Walking Meditation

I used to hate walking meditation as taught by my American vipassana teachers. The slowness of it was painful to me, and I rarely felt that I was doing it right. I practiced walking meditation between sits on retreat because there was nothing else to do. Then, while on a one-year retreat in Asia, I noticed that the Burmese yogis often walked fast, or at normal speed. They didn’t even always walk in a straight line. Sometimes they walked in a circle, or wandered. My whole idea of what walking meditation could be opened up to almost infinite possibilities, as did my relationship to it. Where I used to grudgingly use walking as a way to kill time or to set up the sittings, nowadays I use the sittings to set up walking. Formal walking meditation is just one step away from awareness during daily life activities, so I love the utilitarian aspect of it. I walk fast, I walk in the woods, I stop, I squat down, I stand still, I stare off into space… what I rarely do, though, is pay attention to my feet. I do breath-counting 1-10, starting over when I get lost, or I notice the breath at the mouth and nostrils, or I play with putting the locus of awareness outside the body, and watching as from above; I love walking meditation.

Here is just one creative way to do it, inspired by a Shinzen Young technique that Shinzen in turn attributes to Sasaki-roshi:

Walking with expanding and contracting energy

Set aside some time to walk without distraction. Decide in advance how much time to spend on this session and do what I call the “mental mezuzah;” imagine touching the mezuzah and saying, “for this period of time, I’m leaving all of my planning and worries with you. I’ll pick them up on the way out.” This conscious commitment, for a finite period of time, is the key to remaining relatively undistracted during the session. Without it, the mind worries that all of the important things that need to be done will never get done, leading to catastrophe. So you make a bargain with your “thinker;” you promise that you’ll get back to those important things, but for this 15 or 30 minute period, we’re going to let go of all that and just be present. It’s a mini-vacation.

The walking can be done outside, preferably when few people are around, or it can be done in your own living room. You just need 15 feet or so to pace back and forth. Walk at whatever speed is comfortable for you. Stop and start whenever you feel like it. Follow your gut, there are no rules.

Imagine an energy field around your body, something like a magnetic field or a cocoon. Don’t worry if it isn’t clearly defined.

Notice that in any given moment, the energy seems to be either expanding or contracting. It’s either moving outward infinitely toward the ends of the universe, or it’s pulling back into the core of your body. If it’s expanding, gently and silently note to yourself, “out.” If it’s contracting, gently note to yourself, “in.” At first it will seem subtle, as though you are imagining it. Later, it will be obvious and undeniable. Don’t rush. If you feel yourself tensing up, remember to breathe, and relax the tension.

Expect nothing. See what happens.

Kenneth Folk
January, 2010
(Revised, March 2011)