The word meditation covers a wide list of activities and conjures up images ranging from yogis sitting in lonely mountain caves, to churchgoers in quiet contemplation or a kirtan group chanting sacred verses. What these all have in common is a focused awareness, which means being fully present in the moment.
Anything we do with awareness is a meditative experience so, if we live our lives with awareness, our whole life becomes a meditation. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are bombarded by other thoughts, taking us away from the present and into the future or past. Most people get to the end of their lives without realizing that they missed most of it! As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.
The most powerful form of meditation is to sit quietly, with eyes closed, silently repeating a personal mantra. This takes us beyond the distractions of daily living to reconnect with our true Self, which lies in the spaces between our thoughts. However, spending the whole day sitting silently isn’t practical for most people, so these meditations are best practiced for 20-30 minutes in the morning and evening. But, as we’ve already learned, doing simple everyday tasks such as eating, doing the laundry or working in the garden, when done with awareness, become meditative.
Moving the body is an essential part of healthy living. One of Chopra’s Six Pillars of Health is exercise and the easiest way for most people to include this every day is by walking. Much of the time, when we’re walking, we’re thinking about where we’re walking to, what we will do when we get there and numerous other thoughts from our daily life. How many times do you walk either talking on or looking at your cellphone? When was the last time you walked and just enjoyed the experience of walking?
Walking with Awareness
Being aware will transform your walking into a meditation experience. Obviously, this won’t be possible every time you stand up and move but see how different you feel during the times when you remember to do it. If it helps, you can have your attention on your breath, which is always in the present moment, or you can create a phrase to repeat, such as “I am walking” or “I am light”. When you notice your attention has become distracted, come back to your phrase or the breath.
A Walking Meditation in Nature
When you have the opportunity, set aside some time for a planned, walking meditation in nature, activating all your senses. As your attention will be focused inward, it’s important that you choose a location where you will be safe, with a minimum amount of non-natural disturbances.
At the beginning of your walk, take a moment to stand still and take a few deep cleansing breaths. Have the intention of detaching from your concerns, put your life on hold for the duration of the walk, silence your phone. As much as possible, walk slowly, at a steadily even pace. Decide what feels comfortable for you. Connect with your breath and be present.
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn said, “When you are fully present in the here and now, you make yourself available to life and life becomes available to you”. During the walk we’ll pause periodically and experience each sense separately and then all together so, before you start, decide for approximately how long you intend to walk and then divide this roughly into six parts. These will be your pause points.
Decide if you are going to observe your breath or silently repeat a phrase or perhaps a single word such as “I am peace” or simply “love”, while you walk. If you wish, you can alternate them during the different parts of the walk.
Begin walking with awareness. Whenever you notice you’ve been distracted, come back to your breath or word.
- First pause point, stop. You can close your eyes if you wish. Focus all your attention on your sense of hearing. Listen to the nearby sounds, maybe the wind through the trees, a gurgling stream. Listen to the distant sounds, the cry of a faraway bird, the roar of the ocean. Be aware of any sounds within your body. How many sounds can you hear? Fully listen for about a minute and then continue walking, remember your word or breath.
- Second pause point. Stop and focus on the sense of touch or feeling. What are you feeling? Perhaps the sun on your face, the breeze on your skin, the earth beneath your feet. Reach out and touch a leaf or the bark of a tree. How are you feeling emotionally right now? Returning to your breath or word, continue walking.
- Third pause point. Now be fully with your sense of sight. Look around you: what are you seeing, the close things and those in the distance? See all the different shapes, sizes and colors. Admire the beauty surrounding you. Then continue walking steadily.
- Fourth pause point is the sense of taste. Stick out your tongue, how does the air taste? Taste your skin. Be completely with your sense of taste. Lick your lips, what tastes are in your mouth? If you have any food in your pockets, put a little in your mouth and taste it fully. Spend a minute with your taste buds before continuing with your walk.
- Fifth pause point. Here again you can close your eyes if you wish. How many different smells can you recognize without moving? Now move and smell any nearby flowers or trees, pick up some earth and smell it, smell your skin. Continue walking, maybe repeating a different word.
- Sixth pause point. For your final stop, choose any natural object. It could be a tree, water, a rock, perhaps a patch of Mother Earth. Whatever you choose, experience it with all your senses together. Touch it tap it, how does it feel, sound? Look at it carefully, its different shapes, textures and colors. Smell it, imagine how it tastes. See if you can become totally absorbed with the object, feel as if you are merging with it. For a minute, nothing else exists except your object.
Before you finish, take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, be aware of how alive you are. Thank your senses for all the experiences they have allowed you to enjoy. If you wish, silently repeat the prayer given to us by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga asana practice,
Breathing in God comes to me
Pausing the breath God stays with me
Breathing out I go to God
Pausing the breath I surrender to God
Take one more deep breath and head home, with awareness.