Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Value-Add Your Walk

Bamboo Forest by wmchuu

Last week we introduced the idea that most of us tend to take walking for granted. This, in turn, led to our going about in our daily life in a semi-autopilot mode.

We also started to explore the concept of mindful walking and ended with a brief introduction on how to try it at home.

If you indeed tried it for the first time out of curiosity, chances are that you probably found it confusing. Not because walking meditation is a confusing act per se, but because you may have found yourself wondering aloud, countless times, “What could be the benefits of this mindful walking?”

In other words, your mind was probably sending out a signal that it needs a clearer incentive of this activity. Otherwise, it finds no reasons to bother, let alone incorporating it in your daily living.

Benefits of Mindful Walking

If you are one of those doubters, you are certainly not alone. Having observed many novice practitioners, the author found that walking meditation did not get as much attention as sitting meditation because practitioners are not aware of the immediate and short-term benefits that walking meditation can give.

The need for immediate benefit is totally understandable given the fact that we are living in the age of distractions and shorter-span concentration (as exemplified in the quick-cutting shots we often see on MTV and the likes). The good news is, contrary to popular belief, there are immediate benefits of a mindful walk.

First of all, it starts with how we experience suffering. Buddhism explains that suffering occurs when our mind wanders into the past or the future. Neither a period five minutes ago nor one second ahead is the same as the very present moment.

Walking, obviously, is one of the most accommodating activities to help ground our mindfulness right into the very present moment, especially for new practitioners. With each noting of, “left, right, left, right (if you are walking fast),” or “lifting, extending, placing down,” we have something physical to firmly anchor our mind on and so many different details of noting (hot/cold, hard/soft, etc.) to help keeping our mind alert.

As a result, the immediate benefit of mindful walking is that it helps prevent our mind to fall into the usual traps of suffering, one that is caused by our mind dropping into the past or wandering into the future.

In a retreat, most often than not, our teachers would ask us to “slow down” in our walk. Initially, this almost always caused frustrations to city dwellers who are used to life in the fast lane. Be careful: slow, mindful walking is not the same as a lazy stroll on the beach that we tend to do mindlessly. While mindful walking is definitely slow, it is deliberate. Each step is performed with a clear purpose. The mental noting has to match precisely with the moment the action takes place as well. And this requires a lot of effort.

By slowing down, to the point of a complete stop in each step in some retreat, we would be able to feel, intuitively, that our life is nothing but a series of separate events, not unlike different static frames of a movie, one after another. This is the first step of our understanding of the Law of Impermanence.

On the side, we also learn that there is a “pause button” that we can actually activate in our life, at least for the purpose of slowing things down. You will also realize that, by slowing things down, you would be able to “see” and understand things much better. It is this ability to understand life better that is the true wisdom of mindfulness.

If discovering life’s true wisdom sounds a bit too far-fetched, at least consider mindful walking just for its practical benefits. Here are some of them as explained by Lord Buddha himself.

Lord Buddha on Walking Meditation’s Practical Benefits

1) People who regularly do walking meditation will have more stamina in long journey. This is not merely body-toning exercise, but mental training as well. We all need this kind of stamina not only for a long journey, but for many strategic and serious events in our life. And don’t you agree that life itself is a long journey?

2) Walking meditation brings stamina to sitting meditation. Those who have been practicing sitting meditation would understand the kind of stamina required for each sitting. There is no better way to boost up one’s stamina by having a walking session before sitting.

3) A balance of walking and sitting promotes good circulation and revives muscles. We all know that the shift of posture and the movements of walking revive the muscles and stimulate circulation, helping prevent illness. This applies to urbanites like us also who may have spent too much of our time sitting unhealthily in our cubicle at work. Next time you take a walking break, try incorporate mindfulness into it as well!

4) Walking meditation assists digestion and prevents drowsiness. Indigestion is definitely one important enemy not only to meditation practitioners but also to anyone of us who have to sit for a long time in one stretch, either at work or during commuting. The same goes for prevention of drowsiness. Woes to them who were caught dozing off at work!

5) Walking meditation helps build continuous concentration needed to gain insight. The keyword here is continuity. To unlock the true nature of things by mindfulness practice, we need a strong, continuous concentration. Every step of continued walking meditation contributes directly to your potential in gaining insight.

Mindful Walking in Your Daily Life: Tips and Technique

If you are intrigued by the idea of adding a dose of mindful walking into your daily life but somehow feel discouraged by the initial experience following last week’s article, don’t give up your hope just yet. Here are a few tips.

1) Start small. Pick the shortest distance that you have to go from point A to point B in your daily routine and starts from there. How about the first walk of the day, namely from your bed when you wake up to your bathroom? Repeat again at bed time as you walk to bed. It would become easier day by day.

2) Daily exercise. If you already exercise by brisk walking everyday, try turning off that iPod and tuning in your own body and mind. Note both your body movement and how your mind reacts to sensorial perception. Catch your thought as it is forming, note it, and let go. Then go back to the movement of your feet. If you are walking among nature, note any phenomena that come into contact with your sensorial perception, too, but do not dwell on any.

3) Disliked paths. When you are “forced” to walk the path that you do not like, either because it is boring, lengthy or otherwise, use mindful walking technique to manage that suffering. Bonus point: if you can maintain your concentration over a certain period, you could even derive pleasure from that otherwise boring walk. But that is just a negligible by-product of your path towards wisdom where happiness is certainly more sustainable than momentarily pleasure.

What would be your first mindful walking?

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