Chapter Three: Walking Meditation
In this chapter, I will explain the technique of walking meditation. Walking meditation has many of the same benefits of sitting meditation. Just as when we do the sitting meditation, we’re going to try to keep the mind in the present moment and aware of phenomena as they arise, in order to create clear awareness of the reality around us.
So the question is: "Why then do we have to switch to walking meditation? Why is it not enough that we sit still and do sitting meditation?" The answer is that walking meditation has several benefits that are not gained by practicing sitting meditation.1
First, through the practice of walking meditation, we become better able to endure long-distance travel by foot. In ancient times, this was a very important skill, as people often would have to walk 20 or 30 kilometres in a day. In modern times, however, because we sit so much – in a car, at the office or school, or at home in front of the computer or television, we find that even a walk to the store is too much of a hassle. Walking meditation frees us up from our dependency on automobiles and gives us the endurance necessary to travel by foot.
The second benefit from walking meditation is that it gives us patience and endurance to carry out menial tasks. Since walking meditation is a repetitive action carried out very slowly, it is a great test of one's patience. If we practice it on a daily bases it will increase our endurance in carrying out other tasks that we know we have to perform but find difficult due to their menial nature. Once we practice walking meditation we can overcome this aversion to such tasks.
The third benefit is that walking meditation helps to overcome sickness in the body. When we are afflicted by sickness or disease, even certain diseases that are otherwise incurable, it is said that through the practice of walking meditation certain types of disease might be cured, or at the least ameliorated. Meditators are said to have overcome many kinds of sickness in the body, simply through the practice of walking meditation. The reason for this is that, at the moment of walking meditation, one's mind is focused and one's body is calm and, through the slow, methodical movements, one is able to ease up the tension and stress in the body acquired in one's daily activities. So, just as in other martial arts or other methods of healing using the mind, walking meditation is something that, as a by-product, can help to heal the body.
The fourth benefit is the effect that walking meditation has on the digestive system. When we sit all day, when we never stretch or exercise the body in any way, we will find that our bodies ability to digest the food we’ve eaten is quite limited, and so much discomfort and disease is created by our inactivity. When we do the walking meditation, especially because it is slow and repetitive, the body is giving a chance to work through the food that we’ve eaten and digest it for the greatest physical benefit.
The fifth benefit, that which is most important in the meditation practice and the reason why we encourage meditators to perform the walking meditation before the sitting, is that the concentration that comes from walking, because it’s dynamic, lasts into the sitting meditation. One might find that by only practicing sitting meditation, one's mind is easily distracted in the beginning, and it takes a good portion of one's session to simply collect the mind. When we practice walking meditation first, our body and our mind have a chance to settle down without forcing them into a perfectly quiet state. So by the time we begin to sit, our concentration has much more strength and we’re already able to focus the mind clearly on the phenomena as they arise in the sitting.
So these are the reasons why we practice walking meditation as well as sitting meditation. Next, I will try to explain how exactly the walking meditation is performed. Walking meditation is performed with the feet close together, and the hands clasped, right hand holding left hand, either in front or behind the body. The eyes are open and one is instructed to look at the path in front about two metres or six feet out from the body.
The whole of the walking path, a line where one will walk back and forth, should be approximately three or four metres, or ten to fifteen feet, long. One begins with the right foot, moving it out one foot length, with the heel coming down in line with the toes of the left foot. Then, one performs the same motion with the left foot, passing the right foot to come down with the heel in line with the toes of the right foot, and so on, one foot length each step.
As you move each foot, make a mental note to yourself as we have been from the beginning of the series, using a mantra that captures the essence of the movement as it occurs. The mental note in this case is "stepping right” when we move the right foot, and “stepping left" when we move the left foot. One should walk, making the acknowledgement at the moment of the movement until one reaches the end of the walking path. Once you reach the end of the walking path, you simply turn around to walk in the other direction. The method of turning around is to stop first, bringing up whichever foot is behind to stand next to the front foot. As you do this, you say to yourself "stopping, stopping, stopping", being clearly aware of the fact that you’re stopping. Once you are standing still, say to yourself "standing, standing, standing" and then begin to turn around, as follows.
First, lift the right foot completely off the floor and turn it 90° to place it again on the floor, saying to yourself one time "turning". Here it is important to extend the word to cover the whole of the movement, so that the “turn” is at the beginning of the movement and the “ing” is at the very end of the movement. Then, lift the left foot off the floor and turn it 90° to stand by the right foot, noting just the same "turning". Then repeat the movements of both feet one more time "turning", "turning", and now you are facing the opposite direction. Once you are standing still again, you start the walking meditation again, first saying to yourself "standing, standing, standing", and then "stepping right", "stepping left", and so on.
The most important factor in the meditation is the acknowledgement of the present moment. When walking, it is important that one makes the mental note at the same time as the foot moves. If you say to yourself first "stepping right", and then move your foot, or you move your foot first and then say "stepping right", this is incorrect because you’re not really aware of the action as it occurs.
To make a proper acknowledgement of the experience, and to bring about the clarity of mind that we’re hoping for, it is important to move the foot as you make the acknowledgement, so that the “step” is at the beginning of the movement, as you take the foot off the floor, the “ping” is somewhere in the middle of the movement, and the “right” is at the end, when you place the foot on the floor again.
As you’re walking, if something comes into your mind, say a thought, a feeling or an emotion, instead of continuing to walk and letting your mind get distracted, you can bring your back foot up and actually stop in the middle of your walking path, saying to yourself "stopping, stopping, stopping" and then focusing on the new experience, saying to yourself "thinking, thinking, thinking" or "angry", "sad", "bored", "happy", "pain" and so on. Once the phenomenon disappears, you can continue your walking practice, "stepping right", "stepping left" and so on back and forth, walking until you come to the end and then turning around as explained above.
In general, we try to balance the walking meditation with the sitting meditation as far as time goes. So, suppose you were to practice ten minutes of walking meditation; we would then expect that you would practice ten minutes of sitting meditation to follow. If you were to practice fifteen minutes of walking meditation then you should also practice fifteen minutes of sitting meditation and so on.
This concludes the explanation of how to practice walking meditation. Please don't be content with simply reading this book; try it for yourself and see how it works for you. Thank you for your interest and wish you all the best in your practice.