Monday, February 1, 2010

Walking the Walk

I have always been intrigued by walking meditation. I’ve tried it a few times in the past, but always felt like I wasn’t doing it properly. There are publications that describe it, provide some guidance, but this is for me a situation that reading a book doesn’t get it for me. I need someone to show me.

That someone appeared this weekend when I made my second visit to a Thai temple here in Chicago, Wat Phrasriratanamahadhatu, a Theravada Buddhist temple on Magnolia Avenue just south of Lawrence (no pictures yet, but I will have some eventually). The Sunday activities are mostly social with some food offerings made to the monks for the alms round, as well as offerings of personal supplies. There’s a big feast as well, a Sunday buffet of homemade Thai food. But that’s another topic.

After I had finished helping clean up in the kitchen, one of the monks caught me and asked if I wanted to join some of them for meditation. Of course! So we went to another building (the temple has three buildings now) where they conduct classes and meditation. The monk explained that they start with walking meditation: have I ever done that?

Despite a few feeble attempts at the practice in the past, I said no. The monk gave me some personal instruction then to get me started, which I must say was extraordinarily helpful. My experience this time with the practice was unlike any previous. Here’s what he taught me.

Step one: Adopt a standing posture with hands held in front or behind the back (I held mine in front). Close the eyes while standing still and be aware of your posture while standing, running the mind’s gaze on the body from the top of the head down to the feet, then back up, back down, back up, and back down. I did this with each pass timed with my breathing, fixing my awareness on the “object” of “standing.” Not “I am standing.” Just “standing.”

Step two: Open the eyes and begin taking a step to initiate walking, focusing the mind on awareness of each step, realizing the various stages of pressure and lack of pressure on the feet as each step is made. At first, the stride of my steps was too long. I found that the walking was not only easier, but my mind sustained focus more effectively when I took smaller steps, each foot landing only just in front of the other. I keep my gaze downward but ahead of me, not at me feet or the floor directly in front of me.

Step three: Know you are walking. My awareness of each step was really quite extraordinary; I was focused and aware of how the floor felt on the sole of the left foot as it rocked with the shifting body weight, as well as aware of what the right foot was doing as it moved forward. There were moments of wavering balance, as I have arthritis in my right ankle, so when lifting the left foot, sometimes I wobbled as the body’s weight shifted entirely to the right foot. But taking small, very deliberate steps took care of this.

Step four: When the other side of the room is reached, stand still, close the eyes, and bring awareness back to “standing.” Just like I did at the start. It kept the mind from anticipating what was going to happen next, as I always had a task.

Step five: Open the eyes and focus on “turning,” slowly turning the body around by taking small steps to the right, rotating the body in four “points;” so if my starting position was north, I first turn to the northeast, then east, then southeast, then south; all quite slowly and deliberately keeping my attention focused on “turning.”

Step six: Close the eyes and go through the process of focusing the mind once again on “standing.” Then resume the procedure by walking back to the other side of the room, repeating the process for the duration.

It was a wonderful experience, probably due to being a beginner. My attention was so well-focused that I really felt settled when we were through. I don’t think I could do this effectively at home because my floor creaks so much when I walk I would be concerned about all the noise I would be making for my neighbors in the apartment below me. But this is something I will definitely do again each week when I return to the temple.

Have you tried walking meditation? What is your practice like? Has it given your overall practice a big charge like it has to mine?


  1. It is just as effective as sitting. I was a skeptic, until taught by monks when I was a novice.

  2. Great post; someone reading this could put what you shared right to work.

    I love walking meditation. My heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts a lot of emphasis on walking meditation. You've inspired me to share some of his instruction in the future.

    Best wishes,

  3. Thanks both of you! I am anxious to return to the temple this weekend to do it again!

  4. you can see it in action from an actual Thai Temple here:

  5. I’m glad you had a good experience at the temple! Back when I had a creaky wooden floor apartment, I did walking meditation very, very slowly, and I got to know quite intimately which path along the floor was the least creaky :)