Walking sometimes just happens. Got to get to your car? That’s a short walk. Got to go to the corner store? That’s a longer walk. Walking is such an automatic process that you’ve probably texted while walking – without even thinking about either! Last time you walked outdoors, where was your head at?
Still, walking is something we do quite often. It can be a mindless activity that gets you from here to there, or it can be a distracted pacing. You could be speedwalking, or just late to get to a flight. For many people, it’s a daily activity.
What if you used walking to be mindful? If you find sitting still with your eyes closed to be a little slow, this is a slightly more energetic way of keeping your attention focused and your eyes open. Not that different from mindfully breathing (or gardening), mindful walking is an easy way to center yourself in the here and now. Even better, you’re less likely to trip when you’re paying attention to where you walk!
The goal of mindful walking isn’t to get yourself to a new physical destination. It’s to be walking and to put your awareness on walking. Unlike normal meditation where you sit or lie down, this form has a bit more movement. You’ll mostly be retracing your steps, so there doesn’t need to be a great deal of length to the walking space. Taking each step is like repeating a verse of a mantra. You’re repeating the activity over and over, drawing more detail as you let it fill your awareness. You’re all about the rhythm, the connected line of movements and the feelings they generate.
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It’s amazing how different you can feel when your mind is focused on what’s happening right now around you – especially in nature. When your mind wanders to other things, drawn out by using your phone or listening to podcasts, the whole world feels a little more frantic. While something’s happening here, your mind is also on things there. While you’re existing and traveling in the here and now, you’re trying to keep your awareness on something that is happening elsewhere and elsewhen.
Some time during this practice, your mind will probably wander. When you’re walking, this is something your mind is used to doing. It might let a thought pop up, or worry about the time. Anything can happen. The real goal is to be able to draw your awareness back to your practice.
It’s not an intense focus, like focusing on a task. This is just a time where you’re willing to set aside your thoughts and consciousness for a bit, to direct your awareness to a particular aspect of the world right now. If your attention wanders, just bring it back to the sensations happening right now.
Over time, you’ll find you can keep your awareness focused for longer periods of time without your mind interrupting. You’ll find it’s easier to bring your awareness to where you want it to be. Sometimes, you might have off days. Sometimes your mind will be a bit more intrusive. It happens. Just keep drawing your awareness back.
Start by picking the right place.
If you’re not used to being totally absorbed in something mindful while other people are watching, it might benefit you to start somewhere quiet and relatively secluded. Indoors, on your balcony, wherever you can string ten or fifteen steps together. If you’ll be worrying about what other people may be thinking, then get to a place where you don’t have to worry about them. When you’re just getting started it’s important to remove as many potential distractions as you can. It’s important that you make being mindful as easy as you can whenever possible. Don’t aid your distractions by letting them be there to distract you.
To settle in, get comfortable in your space. Look around and take in the room or patch of grass where you’ll be walking. Look along the route you’ll be taking, maybe walk it once slowly to get familiar with the ground. Listen to all the sounds, both around you and under your feet. Take in the scent of the area. Ground yourself in all the senses, one by one. Then, start your walk.
Walk the 10 or 15 steps to the end of your lane, then pause to breathe. Take some time to get centered in your breath. Turn carefully, then pause while standing again to breathe. Prepare yourself to really take in that first step again when you start your new cycle of steps. At the end of these 10 or 15 steps, pause again before turning. Take in each individual stage of this walk as you take in each component of each step. Fall into the rhythm; walk, pause, turn, pause, walk, pause, and on.
As you walk a bit more, begin to draw your awareness even deeper into each individual step. Take in each and every separate component of a step; Lifting one foot, moving that foot a bit forward of where you’re standing, placing the foot on the floor (heel first), shifting the weight forward onto the front foot, lifting your back foot to swing it forward. This cycle repeats over and over, with your balance changing throughout the movements. When you walk naturally (mind-lessly), you can sometimes count on your momentum to keep you upright as you go forward. When walking with this sort of mindful pace, you will be responsible for every shift of balance and movement of the feet.
Take slow, small steps. Don’t turn this into the Department of Silly Walks. You can walk at any speed that’s comfortable, but slower speeds give you a chance to take in each component. Smaller steps keep you from having to fight for balance. Repeating steps keeps you from needing to figure out what to do, or what you want to do.
You can clasp your hands in front of you or behind you, or just let your arms hang comfortably to the sides. Whatever aids you in this walk.
As you walk, let your awareness expand further. Take in all the aspects of walking that you may be taking for granted otherwise. Observe the way your head sits above your neck, or the pace at which your breath moves. Take in the bending of your knees, or how the ground feels as it rolls around your heel.
At some point, your awareness is going to wander. Whether your awareness wanders to thoughts or to some distant thing, gently bring your awareness back to what is happening right here and now. From thoughts about how much longer this will take, you might bring your attention to the feeling of your foot as it spreads out in your shoe when it is first being planted on the ground.
Integrate mindful walking into your daily life. For some people, this sort of walking isn’t particularly thrilling. I like to think of it as pacing with a pleasant purpose. The more you practice it, the more likely it is to grow on you, and the deeper you’ll be able to take this practice. Over time, you can bring this sort of active mindfulness to other activities, such as mindful gardening or mindful dishwashing.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!