Walking in the early morning when there is still a chill in the air left over from the night before, everything feels fresh with possibility. I walk over damp, musky leaves, past the peeling bark of eucalyptus trees, past grape vines in straight rows moving towards the horizon, ubiquitous blackberry bushes covered with red and purple fruit and blue misty mountains in the background. The delicious air on my cheeks like ice cream, the fog clinging to the hills and caw of the crow, never cease to put me in a state of wonder. Henry David Thoreau wrote,
An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
As pastoral as the Sonoma countryside is, I’ve experienced the same wonder while walking in a Los Angeles suburb past shop windows enticing me in to buy their goods, the smell of tortillas cooking in food trucks, sidewalks cracked in jagged patterns with intrepid little plants making their way up to the sun, news stands and people walking briskly. A walk in the city is filled with the miracle of being alive on a planet, the miracle of having a body that sees, smells, hears and feels just as poignantly as a walk in the country. It doesn’t matter where we’re walking when we are truly unconditionally present we are dancing with the mystery all around us.
The first formal walking meditation I learned was vipassana. In that form of walking meditation we continually bring awareness back to the body much the same way we bring awareness back to the breath while sitting. Our awareness is present with the foot as it lifts, moves forward than touches the ground. We feel the intention to move and we feel the body as it travels through cool, warm or neutral space. This form of meditation can be as precise as noticing each intention to move and all the details of each movement or as general as being aware of walking through space. While labeling in deep meditation we focus in on the minute movements of the mind and body whereas when we walk in a more casual way awareness is free and wider ranging. We are aware of sights and sounds without getting pulled in by them just as when we sit we are aware of thoughts and feelings while gently letting each one go as we become aware of their presence. We ask the question, who walks? As we travel on there are no sights, only awareness of seeing, no sounds, only awareness hearing.
Walking is life affirming. Thomas Jefferson wrote,
Of all exercises walking is the best.
There is no other form of exercise that compares to walking. While walking with awareness we experience our neighborhood in a fresh way. We can watch hawks making circles in the sky and stop to talk to neighbors. We can’t help but notice what our community needs and what it has to offer. Driving, or even running, through our neighborhood does not give us as great an intimacy with our surroundings. When we walk with awareness, stopping to talk with people we meet or taking the time to notice work that needs to be done on our streets, we become part of our community. We can use that information to create a greater impact on our surroundings.
In the city there are shop widows with manufactured pieces of other’s imaginations, human imprints on the environment, graffiti, flowers planted in boxes, random architecture, and the smells of perfume, cooking and urine. Can we put aside judgment when we find smells that don’t appeal to us and see them as part of the numinous whole? Can we enjoy the smell of jasmine without becoming attached to it? Walking on the beach there is the sound of the waves, the sound of children playing and dogs barking and cool, salty air. Can we put aside attachment to that which appeals to us and revulsion to that which we find distasteful and see everything as essential? Everywhere we walk we encounter different sights and smells- it is all alive! When we approach whatever we encounter with choiceless awareness we can enjoy the richness and endless variety of life.
There are other delightful ways to walk- walking with dogs, walking with children and with friends. A walk is a wonderful thing to share. Yet walking alone has its unique texture and rewards. Walking alone with awareness is different than walking with friends or walking while talking on the phone or listening to podcasts or music. Just as we wouldn’t meditate on our pillow while talking with a friend, walking meditation asks us to let go of distractions and be aware of our environment. We fine tune that awareness by staying intimate with our surroundings.
Take a walk by yourself. Put away all devices and experience yourself as part of the community. Feel the air, let the sights and smells come and go. Keep bringing yourself back to the present moment.
This article was not written by me, but by my wonderful mother Jacqueline Kramer
For more information visit www.awakeningathome.org