About two years ago, I tried meditating for the first time in my life. It was not easy to shut down my mind and sit there in complete stillness of the body and the mind. I struggled in applying what I thought to be the concepts of meditation. My boyfriend on the other hand, seemed to enjoy it and it came easily to him. All other people that I knew that meditated, didn’t seem to have big problems either. I felt somehow excluded and like I just didn’t get it.
I never particularly liked meditating. I tried guided meditations, I used the app Headspace, but it did not really help. My legs would fall asleep, my mind kept on falling asleep, my back would hurt and on top I could not stop thinking. I had no problems in chanting “sa-ta-na-ma”, using mudras and thinking about what I wanted to do after meditating at the same time.
So, at some point, I just quit and only meditated for a couple of minutes during my weekly yoga classes. But somehow the concept of meditation always came back to me in books that I read, while talking to friends, during exercise and eventually in the yoga retreat we went to in summer.
My intention was to get a deeper understanding of the physical practice of yoga and become fitter. However, meditation seemed to be a big part of the daily schedule in the retreat and of course I had to try again just to fail miserably.
One evening, one of the initiators of the retreat talked about his life journey and what helped him to become the person he is today. He mentioned that the most powerful tool for him on this path had been the discovery of walking meditation. He met a Buddhist Monk living on the island, who introduced him into this kind of active meditation. The Monk was a business men himself, owning and managing several restaurants in Switzerland for over a decade, before he went back to Thailand to take care of his ageing parents. He then decided that there is more to life and became a Monk. He had a particular sense of humour.
“Life is suffering. We will all die eventually. Hahaha!”
– The Monk
What is walking meditation?
Walking meditation –also called the inner walk– is a spiritual practice that gives you the space to connect with yourself by walking for four hours a day on four consecutive days, in silence. In this particular case, it took place in a Buddhist temple on the island. The practice consists in walking from one side of the temple building to the other and back (like a tiger in a cage 😉 ), about 50 feet (15 meters) back and forth.
The Buddhist Monk founded the practice and has been accompanying walkers for the past few years. He introduces each day with a talk about the practice of meditation, the search for happiness and being at peace with ourselves and the world. Similarly, at the end of each day, he discusses the pains and gains with the participants. He also regularly “visits” the walkers and walks with them for a while.
What is the difference between walking meditation and other spiritual practices?
Spiritual practices such as meditation or yoga support the building of a relationship to ourselves in a calm and peaceful environment, allowing us to quiet some of the noise in our heads we are used to dealing with on a daily basis. Instead of avoiding the noise, walking mediation allows us to meet the noise. We want to connect with ourselves amidst the commotion of our minds. Instead of looking for peace and quiet, or a break from the weight of existence, we are looking for tools that can help us manage that existence more peacefully, and skills to apply those tools to our daily lives.
What is the difference between meditating and constant awareness?
The Monk liked to differentiate between meditating and constant awareness. Meditating is the process of becoming aware that you are thinking or lost in thought. Probably every one of us has experienced this when reading a book. After having finished reading a page, we notice that we have not been paying attention at all but were thinking about something else without really noticing. So, we have to read the page again. This process of waking up is where meditation starts. Likewise during the walking mediation, we wake up from our thoughts when we reach the wall and become aware that we have to turn back. This is the reason why we don’t just take a walk through nature but walk back and forth. This approach helps us in becoming aware and trains our observer (more on the observer below).
Constant awareness is basically level two of meditation. Once your observer has had some basic training in awakening and thus awareness, it will become easier to just focus on the movement of the body while walking. Similar to focusing on your breath in silent meditation, walking helps you to direct your thoughts to the overall flow of moving. You hear the sounds around you while trying not to judge them, you wait for thoughts to arise and then gently swipe them away. This is constant awareness.
Who is the observer?
I like to imagine that the observer is a mini-me in my head or sitting on my shoulder, poking me when I am lost in my thoughts again. The observer shows us that we are not our thoughts, but with a bit of training we can observe our thoughts. We can then decide whether we want to engage in them or just let them go.
Needless to say, I tried the walking meditation. I didn’t want to, but my boyfriend persuaded me, so that we can share this experience together. It was one of the best decisions during the holidays and certainly one of the best decisions of my life.
It took me 3 hours and 45 minutes on the first day to slightly understand the concept of the observer and constant awareness, but I made progress. On the second day, I struggled with many arising thoughts, hundreds of them, and at some point, it seemed unbearable. But after two hours of rebelling, my mind was liberated, and I felt peaceful and at ease. I was looking forward to the third day of walking, can you imagine! I walked and walked and walked and played with my mind, with my thoughts, high-fiving the observer after every turn. I finally felt like I understood meditation.
Being back at home, I try to meditate every morning with my apps. Needless to say that it’s working well every single day, I still struggle with my old problems. Nevertheless, I now know that I can meditate. This makes a big difference for me. I just have to be patient and accept that this is a rocky road. But remember, the alternative is so much more difficult!