Walking meditation acts as a bridge between formal sitting practice and daily life awareness practice because you have to maintain an awake and aware quality while you are moving.
In the sitting practice we get used to everything around us remaining still while it’s the mind that is moving. It can come as quite a shock to have to deal suddenly with all the changing sense impressions as well as the movement of the mind.
Walking meditation is an opportunity to deepen your awareness practice generally. It is different from ordinary walking in that it has no other purpose than meditation, so you are more likely to remember to be aware than in going about your daily life, when you have so many things to think about.
Once you have become used to walking meditation, you might find that having to walk about automatically reminds you of the practice. Walking meditation is a good practice to do on its own or to incorporate into the middle of a longer sitting meditation.
Start by finding a time and a place when you won’t be disturbed, where you can walk up and down or in a circle, either indoors or out. Intend from the start for this to be a meditation session, a time when you are concerned with being in the present moment and waking up rather than a normal walk where your aim is to get somewhere, get exercise, or have an entertaining time.
Take stock of your bearing as you walk. Use your experience of your body sensations as you move to bring your awareness back when you find your attention has wandered.
Walking meditation can be a way of expressing awake, attentive awareness, a sense of freedom of movement in space, and an opening movement of the heart. It can all be there in the simple exercise of walking calmly up and down like the Buddha in the forest outside his meditation hut.
As well as the body sensations, or instead of the body sensations, you can sometimes work with all the direct sensations that come through your senses. Usually, when we sense something we immediately tend to interpret it and perceive whole solid objects. However, if you let yourself be very simple like a child who has never seen anything before and doesn’t know what anything is, you tend to see colours and shapes and not be constantly identifying and naming things, telling yourself stories about them, and so on.
For example, if you hear a sound, it is pure sound and somehow a mysterious experience, but then you might immediately think ‘lots of birds – I wonder what is going on – they are making so much noise, is there a cat about?’ and so on. One thought leads quickly to another and you are off into speculations, past and future, judgements for or against and endless story lines that you are telling yourself. So as you walk, you simply bring your attention back to the pure sound itself.
Rest in the openness of your heart and the space of your mind and notice just the sound. This is not easy to do because we automatically add concepts, ideas, and memories to our bare experience. It is the same with tactile sensations, visual input of colour and shape, smells, and so on.
As much as you can, you are trying to be as simple as possible, just noticing the pure sensations. The reason for doing this is that it is a good way of waking up and bringing our awareness right into the present experience so we can understand its nature better. As soon as you feel you have got caught up in thinking, let it go and come back to the pure sensations.
Instead of looking all about you at this and that as one ordinarily tends to do when walking, keep your gaze steady. Gently keep your attention straight ahead without letting your thoughts and senses pull you out of yourself. Take in the whole situation around you as if it were coming to you.
In brief, as soon as you notice your attention has wandered, bring it back to the immediacy of your direct experience be it the sensations and movement in your feet, the wind touching your face, the rhythm of your footsteps, or the sounds of the birds.
If you can experience all this with a sense of opening your heart out into space, then all the better. As time goes on, this practice can deepen into letting go into the fundamental space of awareness beyond concepts, following the same instruction as for formless sitting meditation.
This is an extract from Lama Shenpen’s book ‘Heart of Meditation’. It is the first course in the Living the Awakened Heart Training and the book is sent to those who join the training. It is also available from Amazon.
The Living the Awakened Heart Training is a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training
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