Last weekend The Happiness Compass ran its first, of many, Walking Meditations on the sands of Bondi Beach. It was a beautiful morning but why did we get together and practice walking meditation in the first place?
Sometimes in the west we tend to think of meditation as having little relevance to our everyday lives but this couldn’t be further from the truth and learning walking meditation shows just how paramount it is from day to day and from minute to minute. It shows us that if we can cultivate an awareness to be present even when we are doing mundane and menial tasks, and if we can more importantly cultivate joy from doing so, then we are already a step ahead when it comes to finding our happiness in all areas of life.
We are so accustomed to rushing through the shops, running from the train to the bus, or walking aimlessly from work to the car that walking mindfully is a big hit to the system. Concentrating on each step, keeping the mind focused and not worrying about the destination or the time is something so simple in principle but so difficult in reality. This is because we have years and years of built up habit energy and it is a struggle changing these old habits. The mind just wanders constantly as we have little awareness of our bodies, instead we choose to become a prisoner to our thoughts and running minds.
When you can walk and just walk it is a liberating experience and because it is such a common thread in society there is no reason why walking can’t be a vital tool in bringing each of us some peace of mind in this hectic and fast paced world. Imagine if you can find peace and quiet every time you walk - your days will be filled with great happiness, no matter where you are.
It is paramount that we develop the tools necessary to allow ourselves to better manage our thoughts and feelings, because we all have times when we are overwhelmed and feel under great pressure. If our minds are constantly wandering not only do we lose touch with reality but we lose energy fighting the constant bombardment of noise, this leads to negativity and a killing of our zest, passion, drive and positivity. By learning how to calm our mind and our bodies we find a tool that we can use through any storm or crisis, this can help restore perspective so we make decisions that are closer to are true self and not out of confusion and dispersion.
In Jon Kabat – Zinn’s book titled Full catastrophe living, he talks about some of the lessons of mindfulness.
I see these are all lessons that mindfulness and practices like walking meditation can deliver. If we could all master these lessons, we will most certainly give ourselves greater freedom to find joy in the simple things and in turn create greater happiness, not just for ourselves but everyone around us, our family, friends, students and neighbours.
When I first started walking meditation I really disliked it, it was extremely difficult which is strange because we walk every day, but never have I done so without thinking where I was actually going. I couldn’t fathom how everyone walked so slowly, it was just so uncomfortable to follow suit. But when I finally got some clarity and found some peace walking, it was like a heavy rock was lifted from my shoulders. We are all so used to walking with intention, thinking about where we are going, what we are going to say and another hundred things on our minds. Walking without thinking, just following your breath, feeling your feet on the ground and listening to the music of the birds is so uncommon in the western world that it is strange.
After some time practicing walking meditation I went on my usual bush walk in the mountains nearby and with a little bit more awareness of my wandering mind I began to observe things that I had never seen before. A big rock, a new trail, a small stream of water filtering down a rock face in the distance all came to my attention that eluded me on what would have been hundreds of walks before. I wasn’t stuck in my head, stuck in worry and anxiety; I was able to just enjoy a simple walk. I could hear birds singing and my feet thud on the ground below me, it was like I was walking the paths for the very first time. I remember looking up in the moment in the bush and realising how something so simple like walking can bring so much happiness and I couldn’t help but think about all the great paths I had walked all over the world with my head somewhere else - so was I really walking those paths?
Of course, it is easy to fall back into old habits and rush off for trains with our minds already at the destination. Forgetting the tress, the birds and the clouds and instead we choose to run with the stories we have created in our heads. But when we can create some sort of awareness of our body and minds it allows us to just enjoy the rain, the smells, the trees and whatever else is happening around us, instead of missing everything over and over again.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.” Walking gives us a simple tool that allows us to live each minute. Walking meditation allows us to gain clarity and see exactly where our feelings are born, it gives us a chance to let go of unfruitful feelings before we get caught up in them and they cause damage, over and over again. It allows us to recognise all the stress, strain, tension, and anxieties that wreak havoc on our bodies all day, and gives us the awareness to come back to our breathing, and back to life.
All of our ideas and thoughts lead us to behave and act in certain ways, our past experiences tell us we know everything and this stifles our creativity and imagination. If we learnt to live with a beginners mind and be open to new practices like walking meditation not only would we be less stuck in our ways but we would open ourselves up to new opportunities in the present moment, trusting it, without always trying to control it. We so easily get caught up in striving, but too often than not this means we find ourselves in the tomorrow’s and we miss out on the today’s. We always look ahead letting our fears dictate terms. Everything we do is for a purpose, an aim, a goal, we find ourselves always doing but never just being, walking meditation allows us to live more fully in the present moment.
Walking meditation is a powerful tool that lets us re-connect with our bodies and the present moment. Come down and join us at Bondi Beach at 8am on Saturday the 26th of November for another beautiful morning of walking meditation.
By Evan Sutter