“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” —John Muir
There are many ways one can train and focus the mind, but walking meditation is by far my favorite, and I think it’s also an important part of feeling more connected with the natural world.
Once, someone asked me what I thought was the most important step in developing a feeling of spiritual connection with the natural world and I said without a doubt, “spending time alone in nature.”
“Alone?”, she asked, obviously a bit startled by this.
I love walking with my family and there are many lessons to be learned from sharing in the experiences of nature, but it’s much more difficult to get into a meditative state with others around.
It has been longer than I care to admit since I was alone with my mind in a natural place, but today, I had the space to let my mind merge with the woods.
There are as many ways to do walking meditation as there are to meditate in general, but here are some tips to get started with one of my favorite methods…
Pick a route that you know well so that you’re not feeling constantly distracted by thoughts of, “Where am I?”
Know that it is ok to feel uncomfortable at the beginning as you find yourself alone with your mind. We’re not used to hearing our thoughts so clearly and it can make many people uncomfortable. It will pass as you begin to focus on your other senses.
Focus your mind on each of your senses in turn. It’s ok if your mind wanders to other thoughts. In fact, it’s only natural. Bring it back to the present moment by returning to the sense that you’re exploring.
Move through each of the senses in turn:
Hear the sound of your footsteps falling on the Earth. Dive into the sound. Do you hear snow crunching? The soft pitter patter of your feet on dirt? The crunch of leaves?
Feel the swish of your hips, the rise and fall of your feet. Notice the temperature on your face, the breeze on your skin, the feeling of your clothes.
Taste the inside of your mouth. Can you sense your surroundings at all with your tongue? Or maybe just what you had for lunch?
Inhale deeply and explore the olfactory world around you – are you in a fresh, pine forest, or did you just walk past a trash can? Smell your surroundings without being judgmental.
See the light reflecting on the ground. Notice shadows dancing. Stop and close your eyes for a moment and go through your other senses again. Are they sharper now? What happens when you open your eyes and see the world fresh in this way?
Naturally, you will have thoughts occur as you go through this exercise and observe each of your senses. Know that it is ok and you are not doing anything wrong. Understanding that thoughts come and are not a hindrance to your meditation is one of the reasons that we embark on a meditation practice in the first place — you begin to realize that your thoughts simply appear in your mind and can be observed. You are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts.
As you do this, you’ll also begin to realize, however, that the calmer and more connected you become to the moment, the more profound and clear your thoughts become. Somehow your brain begins to solve problems and devises clever ideas without you trying at all. The obsessive thinking is gone and clarity has room to emerge.
We can then benefit from these insights as we move back into our daily life feeling refreshed and at ease.
What is your favorite way to meditate? Do you walk as part of your practice?