Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Incidentally, this is a timely subject for me to be writing about, since I recently injured my foot quite badly! A few days ago, I was jogging in the evening, evidently not paying enough attention to my surroundings, and managed to roll over on my ankle in such a way that caused severe swelling, bruising, and a complete inability to bear weight. Ironically, during the first part of my jog, I’d been contemplating how much gratitude I have for my fully-functional, strong legs, and how free I felt running along the road. However, I then let my mind run off into thoughts concerning my computer issues, impending visa-run, photo essay plans, and Skype dates with far-away friends. Instead of being present in the moment, I was off in another world inside my head. Enjoyable, sure, but it prevented me from seeing the upcoming break in the sidewalk that, shortly thereafter, became my downfall.
My current experience of not being able to walk, feeling incredible pain, and needing to take pharmaceuticals to gain even a smidgen of relief have all added up to a larger question I know well enough to immediately ask myself: what can I learn from this? The answer came easily. I can learn to acknowledge the value of being present; to breathe slowly and deeply; to cultivate a sense of peace within. The intrinsic value of mindfulness becomes even more apparent when our physical bodies rebel against our higher cause.
I mentioned a few days ago that my mom is on a spiritual walk of sorts, presently trekking the Camino de Santiago. This is a long journey with full days of walking ending in blisters, aches, and pains. She tells me about falling into bed each night with sore joints and overworked muscles. Apparently, many of her fellow walkers are cursing their footwear nightly, while a few are even going barefoot! During our correspondence, I try to convey that she is in an ideal situation for practicing mindful walking. Although everyone’s reasons for doing a walk like this are individual, to me, the purpose of this type of endeavor would be to challenge myself to absorb all of the difficulties with a mindful awareness. When we encourage ourselves to perceive obstacles no differently than blessings, managing the ups and downs of life becomes easier.
When you walk, you are in touch with the earth, with nature, the wasps, the insects, everything. In a car or a train or a plane, you are disconnected. You walk to connect yourself.
– Satish Kumar
Even before leaving the house, I’ll often take 5 minutes to sit and meditate to center myself. What exactly does a mindful walk entail? Though the answers to this can be quite individual, a mindful walk usually begins with an easy pace, relaxed breathing, and focusing our attention toward one of our 5 senses.
Since I’m a visual learner, I usually start with sight. As I’m walking, I draw my awareness to what I’m seeing with my eyes: the colors, shapes, patterns, people, and landscape that surround me as I gently saunter forward. This immediately creates a strong sense of presence within my body and mind. There’s nothing to really ‘do’; it’s more about acknowledge and accepting the external stimuli as it is. Sometimes I spend only a few minutes focusing on my sense of sight, and other times I’ll spend the half an hour sticking with it.
From there, I’ll move on to sound. What am I hearing? This can be a really ear-opening experience if you’ve never tried it before. There are so many sounds in our world that we rarely acknowledge as we hustle about our busy day. One of the best things about a mindful walk is that we don’t need to have an idyllic setting in order to practice it; I’d even argue that the less peaceful our environment, the more we can actually gain from experiencing it through a mindful walk.
Noticing my sense of touch is always fun – feeling the soles of my shoes slowly meeting the ground, then lifting again; observing the fabric of my skirt or scarf brushing against my skin; or my hair waving against my cheeks. These are such little things that bring a feeling of calm to me. Changing our focus to smell can be enjoyable or challenging, depending where we are. Walking by a Thai restaurant making fried rice dishes smells heavenly, while a motorbike whizzing by, expelling putrid gas, permeates the air with unpleasantness.
Taste is not a large part of mindful walking for me, though I make up for it when I have mindful meals, something I’ll talk more about in a future post. Feel free to seize the opportunity to turn your mindful walk into a mindful walk with meals!
Mindful walking reminds us to slow down, stay present, and breath in our beautiful realities, no matter what they may. Even with my injured foot, I’m grateful for being able to practice mindfulness while lying down, and extending gratitude to the other healthy parts of my body. There are so many ways to incorporate mindful living into our daily lives, from choosing recyclable, eco-friendly products with a conscience, like the Soma water filter, to taking time to focus on experiencing each of our senses when we’re sitting, standing, or striding toward our future.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
– James Baraz