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