I remember once on a silent retreat being invited to do a walking meditation. Shoes off, I wandering around the gardens, feeling the grass tickling my toes, noticing the the coolness of the air on bare skin, looking down to where I was treading as well as looking up to experience my wider surroundings — and not bump into any fellow retreatant! With so much concentration, time collapsed down to how long it took to make one step, and then another. There was nowhere to go, just to be in the present moment.
These days I don’t practise formal walking meditation very often, but I like to think I introduce some mindfulness (with a small ‘m’) whenever I am walking.
Today I was alone so it was easier to turn inward without the distractions of company.
- I was aware of my breathing and my pulse, the leg muscles required to power me up slopes, how my arms naturally stretched out to help with balance on the slippery mud, perhaps I detected the beginning of a headache hovering behind my eyes.
- I observed my thoughts (mostly in the past) and my mood (happy and confident).
- My ears took in the rustle of my waterproof jacket, a distant tractor and sheep bleating, a blackbird in a hedge close-by.
- My eyes ranged across the landscape, observing where the fields rolled down towards the sea (grey today and almost indistinguishable from the sky), seeing a cluster of farm buildings and some patches of woodland.
- I also took in details close at hand: the grain of the wood of the fenceposts, emerging flowers, animal footprints in the mud, a drop of raining clinging to the underside of barbed wire.
My field of awareness ranged from the pulsing of blood in my circulatory system to the far horizon and beyond into the unseeable distance. On some level I was aware of it all. And I was part of it, not separate from the natural world, not separate from the earth and the sky, breathing it all in with my lungs, taking it all in through my senses. In this way my observations were less a checklist of countryside sights and more an affirmation of living, an affirmation of my place in the world.
It’s the same in seated meditation practice or in the movement practice of yoga. Many layers of awareness, from the subtle and internal through to the grand physical forms of the whole body, bring us more into to the present moment by focussing our attention. We become closer to the essence of ourselves, to a place we can truly feel at home — home within ourselves. With awareness of the full field of our consciousness, joy and peace naturally blossom when we take care and nourish them with our time and attention.
If you’d like to practise the art of paying attention with me (aka a short introduction to mindfulness), I am offering an online course in May/June. Just get in touch if you have questions, I’d love to hear from you!