00pm – 9.00pm.
Pine Gate Meditation Hall

Dead Children

Dead Children                                                                                                Ian Prattis

Published in Tone Magazine, Ottawa, December 2012

I want to talk to you about children who are no longer here. They are dead. Twenty children gunned down at an elementary school in Newton, CT. Children killed as collateral damage in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Congo, Afghanistan and in world-wide violence. We are all grieving parents to the world. The question we all face is – What Now?

In the face of grief we must feel it deeply, be hurt by it, taking time to feel the pain of the tragedy. Then come through, determined to make a difference. STOP: REASSESS: ENTER THE BODHISATTVA. Stopping requires calling in the support of wise friends, counselors and Sangha so we can begin to see clearly and give ourselves the chance to find ourselves. Stillness is needed, not social media distraction – for we now have to look for a new direction and leadership. To reassess the 21st century, we must look deeply at the factors involved in the Newton, CT massacre. We will see a complex, intertwined tapestry with the easy availability of guns and drugs, compounded by societal tolerance of violence through the worst that cyberspace and Hollywood have to offer. Plus the very serious common denominator shared by the killers stretching back to the Columbine massacre. This is the factor of mental illness in pre-adult white males who are caught in an identity trap that they escape from through violence and murder. This is their five minutes of fame that enables them to be remembered. They occupy a toxic landscape of “not love”, “not connected.” And this is what requires the attention of our mindfulness.  How do we begin?

The Christmas season has passed, yet we can begin there with a small reassessment that all of us can do. We examine our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that really make a difference. Begin by participating less in the expected excess of mindless consumerism of Christmas buying. I have taken that small step and no longer buy Christmas gifts. Instead, present donations and gift certificates in the name of family and friends to provide education for a girl in Afghanistan, rebuild forests in Haiti, provide literacy packs and mosquito nets where most needed. This then leads to the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of crisis, for it is already within us. That gift is Freedom and it involves stepping firmly onto the Bodhisattva path made clear by the Buddha and other great teachers.

It is time for the Bodhisattva to enter the 21st century as a paradigm and archetype for individual and collective action. This enables us to be rooted in our own sovereignty and deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that presently lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing – knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. Interbeing creates harmony and unity and destroys the ego. The second aspect is Non-discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion, and this combination threatens selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

How do we do this? We cultivate the energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always – at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. In this way we shape the future of the 21st century as we begin to live differently – here and now. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are in fact much stronger than we think. Enter the Bodhisattva is the guiding paradigm for our lives. I allude to Bruce Lee’s classic – Enter the Dragon – which brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, skillfulness and creative vision – but we are equal to the task. Nelson Mandela thought so. His 1994 inaugural speech laid out the territory clearly when he opened with:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us….

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.