It is no secret that we live in a culture of busy, where we lack time and processes focus on achieving what should be, what could be, what is not, or what was not, quickly that we forget what is. I know that I for one often, and quite literally, forget to stop and smell the flowers. Yet, in this culture of busy, is it possible to be with what is? Is it possible to cultivate presence?
Buddhist and Yogic traditions have been unfolding in the west now for over half a century, inspiring and enriching our culture in much needed notions of peace and joy, understanding and wisdom-based in compassion. Indeed, Global spiritual leader, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh eloquently emphasizes that “Most of the time, we are lost in the past or carried away by the future…”
Nonetheless, he too acknowledges that “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we being to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love” (2011).
This seemingly elusive path to enlightenment is actually attainable in our daily lives. We can indeed learn to be with what is. We can learn to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love, and to know that the unfolding of awareness, the awakening of embodied and relational energy and information flow within and between (Siegel, 2017), is possible: albeit, it needs a retreat to presence. That is, a coming back in mindfulness practice as cultivated through meditation, of which one such example is the practice of walking meditation, of which I will elaborate and explore in more detail.
The Benefits of Meditation on the Path to an Enlightened Day
The benefits of meditation, as based in eastern tradition are innumerable. Indeed, the cultivation of Buddha’s insight came from his early years of walking. As such, it was he who first taught walking meditation (Silananda, 1996).
Further, many great teachers such as Dipa Ma attained the first stage of enlightenment, that is true peaceful presence, through walking meditations.
In a modern sense, enlightenment is not merely the absence of physical, emotional, and social suffering, rather it is the presence of an integrated sense of focus, resourcefulness, and perspective that broadens resilience, nurtures growth, and creates an open state of mind that leads to a greater sense of compassion and respect (See Siegel, 2010, pp. 1-5). This then, a goal we may all aspire to in order to attain those much-needed notions of peace and joy.
Additionally, and more specifically, the benefits of meditation include:
- Slowed thinking leading to rest and thus the ability to “stop and appreciate what is here, what we have, and the deep joy in simply being” (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991).
- A liberation of mind that empowers one in continued change toward enlightenment. The more we intentionally practice presence the more instinctive presence becomes. Allowing enlightenment to become an intrinsic part of being (See Siegel, 2010, pp. 28-30).
- Studies in modern science (See Siegel, 2009; Van Der Kolk, n.d.; DeAngelis, 2014; Berkley, 2017) reveal that with the mindful practice of meditation there is an ability for our brains to physically reorganize past structures (known as neuroplasticity). This allows our brains innate ability to grow in:
- Higher functioning
- Physical regulation
- Emotional regulation
- Positive energy states including
- An ability to approach rather than to withdraw from challenge
- Further studies have shown mindfulness meditations to have demonstrable effects on immune function; that is of course, that which leads to preventative health.
The benefits of meditation cannot be negated, that it is only with repeated practice of mindful meditation that the unfolding of awareness, the awakening of embodied and relational energy and information flow within and between (Siegel, 2017), is possible. This is where our discussion of walking meditation unfolds.
Walking Meditation – An Invitation Towards Enlightenment
Walking meditation is a way to reveal the embodiment of the earth’s energy. It is the gentle, though steady, opportunity to the unfolding of awareness, the way to the awakening of embodied and relational energy. Through the practice of walking meditation, presence is cultivated and we begin to realize that true presence is available in any moment.
We begin to see enlightenment as attainable in our daily lives, that there can be opportunities to be with what is: to see what is deeply enriched in the true nature of life. Through practice, we “dwell in profound communication with life” (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991).
Further, walking meditation differs from seated meditation, as it is the cultivation of the “embodied experience in each moment, allowing you to bring your body, mind, and heart together as you move through life” (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991). Walking meditation allows us to “enjoy each step on the earth”, to bring a paradox to meditative practice, whereby practicing presence is no longer a cultivation, but rather an enjoyment, a peaceful pleasure.
The idea of walking meditation is that without destination or aim. It is to simply be in each and every moment. We are not walking toward peace, but rather in peace. There is no rush, no time, no craving, no need for uncertainty or expectation, and no focus on what should be, what could be, what is not, or what was not. Instead, to walk in mindful meditation is to be alive. To feel and to realize the beauty and majesty, the awe in what is freely given. Walking meditation is indeed for one to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.
Now… “Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2017).
- Take a moment to empty your mind. Stop. Breathe in then out, with long blissful breaths. If anything strong comes to mind that may have the power to interrupt you, now is the moment to write it down. Thoughts on paper can be returned after.
- Select an outdoor walking path of approximately 10 to 30 paces in length. We suggest outdoors as it brings us toward our connection with the earth. We suggest a short path as this removes the need for path negotiation.
- As you begin in a still stance, attend to the breath. Notice if it is heavy, quick, shallow. Begin to regulate the breath, in…one, two, three…out… one, two, three….
- As the breath regulates, notice your body. Is there a pit in your stomach, a tightening in the shoulders? Are your legs heavy, eyes tired? Simply notice with a nonjudgmental mind. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is.
- Remember the breath. In…one, two, three…out… one, two, three…
- With a slow and noticed pace, begin to walk. If you feel you are able, slightly raise the corners of your mouth forming a smile. With each lifting of the foot, breath in, notice sensation, feeling, what is arising? Remember, it is neither good nor bad, it simply is. With each downward placing of the foot, let go, breath out. What ever is, it shall be. In this moment, it is you and your breath – in…one, two, three…out… one, two, three…
- As you slowly move along your path, continue to mindfully bring presence to sensations that arise; notice, acknowledge, and then return to the breath. If thoughts arise, as they are sure to do, simply notice them, perhaps acknowledging them aloud. Perhaps following their path history: breathing, tightening, worry, “I need to”, “I should be”, “I was meant to”. With compassion, bring yourself back to your next step. No matter where your mind has been, or where it is headed, you still have right now. This moment… Just you, right here, in this wondrous place.
- You and your breath – in…one, two, three…out… one, two, three…
- If it helps repeat:
“Breathing in “I have arrived”; Breathing out “I am home”
Breathing in “In the here”; Breathing out “In the now”
Breathing in “I am solid”; Breathing out “I am free”
Breathing in “In the ultimate”; Breathing out “I dwell”
10. With each step, within each breath in, light surrounds, energy embodies you. May joy and peace fill your heart. May you feel the breeze’s kiss. May you absorb the colours of the earth, and may your moments reconcile body, mind, and spirit. Peace, I leave with you; peace, I give you.
As previously mentioned, it is only with repeated practice of mindful meditation that the unfolding of awareness, the awakening of embodied and relational energy and information flow within and between (Siegel, 2017), is possible. Consider this walking meditation as a daily practice in order to cultivate presence and to cultivate a grounded sense of being to your everyday life.
If this daily, or even weekly cultivation of presence seems, as it can be, too overwhelming, or perhaps if your mind finds it easier to cultivate presence among others, a more formal class setting may be more encouraging. At Celia Roberts Retreat in Brookfield, Qld, we offer meditation retreats throughout the year enabling you to experience and to learn how to cultivate presence in the company of a senior teacher.
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