Cultivate Peace, Joy & Clarity Through Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is a practice that I was introduced to in 1992, by the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was offered as part of a three-week retreat at Plum Village ~ Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in south-central France. What’s wonderful about this practice is that it takes something that most of us do everyday (walking!), and transforms in such a way that it becomes a tool for becoming more awake, more conscious, more peaceful and clear âÂ?¦ more ALIVE in the present moment. There are many variations of this practice. I’ll offer a couple of them here, and if you’d like to learn more, a good starting-point is Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful little book, “A Guide To Walking Meditation.”

We can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside. It’s especially wonderful along the banks of a river, or on a forest path âÂ?¦ but it can be done just about anywhere! So choose your location, and then begin by simply standing, in a balanced way, with your arms hanging down at your sides. Try to arrange your feet so that they’re parallel (neither pigeon-toed nor duck-footed), and so that you’re taking an equal amount of body weight on your right foot and left foot; on the heels and base of toes; on the inside and the outside of your feet. Play with this for a few minutes, noticing your habitual patterns, and ~ with an attitude of kindness ~ trying to bring more balance into how you stand.

Then, with your arms and shoulders still relaxed, hold one hand gently in the other, either in front of your torso or behind. Now, with an inhalation, take a slow, deliberate step forward. As you place that first foot gently down, imagine that you’re kissing the earth (with the sole of your foot, either directly, in you’re bare-foot, or through the soles of your shoes). With the very next exhalation, step with your other foot, again imagining it “kissing” the earth as it makes contact with the ground. So we’re coordinating our steps with our breath with our imagination: bringing body, mind & breath together âÂ?¦ as though we were creating a beautiful braid, from three silken cords. Inhale~step, exhale~step, inhale~step, exhale~step. This will most likely be quite a bit slower than you’re used to walking, and may feel quite awkward at first. No problem! If you’re patient, and stick with, little by little it will become easier, more natural âÂ?¦ and more and more delightful! You can also experiment with taking more than one step with each inhalation and each exhalation, but it’s good to start in this slow way. (As a way of unwinding our habit of rushing.)

Once you’re comfortable with this much, you can add to the visualization, in the following way: continue to imagine, when placing each foot, that you’re kissing the earth, and then imagine also that as you lift each foot away from the earth (to begin its next step) that in the place where that foot just was, a beautiful lotus flower blooms. So that as you walk, you not only ~ with your gentle mindful stepping ~ kiss the earth, but you also leave ~ in your wake ~ a long line of blossoming flowers! After practicing like this for five or ten minutes, or a half hour, notice how you feel âÂ?¦ And notice also how the world around you now appears.

Another way of exploring this practice is to say internally, with each inhale~step, the word “yes” âÂ?¦ and with each exhale~step the words “thank you.” So as we inhale and place one foot down we’re saying “yes” to life: to all its beauty as well as to the suffering that exists around and within us, and we’re opening our hearts to receive all that life has to offer. Then as we exhale and place the other foot down we’re saying “thank you,” expressing our gratitude for this wonderful human life, this human body, the trees and the grass, our friends and family; gratitude for this opportunity we have to be here, practicing, and for all the wonderful teachers & guides who have come before us. After practicing like this ~ yes, thank you, yes, thank you ~ for five or ten minutes, or a half hour, notice how you feel, and how the world around you is now appearing.

And feel free to share this practice with others!

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