Allowing the inner Buddha to walk, working with Fran Bell, emergent knowledge

I’m sharing a beautiful article from Tricycle magazine, Walk Like a Buddha, written by Buddhist monk, teacher, and activist Thich Nhat Hanh about walking meditation.

For many of us, the idea of practice without effort, of the relaxed pleasure of mindfulness, seems very difficult. That is because we don’t walk with our feet. Of course, physically our feet are doing the walking, but because our minds are elsewhere, we are not walking with our full body and our full consciousness. We see our minds and our bodies as two separate things. While our bodies are walking one way, our consciousness is tugging us in a different direction.

For the Buddha, mind and the body are two aspects of the same thing. Walking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But we often find it difficult or tedious. We drive a few blocks rather than walk in order to “save time.” When we understand the interconnectedness of our bodies and our minds, the simple act of walking like the Buddha can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.

What this brings up for me is noticing where my attention is. When do I pay attention to my body? My answer has been: not often enough. It’s there all the time, so easy to take for granted. The external world seems so much more engaging because it’s constantly changing.

I walked habitually, without paying much attention (or rather with more attention on my destination than the journey), and as a result, I acquired some mindless movement patterns that actually created stress and tension in my body.

Fran Bell is helping me with that. She shows me there’s an alternative, and it feels so relaxed and healthy! I feel totally in my body. I enjoy it.

But I only see her for an hour a week, and although I retain some of what she shows me, I also become mindless again, some of the time.

The real learning is up to me. Influenced also by the book Effortless Wellbeing, I’ve been paying attention to my body when I lie down, when I sit (at my computer and in the car), when I stand, and when I walk.

Where do I feel tightest, most constrained? Can I just let go of that? Well, yeah!

Here are some of my new awarenesses:

  • Walking as a unit rather than as an assemblage of parts.
  • Feeling the left-right symmetry of my moving body.
  • Feeling the rhythm of walking.
  • Balancing my head easily atop my neck with minimal strain.
  • Balancing my rib cage easily above my hips with minimal strain.
  • Ankles, knees, and hips.
  • Feeling the natural springiness in my walk.
  • Feeling the side-to-side sway of my body.
  • Feeling the relationship between my hip and the opposite shoulder.
  • Letting my arms swing from my dropped shoulders.
  • Keeping my sternum in an easy natural place.
  • Keeping my eyes in a soft gaze.
  • Finding the most ease.

Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking—walking not in order to arrive, just for walking, to be in the present moment, and to enjoy each step. 

I notice that walking with mindfulness adds presence and pleasure to my life.

He goes on to include some instruction about adding breath awareness to walking medication. Here’s an excerpt I liked:

After you have been practicing for a few days, try adding one more step to your exhalation. For example, if your normal breathing is 2-2, without walking any faster, lengthen your exhalation and practice 2-3 for four or five times. Then go back to 2-2. In normal breathing, we never expel all the air from our lungs. There is always some left. By adding another step to your exhalation, you will push out more of this stale air. Don’t overdo it. Four or five times are enough. More can make you tired. After breathing this way four or five times, let your breath return to normal. Then, five or ten minutes later, you can repeat the process. Remember to add a step to the exhalation, not the inhalation.

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