Some students have a sneaking suspicion that walking meditation is not really meditation at all, or that it’s perhaps a sort of watered down meditation. I think these suspicions are unfounded, and are probably based on the misconception that in order to do meditation you have to be sitting still.
This is probably a very similar misconception to the idea that you can only really meditate well in full lotus position. Both misconceptions are trying to define meditation in terms of what is happening outwardly, rather than in terms of what you are doing internally. Meditation is a process of developing greater awareness so that we can make changes to our consciousness so that we can be more deeply fulfilled, and have a greater understanding of life. It’s essentially an inner activity.
This might seem to be somewhat contradictory to all of the emphasis to have placed on having a good posture in meditation. But in emphasizing a good posture, all I am doing is encouraging you to set up the best possible conditions for developing greater awareness in order to achieve our desired goals of greater awareness, deeper fulfillment, and greater understanding.
Meditation in action
Walking meditation is meditation in action. When we do walking meditation, we are using the physical, mental, and emotional experiences of walking as the basis of developing greater awareness.
Walking meditation is an excellent way of developing our ability to take awareness into our ordinary lives. Any able-bodied person under normal circumstances does at least some walking everyday – even if it’s just walking from the house to the car, and the car to the office. Walking meditation is an excellent way to squeeze more meditation into the day — you can do it anytime you’re walking. Once we have learned how to do walking meditation, each spell of walking – however short – can be used as a meditation practice.
The great thing about walking meditation is that you can do it anytime you are walking — even in the noise and bustle of a big city. In fact it’s especially good (even necessary) to do it in a big city, with all the distractions of people and noise, and shop windows tying to catch your attention. When I used to walk through the city center in Glasgow, Scotland, I often used to practice walking meditation. At first, it would be very difficult to keep my awareness involved with my walking. Artfully designed shop window displays and advertisements would be beckoning to me, and my eyes would involuntarily flick to the side as if afraid of missing anything. Attractive people would parade past, dressed in their most eye-catching clothes, and my neck would yearn to turn to squeeze every last moment of enjoyment out of the experience of seeing them. But soon, I began to feel increasingly comfortable keeping my eyes directed forwards.
I realized that there was a kind of battle going on. Advertisers and shop window designers were trying to capture some of my awareness, and I was trying to hold onto it. And when I began to realize that I was winning the battle, I would feel a surge of joy and exultation. I then realized that the normal state of distractedness in which I would normally walk down a busy street was deeply unsatisfactory. When your attention is constantly seeking satisfaction outside of yourself – through glancing at consumer goods or at attractive passers-by – then your internal experience becomes fragmented, as if you’re leaving parts of yourself strewn along the city streets. In this state of fragmentation, it is even harder to find sources of fulfillment within. This leads to a vicious cycle, where we feel increasingly hollow and fragmented as we seek fulfillment outside ourselves.
Practicing walking meditation is a way of “de-fragmenting” our minds. One of the literal meanings of the word “sati” (usually translated as “mindfulness”) is “recollection.” In practicing mindfulness we are “re-collecting” the fragmented parts of our psyches, and reintegrating them into a whole. As we become more whole, we become more contented and more fulfilled. This is one of the main benefits and aims of the practice of mindfulness.