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Walking Meditation

Today’s post is by Tim Leadem

I am not a good sitting meditator. I fidget a lot. My older bones aren’t necessarily geared to the traditional sitting postures associated with Zen or Tibetan meditation. And then, too, I suffer from monkey mind and sleepy mind. My monkey mind breezes along from one topic to another despite my best efforts to focus and let thoughts go. Particularly in a group meditation sit of the local sangha, I find my mind just won’t let up. “Is my stomach rumbling. I know I should have eaten something before this sitting. Oh, there goes poor Pat nodding off again. Is she getting enough sleep? Maybe I can give her some of my awake tea? Oh, I need to pick some herbs for a new batch….” And so it goes. At other times in sleepy mind state, I get drowsy and then will startle myself awake and looking around will wonder if I’ve been snoring. All in all, I am a lousy sitting meditator but will usually endure an hour or so of silence in the company of others in order to feel a part of community and later to see friends and catch up on the weekly comings and goings of our small group.

But lately I have not been sitting with the usual sangha. I remove myself from their midst for an hour or so and I walk. As I walk I find I often can get into a meditative state much more easily than sitting. I usually pick a trail that is well known so I don’t get preoccupied with finding the way. The pace is slow and is timed to the breath. Thus there is a focus on breathing and movement of the body. Oftentimes the path is simply back and forth across a lawn or wooded glade. The key is awareness. Awareness of breath moving in and out, legs extending and contracting, feet touching then leaving the ground. Eyes are usually focused upon the path right ahead and not darting back and forth. And everything seems to slow itself down.

At other times I simply walk without thought almost like a somnambulist. But I am not sleep walking. The state is something else altogether. I have found that even when engaged in long walks of several hours duration over several days in succession it is possible to walk in a meditative state. The pain of muscles and protesting knee joints seem to float away. Something intangible happens and the body is capable of travelling vast distances in a state where physical exhaustion does not arrive. A certain cadence and rhythm of the body is developed during these long walks. Use of trekking poles or a staff often can get the upper body involved in the whole exercise. The experience is like a dance not set to any music other than the internal beat of the entire being.

I first encountered this mystical walking when I was trekking around the Himalayas in Nepal. I met a sadhu in the upper elevations en route to Thorang La north of Manang in Nepal. Although the weather was cold, he was clad only in thin robes as he strode by me.  I marveled at how a person could be in such a state that seemed to be oblivious to cold, altitude or distance. On the other hand, I was walking slowly and laboriously in the rarefied air. Later I asked my sherpa guide about the sadhu whom we had seen. “He is a ghost walker. He hardly sleeps or eats but is able to walk miles in a trance.” Now I don’t profess to have achieved such a state of existence, but I have been able to reduce the sensation of pain and weight that is usually associated with carrying a pack over long distances. And I attribute this ability to what I call meditative walking.

I walked days on the Camino in Spain and the 88 temple trek on Shikoku like this. Although these long hikes all started one step at a time, the accumulation of steps builds up without keeping track. When I reached the destination—whether it is an albergue (hostel) in town or a temple on a mountain—I was often surprised to have gotten there so quickly or seemingly so effortlessly. Once again, the key to achieving such a state is awareness. Awareness starts with the breath and then builds up to encompass the body and whole being. Over time the simple exercise of coordinating breath and body movements transforms the body from a state where pain is at the forefront of the experience to an alternate state where pain and weariness can be shunted aside.

But back to the sangha. These days my group is used to my walking. In fact, some have joined me and, leaving the cushion and hall behind, seek the meditative state outdoors. It is not too hard to get into a habit of walking meditation. And I find that when I rejoin the sangha after a “walking sit,” I feel invigorated and alive.

July 07, 2018 by Tim Leadem
Categories: Contemplative Spirituality. Formats: Article and Friday Blog. Interest Areas: Friday Blog.

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