In LaGrange, Georgia we have a monthly community meditation. We make an effort to provide practice with different types of meditation to support the individual meditation practice of the people in our community. In April we participated in walking meditation. After twenty-eight years with my own personal practice, I am still amazed by what comes up for me. Spring offers us so many opportunities to connect with nature and our natural rhythms. I hope you will spend time outside, breathing and noticing and breathing again.
So, without further ado, here are my walking reflections.
Intentionally slowing my pace changes everything.
Certainly everything changes when I sit on the cushion. In sitting meditation everything stops. I physically change with my intentional pause. In walking meditation, the change is not as dramatic or obvious.
Initially, the slower pace is difficult. Our society honors busyness. The more stressed, the more things I can multi-task, the more I am in constant motion, the more productive, successful and important I am. Slowing is a deliberate and initially frustrating, endeavor. As my body realizes I have given myself permission to slow down, it relaxes into the new, slow and deliberate pace. I feel the letting go. I feel the happiness as I give myself permission to notice, breathe, walk and smile. I don’t have to move from work to cooking and laundry or to zoning out in front of a computer or television. I can stop and allow myself to enjoy my world and I can feel the physical healing that takes place when I do this.
Judging and freaking out blinds me to the experience of the present moment.
Usually in our walking meditation we walk in a relatively straight line on a peaceful path between the Episcopal Church and the high school. This time, people spread out. There were a couple of people who were new to walking meditation and I wasn’t sure they would know what to do, even though instruction had been given at the beginning.
As soon as I realized what was happening I went into what I have come to know as the “meditation instructor freak out”. What if everything is not okay? What if people are uncomfortable or confused or struggling?
This plagued me when I first began teaching meditation. Then it dawned on me that even if I could remove those struggles (which I can’t), I would be doing everyone a grave disservice. This is the very material of meditation. How do we learn to sit with our confusion and discomfort? These are not barriers to meditation and meditation is not a guard against them, but a tool to work with them.
When I was able to let go of what I thought was “supposed to happen” I created space for the meditation to unfold for myself and others.
The world is full of unexpected, startling things.
Community meditation takes place at the end of a long working day. Everyone who participates in our walking meditations comments for a few days on the unbelievable beauty on this small path. We slow down enough to notice small flowers and vines, to listen to the water trickling through the creek, to feel the earth beneath bare feet. And this experience rejuvenates and brings feelings of joy and connection. The world that is always right in front of us, but blends into the background, comes alive with our awareness.
It’s easier to see what others should do than to actually do it.
My husband was ahead of me on the path at one point and as I looked up I realized he’d stepped into some prickly burrs. I gently smiled and thought, “It matters less that it has happened than that he deals with it mindfully. “
But still, you should do it.
And then, moments later, I found myself in a patch of prickly burrs.
It’s funny how your first instinct is to just get away as quickly as possible. I was actually sorry that my husband’s feet hurt, but I was glad I’d just had his example. I took a breath, balanced on one foot, removed the burrs and then found that the patch was covering a larger area than I’d anticipated. I mindfully made my way through, rather than instinctively rushing away, which saved me some pain.
“Some things smell like roses and some things smell like shit.”
This is a quote by Pema Chödrön that has stuck with me, partially because I find her direct, western style delightful and relevant, and partially because it stops me in my reactive tracks. During walking meditation this metaphor became reality as I moved from the intoxicating smell of honeysuckle to the repulsive smell of something that smelled like a combination of dead animal and raw sewage. I reminded myself to remain present rather than react. What is this delightful experience like? What is this gross experience like? What am I like when I encounter these difference experiences? This is my life. I should experience it.
Deeply grateful for my community.
It was a small group that gathered that Tuesday night, but we ranged in age from seventy to sixteen; some long term meditators and some completely new to the experience. We never know who will show up to meditation, but it’s always a confirmation that there are others seeking connection with themselves, with each other and with this life we are living. And this is a pretty amazing gift.