If you’ve been doing sitting meditation for a while, you might want to look into walking meditation as a way to “freshen up” your meditative practice. This is the advice of Ajahn Brahmavamso in his instruction that I’m sharing below. I can attest from my own practice how helpful walking meditation can be. In fact, I almost always break up extended periods of sitting meditation with walking meditation. It is a kindness to the body, which needs to relax, stretch, and get some circulation going after a long sit. I also find that I have to become mindful in new ways when my body is so intimately involved.
Sometimes I go for periods of weeks where all I do is walking meditation. I do walking meditation in my apartment, in the hallway of my apartment (sometimes I’ve had to explain to curious neighbors!), and often in my beloved Berkeley Hills. Doing walking meditation in nature can be wonderful, but I often find it a struggle to let go of the naturalist and scientist in me, and learn to be present at a much deeper level than that of a nature lover. But with practice, even the sights and sounds of nature can be a way to gain insight into one’s mind and the arising and falling of sense perceptions and how we tend to grasp whatever we see or hear.
When I met my heart teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I discovered how valuable walking meditation could be, and how powerful. And of course, I’ll never forget walking with Thây (his students’ affectionate name for him) on a retreat, and seeing how a Buddha might have walked, with total presence and mindfulness.
If you are interested in learning how Thây teaches walking meditation, I highly recommend “Walking Meditation” by Nguyen Anh-Huong (one of Thay’s first ordained dharma teacher) and Thich Nhat Hanh. It includes a book, a wonderful instructional DVD, and 5 guided meditations on CD. Working with these aids almost feels like being right there with Thây on a retreat with him. I also recommend his “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.” Do give walking meditation a try, as Thây says:
“Walking meditation is meditation while walking. We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth. All our sorrows and anxieties drop away, and peace and joy fill our hearts. Anyone can do it. It takes only a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.”
For some immediate instruction on walking meditation, I offer the following from Ajahn Brahmavamso, a dharma teacher I have shared many times on this blog. As usual, the instruction is clear, simple, and touched with his wonderful sense of joy. (To make this a stand-alone piece, I’ve edited out some portions that refer to other teachings in a longer article.)
May you find peace in every step!
Walking Meditation Instruction
by Ajahn Brahmavamso
Walking meditation is beautiful, especially in the early morning. Often when one gets up early in the morning, in particular when you’re not used to getting up early, you’re quite tired and the mind isn’t bright. One of the advantages of walking meditation is that you can’t nod while you’re walking. You don’t snore either! You’re awake because you have to be. So if you’re tired, walking meditation is very good to do. It brings up some energy, and also you can get very peaceful.
Walking meditation was both praised and practiced by the Buddha. If you read the Suttas, (the teachings in the Pali Canon), you find that the Buddha would usually walk meditation in the early morning. He wouldn’t be sitting he’d be walking.
Many monks and nuns became enlightened on the walking meditation path. It’s a very effective way of developing both calm and insight (but not to the extent of Jhana). For some monks that I know in Thailand, their main practice is walking meditation. They do very little sitting. They do a lot of walking, and many get tremendously powerful insights while they’re walking.
Another benefit of walking meditation is that it is especially suitable for those who have physical discomfort in sitting for long periods. If you find it difficult to sit meditation because of pains in the body, walking meditation can be very effective.
So please don’t look at walking meditation as a “second class” meditation. If you want to spend most of your meditation time this way, please do so. But do it well, do it carefully. See if you can develop that happiness born of serenity as you’re walking backwards and forwards.
Setting Up Walking Meditation
Choose a clear, straight path between twenty and thirty paces long. This can be a corridor in a house, a path in the garden or just a track on the grass. Use whatever is available, even if it’s a bit less than twenty paces long. If it’s comfortable to do so, walk without shoes, enjoying the contact of your bare feet on the ground.
Stand at one end of your path. Compose the mind. Relax the body and begin walking. Begin walking back and forth at a pace that seems natural to you. While you are walking, place your hands comfortably in front of you, and rest your gaze on the ground about two meters in front of you. Be careful not to look around. If you’re doing walking meditation, it’s a waste of time to look over here and look over there, because that would just distract the attention from the feet, where it should be.
Attention on Each Step Rather than the Breath
In walking meditation, the attention eventually comes to rest on the foot rather than the breath [To begin] first reach the state of just walking, easily, in the here-and-now. When you feel that you have settled into the present moment, where business to do with the past and future is absent from the mind, then aim to develop silent walking in the present moment…Gradually let go of all thinking. Walk without commentary. Using skills of attention you’ve developed in sitting mediation, reach the stage of silent walking.
Once the inner commentary has slowed to a bare trickle of inner speech, deliberately focus your attention on the feeling of movement in the feet and lower legs. Do so to the extent that you clearly notice every step on the path. Know every left step, know every right step – one after the other without missing one. Know every step as you turn around at the end of the path. The famous Chinese proverb of the “Journey of one thousand miles” is helpful here. Such a journey is in fact only one step long — that step which you are walking now. So, just be silently aware of this “one step” and let everything else go. When you have completed ten return trips up and down the path without missing one left step and without missing one right step, then you have fulfilled Stage Three of the walking meditation and may proceed to the next stage.
As the attention increases you notice every feeling of movement in the left step, from the very beginning when the left foot starts to move and lift up from the ground. Notice as it goes up, forward, down and then rests on the ground again, taking the weight of the body. Develop this continuous awareness of the left step and then similar smooth, unbroken awareness of the right step. Do this throughout every step to the end of the path. Then as you turn around notice every feeling in the turning-around movement, not missing a moment.
When you can walk for fifteen minutes or more comfortably sustaining the attention on every moment of walking, without a single break, then you have reached the Fourth Stage of walking meditation, full awareness of walking. At this point the process of walking so fully occupies the attention that the mind cannot be distracted. You know when this happens because the mind goes into a state of Samadhi (Sustained Attention) and becomes very peaceful.
Samadhi on the Walking Path
Even the sound of the birds disappears as your attention is fully taken up with the experience of walking. Your attention is easily concentrated on one thing, sustained on one thing, settled on one thing. You will find this a very pleasant experience indeed.
As your mindfulness increases, you get to know more and more of the sensations of walking. Then you find that walking does have this sense of beauty and peace to it. It becomes a “beautiful step”. And it can very easily absorb all your attention because you become fascinated and peaceful, just putting all your attention on walking. You can get a great deal of Samadhi through walking meditation in this way. That Samadhi is a sense of peacefulness, a sense of stillness, a sense of the mind just being very comfortable and very peaceful in it’s corner of the world.
I started my walking meditation when I first ordained as a monk in a temple in Thailand. I would choose a path, and quite naturally, without forcing it, I’d walk very slowly. (You don’t need to walk fast; you don’t need to walk slow; just do what feels comfortable). I used to get into beautiful Samadhi states during walking meditation. I recall once being disturbed because I’d been walking too long. I hadn’t noticed the time pass, and I was needed to go to a ceremony in this temple in Bangkok. One of the monks had been sent to go and get me.
And I recall this monk came up to me and said, “Brahmavamso, you’ve got to come to a Dana”. I was looking at a space about two meters in front. My arms were in front of me, and my hands folded. When I heard that, it was as if hearing it from a thousand miles away, because I was so absorbed into what I was doing. He repeated, “Brahmavamso, you have to come now”. It took me about one minute to actually lift my head from the ground and to turn it around to the side where this senior monk was trying to get my attention. And as I met his eyes, all I could say was “Pardon?” It took such a long time to get out of that Samadhi and actually do anything quickly. The mind was so cool and so peaceful and so still.
I hope you experience this peacefulness for yourselves when you try walking meditation. Many people I’ve taught walking meditation to for the first time have said: “Wow! This is amazing. This is beautiful”. Just slowing down, you get into peace. You’re getting into calm by just watching the sensations as you walk. So this is one other type of meditation that I am suggesting to you, giving to you to experiment with.
Excerpted from “Using Variety To ‘Freshen Up’ Our Meditation”
By Ajahn Brahmavamso