Walking Meditation is not simply preparation for sitting, and not merely something to do between the "important" work of sitting meditation while on retreat. No, walking meditation is a full-on mindfulness practice in its own right; one that the Buddha seemed to favor as he grew older and apparently experienced the pain of rheumatism. It is also one of Thich Nhat Hanh's favorite forms of practice; one he emphasizes often, even offering up a book and dvd on the practice.
When ordaining into the Tien Hiep Order (Order of Interbeing), established by Thich Nhat Hanh, one even vows to make all of one's walking, 'walking meditation.' One image Thay uses when presenting this practice is to recall the legend of the Buddha's first steps after being born: under each footfall, a lotus blossomed. Thay points out that often while walking, we are lost in thought, anxieties about the future, thoughts of the past, 'imprinting' our worries into the earth. With walking meditation, we can feel at home where we are, each step a kind of embrace or kiss of the earth.
There is the practice of formal walking meditation, where we walk slowly, sometimes as slowly as a full cycle of inhalation and exhalation with each half-step. OR, you can take a half-step as you inhale, and another half-step as you exhale for a more 'moderate' pace. If you wish to take up this formal practice, mark off a path (best to be at least 25 feet or so) that you will walk back and forth on at this slow pace.
However, it would be inappropriate to walk this slowly throughout most of your daily activities, but that doesn't mean you can't do walking meditation! I've even done it on Fifth Ave off 42nd street in Manhattan at lunch hour and no one would have known from just watching! Simply bring your attention to your feet, lifting, moving and being placed back on the ground while feeling your breath. Avoid manipulating the breath. You may find that you take 5 half-steps on an inhalation and 8 half-steps on your exhalation. That's fine. Some folk even count: "In-in-in-in-in; out-out-out-out-out-out" as they walk. If you find such noting or labeling is helpful, then by all means try it. If you find it gets in your way, let it go!
One way to work this into you life is to choose to do this as you walk to your train or bus. If you work in an office, you can do it every time you walk from and to your desk (on the way to the restroom for instance). When I walk to the cafe with my daughter in the sling, I often practice this way -- especially once she's fallen asleep as she often does almost immediately when carried in the sling.
I'd really love to hear from any of you who choose to take up this month's practice. Where are you doing walking meditation? How are you finding it? You can begin at any time and comment here whenever you'd like.
And remember, as Lin Chi, the Chinese Zen Master, is reported to have said: "To walk on water is not the miracle; to walk upon the earth is a miracle."
Walking Meditation Gatha:
The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But, on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
poep sa frank jude