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A slow walk on a Saturday morning

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The last three weeks of work, the first three weeks of the new school year, have been a combination of 100% full on and 100% non-stop with piles of new classes, new computers systems and new lessons. So waking up on this Saturday morning I decided to be in NO RUSH AT ALL. Instead of a usual sitting meditation or mindful movement I opted to do something different and walked out the front door with having no particular aim, apart from to take my time. Walking with no goal is a luxury difficult to pursue during the week and so it is one I love to cultivate and indulge in at other times.

Slow walking is likely brings less clarity than sat on the cushion where formality and routine allow for occasional slightly deeper moments of awareness. But slow (as opposed to mindful) walking has a looseness to it that means it is easier to blend practice and ‘normal life’. So I can be aware of the feeling in my feet for a few steps but then be distracted by having to step aside to allow a man and his dog to pass and or by the noise fumes of a bus pulling away and only sometime later being able to return to more mindful walking. Even early on a Saturday morning there are people and events to contend with so that just walking mindfully is not possible. But this mix can lessen the feeling of getting it wrong that often taints my formal practice.

But slow walking isn’t a cop out and a lesser activity than others. I find it helps increases my ability to sense my own surroundings. This morning I walked toward the town centre and so I was noticing features and details I have usually passed by in ignorance.

There was a tree half down from this week’s winds

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And there was goal/ basketball net play area

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And the chestnut cases

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Slow walking brings a focus and appreciation to what is around us. We can feel happier in our selves and our environment. It heightens awareness of our senses and adds an excitement to our moment-by-moment experience. But what I really like is I when I find it having a longer and more noticeable impact on the rest of my day. After slow walking this morning and without planning to, I was just aware of the fall of my feet on the kitchen lino and later on the sight of a female blackbird shuffling on the garden fence.

Slow walking enables us to better watch both our thoughts and people whistle past us. We can probably see ourselves in those figures which also means we can have more empathy for other people’s packed and stress-filled lives as well as our own. It is the pausing and deliberate deceleration that allows awareness and mindfulness to arise. Mindfulness is there always, but we have allowed it to become buried under all those other thoughts raking over our past or planning our futures. Slow walking can help us reconnect with our own experience in this moment especially if it is combined with a regular formal practice of mindfulness. This in turn can bring contentment, a feeling of gratitude for what we have and more empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings.

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Walking and Falling Mindfully

Laurie anderson

I’ve written about mindful walking previously both here  and here. But I was reminded of it again just recently. I was to be guiding some mindful walking last week and didn’t want to do so using the same old words, so I reread a bit of Jon Kabat-Zinn “Full Catastrophe Living” to improve my phrasing of and thinking about the practice. This was an excellent resource and indeed I read parts of it instead of my own guidance….

We carry our mind when we walk, so we are usually absorbed in our own thoughts to one extent or another. We are hardly ever just walking, even when we are “just going for a walk”. Usually we walk for a reason…..

Walking meditation involves intentionally attending to the experience of walking itself. It involves focussing on the sensations in your feet or in your legs…. It is an internal sensation that is being cultivated, just the felt sensations associated with walking, nothing more…. We are simply inviting ourselves to experiment in being where we already are in this moment, with this step and not get out ahead of ourselves. The trick is to be completely where we are, step by step.

But then he also said

In MBSR we tend to walk extremely slowly, so that we can experience the various aspects of the gait cycle, which is, when all is said and done, a continually controlled falling forward and catching oneself.

And I realised where I had heard those last words before. Laurie Anderson had said something very similar. And I love it when connections in my life fall into place. Like walking in one part of a big city and suddenly coming upon another part of the city you had always assumed was separate. But now in fact you understand is right next door. Suddenly both parts of the internal mind map just like the city map, make so much more sense seen side by side and joined together.

And yes I realise that maybe Laurie Anderson wasn’t thinking of the MBSR mindful walking practice or Jon Kabat-Zinn at all when she wrote this in the 70’s – to me that doesn’t matter anyway.

Walking and Falling lyrics

“I wanted you,
and I was looking for you,
but I couldn’t find you.
I wanted you,
and I was looking for you all day,
but I couldn’t find you.
I couldn’t find you.

You’re walking and you don’t always realize it,
but you’re always falling.
With each step, you fall forward slightly,
and then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over, you’re falling and then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.”

 


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Mindful Walking – Part 2

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Last week end I was fortunate enough to be on a short retreat at Gaia House. We sat and walked mindfully for a lot of the day. We had some wonderful talks from John Peacock and Christina Feldman. And we were silent throughout. It was a privilege to be there. An opportunity that even at the time I knew to be an honour and one not to be squandered.

One of the things I took away was the walking; whilst I have recently got on far better with it (see this previous post) I had never done mindful walking for 3/4 of an hour at a go and certainly not 4 times a day! But then finding a space and time to carry on or occasionally repeat such practice has proved difficult in my normal life. It’s dark when I get up and nearly dark when I return from work. as we are a family of 3 children Clutter is now the second part of our double barrelled surname. as a result, finding an indoor space to walk is a bit tricky.

However, this morning is Saturday. I didn’t have a drop to drink last night (excuse the smugness) and I awoke early, safe in the knowledge that no one else would be up for a couple of hours at least. So I went down to the park just a 1/4 of a mile away from our front door. I pulled my cap down low to narrow my view and stood feet hip-width apart, dropping my attention into my soles and the underside of my toes; feeling the ground beneath them, noticing the weight they were holding up. Then, very slowly, I lifted my left foot, immediately being aware of the shift of weight to my right side and set off with no aim in mind into the park.

Just the same as when I am on the cushion my mind was speedily away from focussing on the movement of my feet and lower legs and onto seemingly more appealing places like the future and how I could do well in it, or the past and how I could and should have come out better from it. I noticed this from time to time and tried to gently escort it back to the feelings and experience of walking. Seeing my feet point skywards as they prepare to land, being aware of the roll of the sole of my foot on the ground as the weight transfers onto it and then it starts to lift at the heel and push off from the toes. Sometimes I overbalance slightly walking at that slow pace and my attention expands to the whole body realising how it is all involved in keeping upright me upright as I move. I am uncertain whether I should be paying attention to just the feet or this complete interdependent moving system.

Since it is early there are no more than a few dog walkers around and I can sense them giving me a wide berth as I inch about the park, calling their intrigued hounds away from me. My cap is pulled down to help avoid contact, partly to avoid possible social awkwardness but also to blinker myself slightly so I get less distracted by sights on my way. Half way round I remember reading an instruction for mindful walking that said “don’t look at your feet as you do this. You don’t need to when you walk around normally every day” and I lift my gaze to about 10 yards in front of my feet. This also helps lighten the intensity I had created by limiting my world view and I was able to start viewing the walking less as my body moving from within and more as my body moving through a space. I think this also helped me start to appreciate the continual change, adjustments and flow involved in ordinary walking.

I arrived back at the park gate where I had initially felt my feet on the ground and my mind returned to waking children and my responsibility to be back at home. The small “without striving” part of the day was over, but at least I could take the body and the movement of body around with me back in the real world again.


If you are interested in trying out some mindful walking. Here are some instructions I wrote out, mainly copied from people far more expert than I. Instructions for Mindful Walking


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Mindful Walking

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I never got mindful walking. I was always a sit down on my cushion meditator, breathing in breathing out, getting distracted, returning to the breath and getting distracted again meditator. Then 10 days ago in a room with a view of the Nantlle Ridge Mountains in Snowdonia I found mindful walking to work.  Maybe it was Susanna’s wonderful guidance, maybe it was me settling the balance between my faith and doubt in having another go at it, maybe it was the supportive caring company – all of us trying together squeezed in to the room, maybe it was the cold floor keeping me alert to my toes and feet through my thin socks. Whatever it was, I got it.

And now I can feel it feedings in to my other practice. Walking flows more effortlessly into the next part of the day. When I finish a sitting practice, I stand up and move into the next room to carry on the day. It can feel like I am concluding the spiritual part of the day and then moving back into normal life. Walking more naturally avoids that threshold crossing; it is simpler just to carry on. Therefore mindful walking can help me spend more of the day mindfully. As I queue I can be aware of the feeling of my feet, as I walk from car to front door I can do so noticing the feeling of my feet on the ground beneath me.

And so I hope that now when I get up from my sitting meditation I can take some of it with me. Sat at my desk having just pressed send or save, I might feel my outbreath for a minute and when my mind wanders I might gently and precisely bring it back again.