Mindful Walking Meditation:
How to Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh – A Powerful Short Book of Wisdom
In my opinion, Thich Nhat Hanh and The 14th Dalai Lama are the two most important and wise teachers of mindfulness, meditation, compassion, and Buddhism in the 21st century. Below I will offer my interpretation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book. At the same time, I will attempt to distill his wise instructions about how to walk. The post will end with a short segment on formal walking meditation. My agenda here, is to write my comments so they may be useful to both lay and Buddhist practitioners.
Part 1: The Basics of Walking with Mindfulness
Here we’ll review instructions on how to make any walk a mindful walk. Settle in and take a few calmer, slower, deeper breaths. Use your intention to prepare yourself for walking. As you lift your foot, inhale; as you place your foot (heal first) on the earth, exhale. Remain silent – just breathe and walk. Deeply appreciate the solid mother earth under you. Focus complete attention on the act of walking, thus relieving your mind of the need to think, evaluate, associate,tell stories, etc. Concentrate fully on the present moment of touching the earth. You arrive with each step. Allow mind to follow body with breath – feel your inner peace and joy. Adding a peaceful smile may improve your experience of “just walking.” Reflect on your gratitude for your moving legs, beating heart, working lungs and being on solid ground. Allow your walking body to liberate your mind from the incessant tangles of daily life. Bring your attention back to focused walking each and every time your mind wonders off into something/somewhere else. Notice your inner peace – feel it gently. Value and respect it. Give great appreciation for your bodhisattva ways (helping others). You may want to imagine that you are walking with the Buddha’s fee – being one with the Buddha. Be one with the peace and joy of walking slowly, effortlessly, lovingly. Walk this way more often at work, at home, outdoors, etc. (See pages 1-50 for more details.)
Part 2: More Details and Depth on How to Walk
Notice great ease as you allow your breath to lead your walking body. Continue to concentrate of how the moving body/legs feel; this will reduce distractions in the mind. You may walk alone, with others, or imagining others are with you (ancestors, friends, people you love, the Buddhas, etc.). Feel their wonderful energies. Walk in honor of them and mother earth, and all those who have walked here before you. Since enlightenment and nirvana cannot be understood as mental concepts or perceptions, just allow the body to walk in mutuality with the breath, the mind, the earth. Bring full mindful attention to the feelings of walking; be the awareness – stay present and return your mindful awareness if/when it moves away. No past, and no future – just the present moment “here now.” Notice internally – there may be subtle or strong feelings of deep peace, compassion, and wisdom – even possibly love. As you walk, observe, feel, and appreciate everything that appears in the present moment of movement. Allow yourself to forget the past and the future – the past cannot be changed, and the future gives you little control over it. While walking adopt the Buddha’s view that practice is non-practice and attainment is non-attainment. Be effortless! Just walk – BE the moving body, the quiet mind, the inner peace, the silent joy. (See pages 51-97 for more details.)
Part 3: More Formal Walking Meditation
Building from the earlier parts of this post, prepare your intention for formal walking meditation practice. Complete a few calm, slow, deep breaths. Place hand/arms in front, behind, or by your sides. Hold your head level and allow a gentle gaze 2-3 feet in front of you. Pay close attention to the feelings in the body – lifting the leg inhale then placing the leg on solid earth exhale. Breathe the movement, peace, and joy – all in unison. If/when your mind distracts or goes elsewhere, gently and lovingly bring your focus back to just walking. No self-criticism. Be silent! Smile! Count your breaths if it helps. It will be more relaxing if you extend the exhalations slightly longer than the inhalations. This will activate your vagal nerve network and bring more calmness. You may want to add a brief mantra to your walking: “May I breathe and walk in peace.” Other phrases may help: “in and out,” “deep and silent,” “I smile and let go,” or “my wonderful present moment.” Make up what you want to say if helpful, or say nothing. Just concentrate on feelings of movement and touching the earth. Slow down; speed up. Walk at the pace you desire. Do what work best for you. Bring breath, mind, body, joy and self together – fully integrated in the act of walking meditation. Take personal refuge in your walking. Attend to the outside, but feel the inside. Be the walking; be the peace; be the joy! Hold strong gratitude for your walk, and appreciate all aspects of this meditation practice.
For best experiences, consider walking meditation outside in the natural environment.
Be like the Taoists; be in nature’s beauty. Enjoy! (See pages 99 – 117) for more details.)
Nhat Hanh, Thich (2015). How to Walk. Berkeley,CA: Parallax Press.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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