When I walk, I usually do a “walking lovingkindness” practice. Since it takes me 15 minutes to walk to work and another 15 to walk home again, I get a “bonus” 30 minutes of meditation on the days I don’t have to drive. So even if I only manage 30 minutes of sitting practice I end up meditating for an hour, which is a reasonably substantial amount of meditation to do in a day.
Of course I’m sure there are many ways to do walking lovingkindness, but I’ll share what my practice is.
Basically, it’s very simple: as I walk, I say to myself, “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy.” I remain aware of the space around me, and let a sense of kindness take hold. Since my consciousness is tinged with kindness, and since my consciousness is filling the space around me, I have a feeling that my well-wishing is touching those around me.
I’ll be a bit more aware of the body than when I’m doing regular walking (when I tend to disappear into my head) but not as much as when I’m doing mindful walking. The practice of walking lovingkindness takes us more “out in the world” than mindfulness typically does, and so there’s bit less focus on internal experience. I sometimes keep some awareness on the heart as I walk, but often I don’t.
If there’s no one to be seen (and that’s often the case) then I simply continue like this — walking, repeating the phrases, letting my goodwill radiate into the world around me. If I see someone — the guy putting his recycling out by the curb-side, a car driving by, a woman walking her dog — I direct my attention toward those beings and specifically wish them well.
As a car goes by, my attention tracks it in a focused way, as if I’m shining a mental spotlight on it. As I walk past the guy putting our his recycling I smile and say good-morning.
I hear a train in the distance, and my attention turns in that direction, wishing the staff and passengers well.
If there are a lot of people around, then it can seem a bit restless and unsatisfying to have the “spotlight” jittering around all over the place, so I’ll return to simply allowing a field of kindness to extend around me, knowing that it touches all these beings as they pass through my awareness.
Sometimes if I’m experiencing personal suffering — like the day last week I was feeling a little irritable — I direct my lovingkindness mainly toward myself, until I’m feeling more at peace and less likely to be judgmental of others.
The phrases I’m reciting take up “mental space” that would otherwise be occupied with rumination that would often be tinged with anxiety or ill will. Most of that thinking is laid aside, although sometimes my mindfulness slips and I find myself distracted. But when this happens I simply let go of the unhelpful thinking at the first opportunity and return to the practice: walking and loving.
But the phrases don’t simply displace mental activity that would generally make me unhappy: they actually help foster kindness and joy. Often I’ll feel like I’m radiating this love and joy into the world around me. I’ll feel buffered by it, buoyed up by it.
There’s a feeling of my sense of self expanding and attenuating, because of this sense of my consciousness radiating into the world. There’s a large degree of “un-selfing” in this practice, which can bring it close to being an insight practice.
This is a very traditional practice, by the way. According to the Metta Sutta, one of the key teachings on lovingkindess:
Let him radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.
Standing, walking, sitting or reclining, as long as he is awake, let him develop this mindfulness.