walking meditation

Save your career with walking meditation

As my colleague Rusty wrote last week, you shouldn’t get mad at work. But sometimes it just happens. One minute you’re typing up a memo, and the next, you realize it’s been a good minute since you took a breath. Anger has a devilish way of sneaking up on us—especially at work.

But here’s a cure: walking meditation.

At the onset of anger, the best thing you can do for yourself and your career is get up from your desk and walk away. Implement these steps for a successful walking meditation session, and your quality of life at work will dramatically improve.

The goal is to observe the act of walking while becoming completely aware of your body, your breathing, and your surroundings.

Step One: Schedule walking meditation practice on a daily basis. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. One of the keys to maintaining equanimity is to incorporate regular meditation into your daily life. By scheduling a daily walk, you will improve your meditation skills, ensure you get up from your desk, and create a routine, which gives you a better shot at achieving success. By practicing regularly, you’ll learn to squash anger quickly when it arises.

Step Two: Choose a walking meditation route. One of the goals of this practice is to…

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quiet our minds. We all spend much of our day multitasking at work, while juggling our personal lives as well. Choose a route with little vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The ideal route will be straight, flat, and outdoors. However, walking meditation can be practiced anywhere; a stairwell, quadrangle, or even the office lobby. Try several different routes until you find one that works for you. The best routes are ones that give you enough to observe, without over-stimulating your mind.

Step Three: Before you get started, take several deep breaths. Stand still. Take air in through your nose and feel your abdomen rise. Make yourself aware of the earth under your feet. Enjoy the miracle of being alive. Forget whatever brought you to get up from your desk and temporarily walk away. Tell yourself that you are about to take a walk and clear your mind because you deserve to feel good—even at work.

Step Four: You are now ready to begin your walk. Take measured steps and get in tune with your body. Notice how your feet feel against the ground, how your legs are gliding you forward, how the air feels against your face. Remember that this is not a race. You are enjoying this walk and the world will be fine even if you check out for a few minutes.

Step Five: Keep your mind quiet. As you walk, thoughts will pop into your head. Some of them will be negative thoughts about work. Others might be about how you have 1,000 things to do when you get home tonight. As each thought comes up, acknowledge it, let it go, and concentrate on the walk. This walk is to clear your mind—not clutter it. It is important not to become angry with yourself if this task is difficult for you. Most people are surprised about how difficult it is to shut off their brains for a few minutes! With some practice, it will become easier for you to quiet your mind.

Step Six: Wind down. Ideally you’ll be able to devote 15 minutes a day at work to your walking meditation practice. However, not everyone has that luxury at work. With some practice, a successful walking meditation session can be as short as the walk from your desk to the bathroom. Remember, the goal is to regain your balance and not allow yourself to get angry, upset, or overly emotional at work. Also, don’t end your walking meditation abruptly. Ease yourself back into work life by coming to a planned halt.

Step Seven: Use a mental checklist. When your walk ends, notice how your body feels compared to the beginning of the walk. The good news is that you can’t fail at meditation; there are only varying degrees of success. Don’t have any expectations, other than you know this exercise is good for your body and mind—even if the results aren’t obvious.

Walking meditation has done wonders for my mental clarity at work, and I hope it helps you too! There are many different approaches to this practice. Let us know what works best for you.

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of Jobacle.com, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.

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Labyrinth experience provides outlet for meditation

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Sara F. Neumann, The Etownian: Although Elizabethtown [Pennsylvania] College is a Brethren-affiliated college, the religious identity of students and faculty has become more diverse in recent years; the religions on campus vary from Christian faiths to Jewish to Muslim and everything in between. In light of this diversity, there have been more attempts by student organizations to reach out and invite people of various faiths through different activities.

The Labyrinth, hosted by the Chaplain’s Office, is one of these new interfaith activities. Most students are unaware of what a labyrinth is and what the experience at Etown offers them. “Labyrinths are a kind of walking meditation and they are like mazes, but there is only one path in and one path out. It’s a guided path that allows walkers to get closer to God or just to themselves,” explained Assistant Chaplain Amy Shorner-Johnson.

The Labyrinth began last semester and is held on Sunday nights, but this semester it was switched to Thursday afternoons.”We wanted it to be more interfaith,” Shorner-Johnson said. “Having it during the week makes it more inviting toward everyone.”

Labyrinths date back to Roman times, when Romans carved the circular paths onto rocks. They were then adopted by various faiths, including Christian sects, who often placed them on church floors. Depending on the faith, labyrinths could be walked on the knees for penance or walked as a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One of the most famous labyrinths is in the Chartres Cathedral in Paris, France; the labyrinth is a circular maze, which leads into a patterned center and then leads the walker back out.

Etown’s own labyrinth is modeled after the Chartres labyrinth. It is a large canvas piece that, when rolled out, reveals a winding path defined in purple. “The Chaplain’s husband picked the color, actually, and the company liked it so much they picked it up for their other labyrinths,” Senior Marshal Fettro said, the student leader in charge of the Labyrinth.

While Chartres labyrinth is a Catholic labyrinth, the assistant chaplain is eager to emphasize that Etown’s is multifaith and open to all. While labyrinths can be religious for some, walking one does not have to be a path to a personal God. It can just be a way to relax.

“It provides a sacred space or just a getaway for students. You can practice mindfulness while walking it. Sometimes if I try to meditate or relax while just sitting, I worry about sleeping. I tend to be able to focus when I’m doing something,” Shorner-Johnson shared.

Senior Laura Miller explained that she goes to the Labyrinth as an escape. “I’ve been coming since last semester. It’s just a break from everyday life,” she said.

Senior Amanda McGeary, a first time attendee, came to earn Called to Lead points. “It was calming and quiet. It was just nice,” she said.

Another first time Labyrinth walker was impressed with the fulfillment of the slogan that drew him in. “I saw the poster in the BSC that said, ‘Walk your worries away,’ and I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, it worked—I don’t have any worries anymore,” he explained.

The Labyrinth experience offers a few quiet hours for students to focus simply on themselves or on getting close to the God in which they personally believe. Music is played during the experience, but it is non-denominational; the CDs vary from Native American chants to simple nature sounds. The music changes from week to week. The walk can take as long or as short as the walker desires, depending on what they are contemplating.

“Just setting some time, whether to meditate, pray or think, can turn the profane into the sacred,” Fettro said, referencing Emile Durkheim’s dichotomy of the sacred and profane.

The Labyrinth is held every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the M&M Mars room in Leffler Chapel. It is open to all who wish to attend.

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Buddhists nuns and volunteers forging new frontier of monastery’s acreage

Buddhist nuns and volunteers at the Buddha Mind Monastery are creating a walking meditation trail along the religious center’s expansive east Oklahoma City site

With the pioneering spirit of their adopted state, a group of Buddhist nuns is forging a path through a new frontier.

That untamed land is right outside their doors at the Buddha Mind Monastery, 5916 S Anderson Road.

The nuns and a determined group of volunteers are creating a walking meditation trail throughout and along the perimeter of the monastery’s sprawling 40 acres in far east Oklahoma City.

Jian Jian Shih, a nun at the monastery, said the new trail is the first of many changes at the site. Dirtwork also has begun on a new monastery building.

Buddha Mind Monastery is a Zen Buddhist community. It is an affiliate of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Taiwan, and there are nine American branches, Shih said.

She said several people who attend the monastery’s classes and…

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other events brought up the idea of a walking trail last fall when she arrived from a sister monastery in California. Shih, a native of Taiwan, said she liked the idea and began the project with some volunteers one Saturday in September.The group, which includes Marilyn Wetmore, Mei Siu and Ken Cates, continues to meet Saturday mornings to clear brush and debris to craft the winding trail. The volunteers work on the pathway project even on some chilly, blustery days, as long as the sun is out.
“Every Saturday, people come here to do a little bit and a little bit,” she said.

Shih, 36, said walkers will eventually be able to explore the nature-filled trail and rest on several benches that will be provided and maybe even sit for meditation at a planned gazebo. Shih said volunteers have become very ambitious now that they can see the fruits of their labor becoming a recognizable trail. She laughed as she said they were working tirelessly one weekend with a borrowed tractor when one gung-ho volunteer came up with the idea of adding a pond.

“I believe where there is a will, there is way,” she said, smiling. “We still have much work to do.”

She said some students from Oklahoma City University’s religious studies program came out to help at one point.

Meanwhile, Shih said the monastery’s classes continue to draw people from all walks of life.

The monastery’s abbess, Jian Mao, is in Taiwan for a visit.

A different meditation

Siu, a Hong Kong native who lives in Norman, said she anticipates the trail’s completion.
She said just working on the project has allowed her to enjoy nature, and she is inspired by walking meditation.
“I can come here three times a week, and even though it is rough now, I feel inspired,” Siu said of the trail. “I’m excited that it will be done soon.”
Shih said meditation classes in which the participants sit are offered at the monastery. She said the leaders of these classes often encourage attendees to do walking meditation to get their blood circulating and as another form of relaxation.
She said walking meditation helps bring one’s focus within.
“You just focus on the step you are stepping,” she said.
“There is a Buddhist verse that says, ‘When in action, perfect action.’ When at rest, rest all thoughts so our minds can meditate when we are walking. We have to focus on the present.”
Wetmore, of Choctaw, said much of Buddhism is about quieting one’s mind “and letting go of the busy mind.”
“This might be a good place to quiet the mind and study,” she said of the trail.
Wetmore said the trail project has done much to bring the small community of Buddhists together. She and Shih said between 75 and 100 people from the metro area attend classes and events at the monastery, and the project has helped them unify.
“It’s as much about community and fellowship,” Wetmore said.

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Not your everyday worship: the legend of the labyrinth

Contrary to popular belief, labyrinths are not used to get one lost and confused – rather, their purpose is to find answers and to meditate on religious issues. Two of the 109’s churches, St. Stephen Presbyterian Church and the University Christian Church, use labyrinths as methods of worship.

That fact is, according to Mark Scott of St. Stephen, the labyrinth is an extremely ancient form of meditation that has roots in paganism and is used as a form of worship in many historically aware churches. The design of labyrinths at St. Stephen and the University Church can both be traced back to the famous Notre Dame Chapel in Chartres, France.

Scott, St, Stephen’s minister of music and organist, is a fierce proponent of labyrinth. He says its ability to help sort out one’s life problems and commune with the God is a type of therapy and worship that would benefit everyone, Christian or not.

“It’s symbolic along the path of life and reminiscent of the times and trials in one’s life. It’s a visual reminder of the non-visual,” Scott said.

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The winding paths of the labyrinth are meant to be walked quadrant by quadrant. Participants meditate on any issues they are experiencing in life and offer these up to God. After walking the main section or quadrants, the meditator or questioner stands or kneels at the center or main floret or rose of the labyrinth and then exits.

“It’s supposed to be a journey,” Scott said. “It makes you slow down and think. You’re supposed to take your time walking. It’s a very esoteric, ecumenical type of thing.”

St. Stephen has two labyrinths — one indoor, one outdoor.

The outdoor labyrinth is in the form of a garden path and is flanked by benches and a vista of downtown Fort Worth. Scott says it was funded by a church member and like the indoor labyrinth, was a gift given in memory of a loved one.

The indoor labyrinth is an 11-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth actually painted on an enormous piece of canvas fabric and is rolled out on various holiday occasions and when led in a labyrinth worship facilitation by church member and trained labyrinth facilitator and clinical psychologist, Carol Stalcup.

Stalcup visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to be trained by Lauren Artress, the woman charged with starting the revival of labyrinth worship in the early ‘90s. According to the training Stalcup received, there appear to be three stages during one’s walking of the labyrinth: the releasing of cares and distractions, the receiving of enlightenment or encouragement, and returning to the world in union with God.

Stalcup says facilitators are trained to deal with people’s differing reactions to the labyrinth and also sometimes encourage people to journal about their experiences to better understand them.

“Some people are deeply moved and there are tears, they have a profound experience and come out lighter, happy, and thoughtful. For others, it’s simply another form of prayer and not as dramatic. It’s different for everyone and the labyrinth is not meant for everyone.”

Constantly making turns and twists in connection with the direction of the labyrinth is something that Stalcup says is currently being scientifically tested to determine whether it helps tap into the left and right hemispheres of the brain. She says it could be a scientifically proven neurological calming process.

Stalcup is a believer in what she terms embodied spirituality: that humans can disconnect their bodies from their emotional and spiritual lives. She believes the labyrinth is the perfect conduit for doing so. She calls walking the labyrinth a form of “body prayer” and emphasizes the positive connection between body movement and one’s ability to connect with a deeper part of oneself.

Stalcup said she wishes all could experience the benefits of walking the labyrinth. She says she is such a devoted follower of labyrinth worship because each experience is different and unique, and she loves the diversity.

“I have walked with different communities of friends and with groups of strangers, I have walked solo walks and lingered a long time. I’ve danced the path, sung, prayed, created body prayers, listened to music, smiled, laughed, been surprised by tears, felt deep awe, felt lonely, felt reassured, solved a problem,” Stalcup said.

It is her favorite form of worship because of the various forms of spiritual experiences one can have.

“I have experienced what I believe to be profound spiritual experiences, but am always caught by surprise,” she said. “Somehow, though a walk may not move me to tears or bring me to dance, I always feel as if the time I spent on the labyrinth was a special moment outside of linear time, outside of my usual way of being.”

Stalcup said being a regular walker of the labyrinth has “directly impacted my discernment of God’s presence in my life, in others, in the world. Those discernments stay with me, sustaining, encouraging, nourishing and leading me to more gratitude, wonder and connection with all of creation.”

For those with difficulty walking or without access to a full-size labyrinth, there are finger or stylus labyrinths, which one can follow with a finger or pen-like utensil and employ the same meditation/worship philosophy.

The UCC’s website for its labyrinth ministry describes using the labyrinth as a way “to enhance spiritual growth, experience transformation, enter into an intimate and inspiring relationship with God and one another, and share the path in the spirit of love, reverence and respect for each one’s personal journey.”

UCC’s labyrinth is also a hand-painted, roll-out canvas. They were bought from the same company and are the same traditional Chartres design.

The labyrinth of Chartres is famous for its location, age and size. It was inlaid in the Chartres Cathedral floor in 1205 and contains only one pathway, which is 954 feet in length. The center of the labyrinth purportedly once had a metal plate with figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, figures from the classical Greek mythology of the labyrinth on Minos.

The Chartres-style labyrinth employed by both churches has a circular pattern with a rose or floret design in the center. According to Stalcup, the rose symbolically can stand for human love, enlightenment, Christ, and God’s love for the world. The rose traditionally has six petals which represent the six days of creation; Stalcup encourages her “walkers” to step into each petal and as they leave the central rose, to imagine themselves returning to the world in union with God.

While many churches utilize the practice of worship with the help of labyrinths, the practice is actually an ancient one the church may have borrowed from pagan or nature-based religions.

“Christians were kind of the late kids to the party,” Scott says with a laugh. “Even down to the holidays, Christmas was made Christmas because of the winter solstice. Easter coincides with the spring equinox.”

Above all, Scott says, he wishes all to know St. Stephen’s outdoor labyrinth is intended for the entire community, religious or not.

“Sure, it’s a labyrinth with a Christian take, but anyone can come use it. With the benches all around, the beautiful garden, the glorious view — we want anyone and everyone to be able to use and enjoy it.”

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Meditation provides outlet for college students’ stress

As our semester hurdles toward the dreaded week of final exams, I’ve noticed that a number of my friends have struggled with overwhelming stress, test anxiety and jittery nerves.

We all have our hands full with class projects and exams, and the damage that these can inflict on our bodies is surprising. A number of health issues arise from intense stress and anxiety, as these bodily defenses ultimately hinder our immune systems.

Limited amounts of stress can benefit a person, making him or her more aware, more focused, more productive. In small doses, stress can be a positive reaction our body has to outside stimuli, but as this stress increases with added responsibilities and requirements, it can also cause significant harm to our mental and physical health.

People have their own ways of dealing with that stress, including ignoring it altogether. In the past, I haven’t dealt with stress well. In fact, I’ve had to acknowledge that my stress has grown to unmanageable, unhealthy levels. I tried running. I tried socializing more. I tried taking stress-relieving vitamins. None of these options worked for me, though they may work for others. I got to a point where I was truly desperate to find any method I could to help decrease my stress, which is about the time I took Environmental Psychology with Dr. Kurt Hoffman.

As an assigned project, Hoffman instructed his students through a method of walking meditation. Most, if not all, of the students were unfamiliar with meditation, and I’d guess that most were daunted by the requirement.

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Zen and the art of protecting the planet

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The Guardian, UK: It is not exactly a traditional Sunday stroll in the English countryside as 84-year-old Vietnamese zen master Thich Nhat Hanh leads nearly a thousand people through the rolling Nottinghamshire hills in walking meditation.

The silent procession takes on the shape of a snake as it wends its way extremely slowly through a forest glade and an apple orchard. The assembled throng are asked to deeply experience each step they take on the earth in order to be mindful in the present moment.

Thay, as he is known, steps off the path into a field of tall grass and sits quietly in meditation. He exudes a sense of serenity, born of his 68 years practice as a monk.

Despite having hundreds of thousands of followers around the world and being viewed with the same reverence as the Dalai Lama, Thay is little known to the general public. He has chosen to shun the limelight and avoid the shimmer of celebrity endorsement in order to focus on building communities around the world that can demonstrate his ethical approach to life. There are monasteries currently in Germany, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

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He is seeking to create a spiritual revival that replaces our consumption-based lives with a return to a simpler, kinder world based on deep respect for each other and the environment.

He rarely gives interviews but recognises that the enormous challenges facing the world, combined with his own increasing age and frailty, means it is important to use what time and energy he has left to contribute what he can to re-energising society and protecting the planet.

For a man of his age, Thay keeps to a punishing schedule. After having lectured to thousands at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Thay has come to Nottingham for a five day retreat, then goes on to a three month tour of Asia, before returning for a winter retreat at his Plum Village community in France, where he has lived in exile for more than 40 years.

Thay, a prolific author with more than 85 titles under his belt, has taken a particular interest in climate change and recently published the best-selling book ‘The World We Have – A Buddhist approach to peace and ecology.’

Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption

In it, he writes: “The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”

In his only interview in the UK, Thay calls on journalists to play their part in preventing the destruction of our civilisation and calls on corporations to move away from their focus on profits to the wellbeing of society.

He says that it is an ill-conceived idea that the solution to global warming lies in technological advances. While science is important, even more so is dealing with the root cause of our destructive behaviour: “The spiritual crisis of the West is the cause for the many sufferings we encounter. Because of our dualistic thinking that god and the kingdom of god is outside of us and in the future – we don’t know that god’s true nature is in every one of us. So we need to put god back into the right place, within ourselves. It is like when the wave knows that water is not outside of her.

“Everything we touch in our daily lives, including our body, is a miracle. By putting the kingdom of god in the right place, it shows us it is possible to live happily right here, right now. If we wake up to this, we do not have to run after the things we believe are crucial to our happiness like fame, power and sex. If we stop creating despair and anger, we make the atmosphere healthy again.

“Maybe we have enough technology to save the planet but it is not enough because the people are not ready. This is why we need to focus on the other side of the problem, the pollution of the environment not in terms of carbon dioxide but the toxic atmosphere in which we live; so many people getting sick, many children facing violence and despair and committing suicide.

Spiritual pollution

“We should speak more of spiritual pollution. When we sit together and listen to the sound of the [meditation] bell at this retreat, we calm our body and mind. We produce a very powerful and peaceful energy that can penetrate in every one of us. So, conversely, the same thing is true with the collective energy of fear, anger and despair. We create an atmosphere and environment that is destructive to all of us. We don’t think enough about that, we only think about the physical environment.

“Our way of life, our style of living, is the cause of it. We are looking for happiness and running after it in such a way that creates anger, fear and discrimination. So when you attend a retreat you have a chance to look at the deep roots of this pollution of the collective energy that is unwholesome.

“How can we change the atmosphere to get the energy of healing and transformation for us and our children? When the children come to the retreat, they can relax because the adults are relaxed. Here together we create a good environment and that is a collective energy.”

Capitalism as a disease

Thay talks about capitalism as a disease that has now spread throughout the world, carried on the winds of globalisation: “We have constructed a system we cannot control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.”

He sees those countries that are home to Buddhism, such as India, China, Thailand and Vietnam, seeking to go even beyond the consumerism of the West: “There is an attractiveness around science and technology so they have abandoned their values that have been the foundation of their spiritual life in the past,” he says. “Because they follow western countries, they have already begun to suffer the same kind of suffering. The whole world crisis increases and globalisation is the seed of everything. They too have lost their non-dualistic view. There are Buddhists who think that Buddha is outside of them and available to them only after they die.

“In the past there were people who were not rich but contented with their living style, laughing and happy all day. But when the new rich people appear, people look at them and ask why don’t I have a life like that too, a beautiful house, car and garden and they abandon their values.”

While Thay believes that change is possible, he has also come to accept the possibility that this civilisation may collapse. He refers to the spiritual principle that by truly letting go of the ‘need’ to save the planet from climate change, it can paradoxically help do just that.

The catastrophe to come

“Without collective awakening the catastrophe will come,” he warns. “Civilisations have been destroyed many times and this civilisation is no different. It can be destroyed. We can think of time in terms of millions of years and life will resume little by little. The cosmos operates for us very urgently, but geological time is different.

“If you meditate on that, you will not go crazy. You accept that this civilisation could be abolished and life will begin later on after a few thousand years because that is something that has happened in the history of this planet. When you have peace in yourself and accept, then you are calm enough to do something, but if you are carried by despair there is no hope.

“It’s like the person who is struck with cancer or Aids and they learn they have been given one year or six months to live. They suffer very much and fight. But if they come to accept that they will die and they prepare to live every day peacefully and they enjoy every moment, the situation may change and the illness may go away. That has happened to many people.”

One Buddha is not enough

Thay says that the communities his Order of Interbeing is building around the world are intended to show that it is possible to “live simply and happily, having the time to love and help other people. That is why we believe that if there are communities of people like that in the world, we will demonstrate to the people and bring about an awakening so that people will abandon their course of comforts. If we can produce a collective awakening we can solve the problem of global warming. Together we have to provoke that type of awakening.”
One Buddha is not enough

He stops for a moment and goes quiet: “One Buddha is not enough, we need to have many Buddhas.”

Thay has lived an extraordinary life. During the Vietnam War he was nearly killed several times helping villagers suffering from the effects of bombing. When visiting America, he persuaded Martin Luther King to oppose the war publicly, and so helped to galvanize the peace movement. In fact King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968.

In the following decade Thay spent months on the South China Sea seeking to save Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees from overcrowded boats and in more recent years, he led members of the US Congress through a two-day retreat and continues to hold reconciliation retreats for Israelis and Palestinians at Plum Village.

His whole philosophy is based on watching the breath and walking meditation to stay in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

He says that within every person are the seeds of love, compassion and understanding as well as the seeds of anger, hatred and discrimination. Our experience of life depends on which seeds we choose to water.

To help the creation of a new global ethic and sustain those positive seeds, Thay’s Order of Interbeing has distilled the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path into five core principles.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings, updated in the last year to make them relevant to our fast changing world, are not a set of rules but a direction to head in. Beyond calling for mindful consumption, they encourage an end to sexual misconduct as well as a determination “not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programmes, films, magazines, books and conversations.”

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Joliet hospice to break ground on labyrinth

The Joliet Area Community Hospice Home will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a labyrinth and meditation garden at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on the hospice property, 250 Water Stone Circle, off of McDonough Street.

The public is invited.

Funded by a $25,000 grant from Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel, the labyrinth and surrounding garden design were developed by Joliet Junior College Professor Greg Pierceall and his horticulture students. The event will begin with refreshments, followed by a short program at 10 a.m.

“Hospice provides a professional, caring service at a most difficult time of life, while allowing for comfort and support for numerous families,” said Darren VanDover, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel. “Harrah’s is honored to be able to contribute to their amenities with the hope that the meditation garden will provide solace and peace to families in crisis.”

A labyrinth is a single path that leads walkers to a center. The labyrinth planned for the hospice is off of an existing pathway, and hospice officials hope it will be a place for meditation and reflection for patients and their families.

“We would like this space to offer those dealing with loss and end of life either a relaxing or energizing experience,” said Ava Shapard, hospice director of development.

“This labyrinth is one of the many amenities provided to patients and families coping with loss and end of life at the hospice home, all designed to provide peace and tranquility in their hours of need.”

For more information or to RSVP, contact Jill Madison at jmadison@harrahs.com or 815-740-7829; Ava Shapard at ashapard@joliethospice.org or 815-460-3250; or Kelly Rohder at 815-280-2915 or krohder@jjc.edu.

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People of diverse faiths pursue a lofty goal in a peace hike

Mitchell Landsberg:

For the last two years, the Aetherius Society has opened its pilgrimages to all faiths. About 100 people joined last Saturday’s trek up the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The mountain was supposed to impart energy to its pilgrims, but as he neared the top, Ashraf Carrim wasn’t feeling it.

Slumped on a boulder not far from the peak of Mt. Baldy, the Muslim imam from Torrance laughed when asked how he was faring on his hike. “Badly,” he replied. A few feet away, the Rev. Jeffrey Utter of the United Church of Christ was girding himself for the…

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Get enlightened on Germany’s meditation trail

In harmony with the rushing Ammer River, Norbert Parucha, our guide, recites Lao Tse. Poised on a rocky ledge overlooking the water, he stands craggy-faced and as solid as an ancient tree. He might be part of the mountain’s landscape but for the soothing melody of his speech and the rugged hiking boots on his feet.

Here, along the Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail, he calls us to contemplation. We stand, above the rapids, embraced by a belt of wine-bottle green pine trees and a smattering of moss-covered boulders. His words flow out into the brisk air and down to the water. It’s our job to catch them like summertime fireflies in a jar — and apply them to our musings.

We’ve followed Parucha to the fourth official stop, one of 15 along the newly marked 52-mile Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail. Conceived by Parucha in collaboration with a team from Ammergau Tourism, this undulating path is carved into a well-trodden holiday region south of Munich in the foothills of the Alps. It leads hikers of every level through the gentle hills, Alpine moors, lush valleys and flowery meadows of Bavaria.

The metaphor for this new course might be the labyrinth — or the road as a symbol for our lives. The Meditation Trail takes advantage of the spiritually significant sites in the area, from Celtic mounds to mountain chapels to monasteries and reflective lakes.

“It’s not a highway,” croons Perucha as we take off hiking at warp speed from the Baroque, UNESCO-listed Wies Church, where the trail begins. Because we’re more determined to set records than meld into the music of nature, Parucha speaks again. “Plod along. Stop, smell, look, listen.”

Parucha’s role is to ensure we unravel internally, that we allow the majesty of mountains, the chirping of birds, the scent of pine needles to lull us to a self-awareness too easily misplaced in the city. At each stop along this route that can take five or more days to finish, we mull poetry and mystical words at sacred man-made and natural sites.

A proponent of self-healing and the life-affirming aspects of spiritual walking, Perucha, 56, a therapist, was once as enmeshed in the frenzy of the external world as the rest of us. But the untimely death of his wife sent him reeling. Searching for answers, he went to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, perhaps the best-known pilgrim’s path. As he healed, he changed careers, studied therapy and holistic medicine and commenced to take groups of seekers to wander the Santiago Compostela Trail and the lesser known, and linking, Path of Jacob.

Soon learning that his patients gained relief from rhythmic, philosophy-supported treks through nature, Parucha took the next step, linking a variety of sights in the Ammergau and offering (in conjunction with the region’s office of tourism) contemplative tours.

And, that’s why we’ve come, my teenage daughter and I, to walk with Perucha. He’s a tranquil master. And his region, the Ammergau, speaks for itself.

At Lake Soier, we ponder the glassy lake, noting how it mirrors the sky. Here, Parucha presents the words and philosophies of Lama Govinda, a European-born Tibetan Buddhist, instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West. “The world is merely a mirror of what is in our own being,” quotes Perucha. After we do some breathing exercises and concentrate on visualizations, we ramble on — but not before Perucha points out how close the German word for lake (see) is to the word for soul (seele). With that in mind, we circle the lake in walking meditation.

Another day, we hear the words of Chief Seattle over the hilltop ruins of Dottenbichl, a Celtic and (later) Roman archeological site. Some places along the trek call for the musings of Christian mystics, others for the wisdom of poets. We pass fat cows with bell necklaces, geese that chase us, picnicking couples ensconced in a meadow and boys hauling a canoe to the rapids. In front of one pub, we see a crowd of men dressed in lederhosen and feathered hats. We eat hearty Bavarian food: pork, dumplings, grainy breads and mache lettuce salads — washing it all down with immense beers. In some places, we smell the peaty mud of the centuries-old bogs as we wander; in others, we catch a whiff of a wood fire.

Although many stops celebrate only nature, others consider human-made passion. Station 9, for example, is the tiny village of Oberammergau, famous for its centuries-old Passion Play tradition. We tour the theater, learn about the vow made by villagers to God nearly 400 years ago and study iconography carved from wood in the town’s museum. A subsequent stop takes us to Ettal. Here we visit with Benedictine monks at the famous Gothic-styled, medieval abbey.

The expedition ends at King Ludwig II’s Linderhof Palace, a fantasy creation designed as a poetic retreat and homage to myth, especially that of the Grail theme. “What are your visions and your dreams?” Parucha asks us. “How are you living them?”

A guide isn’t necessary to hike this route — the trails are well marked and even the meditations are displayed at each station — but having someone lead us to consciousness has been exalting. We end our adventure with sharpened minds, recharged spirits and stronger bodies. Admittedly, we don’t find answers to all the big questions — but that just means we’ll have to return to trek again.

If you go …

Getting there: Before you leave, buy a Eurail Pass (eurailtravel.com) which allows on-and-off privileges on most trains. Fly into Munich and take the train to any of the towns in the Ammergau Region, just about an hour’s ride. Or, rent a car.

The hike: Hiking packages for the trail come in seven- or four-night packages and include all meals (picnics for lunch), mid-priced hotel stays (including one night atop Hornle mountain in a rustic hut), a pilgrim guide, transfers, meditation and more. The packages are 850 Euros (per person, double occupancy) or 540 euros, respectively. www.ammergauer-alpen.de/en/ammergau-alps-meditation-trail.html

Do consider some of the Ammergau regions other offerings, including spa packages that feature the region’s famous moor bark baths.

[Becca Hensley, Statesman]
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Monk’s enlightenment begins with a marathon walk

Anyone who has run a marathon knows that feats of endurance require mental discipline — a way to fuse mind, body and spirit. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, a monk at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan has walked a great distance — roughly the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference — as a form of physical and spiritual exercise.

On the side of Mount Hiei, overlooking the ancient capital of Kyoto, the wind whistles around a part of the Enryaku-ji temple complex. Inside, a small congregation of Buddhists recites sutras.

Leading the service is 34-year-old Zen monk Endo Mitsunaga, who manages one of the temples in the complex. His hands flow powerfully and precisely as he wields ritual prayer objects and executes a series of mudras, or hand gestures, used in prayer and meditation.

Last fall, Mitsunaga became the 13th monk since World War II to complete the Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation and prayer over a seven-year period around Mount Hiei. He walked 26 miles a day for periods of either 100 or 200 consecutive days — a total distance about the same as walking around the Earth.

A Circular Pilgrimage

In his living quarters, Mitsunaga kneels on the tatami floor mat and pours green tea. Walking meditation is like sitting meditation, he explains. The participant must maintain a calm mind, good posture and steady breathing.

“As we walk, we recite the mantra of the Immovable Wisdom King, our principal deity,” Mitsunaga says. “We’re not supposed to be out of breath when we walk uphill. By reciting the mantra, we can first control our breathing and then control our mind.”

Fudo Myo-o, the Immovable Wisdom King, is an important figure in Japanese Buddhism. He is a wrathful-looking guardian spirit sitting amid flames, dressed in rags, and holding a sword and rope.

On his walks, Mitsunaga carries a fan and a rosary, representing the sword and rope. He dresses in white, the color of death in Japan. On his feet, he wears only straw sandals.

Robert Rhodes, an expert on Japanese Buddhism at Otani University in Kyoto, says the Kaihogyo tradition is unique because it takes a tradition of spiritual retreats in the mountains and turns it into a sort of circular pilgrimage.

“The people who are doing the Kaihogyo are not just walking around the mountains,” he says. “They’re actually doing a pilgrimage and giving prayers at … about 260 places on the mountain.”

The Kaihogyo is often described as an ascetic practice. Mitsunaga says it’s really not that hard. A lot of it is just learning to manage time.

“My walking prayers take up less than half of the day,” he points out. “Anyone can do that. But the rest of my daily routine is also a part of my spiritual practice. I have to take care of the whole temple by myself, and it can take forever. If I don’t do things quickly, I get no sleep.”

During the Kaihogyo training, Mitsunaga got up at 12:30 a.m. and walked from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monastic routines and household chores took up the rest of the day. He slept for 4 1/2 hours a night.

Death Of The Old Self

After 700 days, the Kaihogyo practitioner faces what Mitsunaga calls an exam. He enters a hall and prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.

“Put simply, you just have to give up everything and pray to the Immovable Wisdom King,” he says. “By doing this, he may recognize you and allow you to live for nine days.”

The practitioner interrupts his prayers every night to come to a small fountain and get an offering of water for Fudo Myo-o. Toward the end of the nine days, the practitioner is so weak, he must be supported by fellow monks.

Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.

Mitsunaga pauses, struggling to find the words to describe his transcendental experience. Finally, he says that his fast helped him realize this: He is interconnected with everything else; independence is simply an illusion.

“Everybody thinks they’re living on their own without help from others,” Mitsunaga says. “This is not possible. I really think that others have done something for me, and I have a feeling of gratefulness to other people.”

Training Yourself To Help Others

One lesson of the Kaihogyo is that in order to help others, you have to first train yourself. Rhodes says that dividing the Kaihogyo’s 1,000 days into 700- and 300-day phases is a way to determine how much time to devote to cultivating yourself and how much to spend to helping others. He says the 70-30 split is based on the different stages of becoming a Buddha — of which there are 10.

“The first seven are working for your own benefit, cultivating your own mental attitudes,” Rhodes explains. “And from the seventh, eighth and ninth stages, you’re not only working for yourself, but you’re working for everyone else as well.”

Now, Mitsunaga spends most of his time training younger monks and tending to the spiritual needs of his small and mostly middle-aged or elderly congregation.

After the service, a woman in the congregation remarks that in her frenetic life, moments when she can attain stillness are few and fleeting. But Mitsunaga’s whole life, she says, just seems like a continuous state of pure mind. She says she learns this and so much more just from watching him move.

[via Vermont Public Radio]
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