Half Moon Day: Meditation I: Be Prepared III

February 29, 2008

After that brief interval we return to the series of posts on meditation. This is the third so far, being the last of those concerning preparation. If you’ve missed the first two, where have you been?!

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4. WALKING MEDITATION = EFFORTLESS SITTING MEDITATION

Can you imagine a decent pilot saying no to a pair of turbo boosters for his plane? Just as he’d start to move along that runway he’d flick the switch and, ‘WHOOOSH’. Then he’d sit back, calmly pull back the controls, and take off with ease and grace. So too, a decent meditator wouldn’t say no to a little walking meditation before he sits. Walking meditation (cankama) empowers the mind with steady mindfulness. If you want to give your sitting meditation a turbo boost, try doing some walking meditation beforehand.

Think of a great knight of olden days, walking mindfully along with measured steps, clad in his glistening and impenetrable armour. As he moves gracefully along arrows fly at him from all directions. But due to his armour they simply bounce off and he continues walking undisturbed. When we practise walking meditation well, our awareness becomes surrounded by the armour of samadhi (concentration) and sati (mindfulness). The arrows of thoughts come at us from all directions, but due to the armour they simply bounce off and we continue undisturbed. We are focused and the mind is stable. Walking meditation brings very resilient concentration! I find that if I do walking meditation before sitting, much of the work needed to steady the mind has been done. I’ll sit and the shining armour of concentration and mindfulness will be firmly in place already, and the thoughts and moods will simply bounce off; their feeble attempts to distract me being no match for the armour.

(Here I am focusing on walking meditation in the context of sitting meditation. But walking meditation is a very powerful practice in its own right. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself! Strong negative states such as depression and anxiety can disappear surprisingly quickly when you do this practice. And not only will the armour of samadhi and sati enable your sitting meditation to deepen quickly; it will protect your mind no matter what you do through your day.)

The way of the great meditator

The Buddha praised walking meditation. He said that the concentration that comes from it persists for a long time (AN, 5). Six years ago I saw his brick walking path in Savatthi. It is said that he would spend his early mornings pacing up and down in the open.

We can also bring to mind the great masters of the Thai Forest Tradition and see how fundamental walking meditation is to them. One shining example is Ajahn Singtong. He used to spend about fourteen hours a day doing walking meditation! He walked so much that he created a rut in his path, and the novices kept on having to fill it in! Now, the chances are we won’t have the same effect as we generally walk on concrete…. But if you really try…

Ajahn Sao, Ajahn Mun’s first real teacher, likewise, was very inclined to cultivate for long periods on his twenty five or so paces of track. In one account of his practice we hear how he would do walking meditation ‘until he was happy’ to sit (which took about seven hours). Ajahn Chah said that as monks we should walk last thing at night until we are tired and ready to go to sleep. I have found that my mind state upon waking can be clear and concentrated if I have done some walking the night before.

A bridge

Walking meditation acts as a bridge between an unconcentrated state and our sitting meditation. Many people comment that the object of meditation, the footsteps, is more tangible than the breath.

HOW TO DO IT

Walking meditation is usually practised on a path measuring between ten and thirty paces. Though as we have many opportunities to do walking meditation throughout our day, we mustn’t just limit it to a special path. You can do it in a park, or on the pavement, or in those long corridors in a hospital. You can do it while you walk down the high street (this will have the added bonus of saving you money as you won’t see that amazing i-Phone in the shop window!).

So for those of you who haven’t attempted this thoroughly rewarding practice here are some basic instructions: Find a path of the length described above. You are going to walk back and forth in a straight line on this path. If you are walking through a park or on the pavement then you can do this without turning around. You can also do it in a room inside your house.

Now you stand still at the beginning of the path and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and be mindful and aware of your body. How does your body feel? Are you slumped at all? Just stand as still as you can for a minute or two. Be fully aware of the stillness of your body. Then slowly open your eyes and gently focus on a point on the path about two metres in front of you.

Then slowly begin to walk to the other end of the path. As you walk, focus your attention on the soles of the feet. This is now the object of your concentration, just as the breath is when you practise sitting meditation. You focus one-hundred percent of your attention on the soles of the feet. You observe the changing sensations as the foot makes contact with the ground. Carefully you absorb yourself in this stream of sensations as the footstep progresses from its beginning to its end. As the feet touch the ground you can repeat ‘Bud – dho’, ‘Bud-dho’. This helps you to keep your mind on its object.

It is recommended that you walk quite slowly at first so that you have a chance to really observe the sensations. When you get to the other end of the path you stop, slowly turn around – being careful not to lose your concentration – and then you carry on to the other end. And that’s it. You just keep doing that.

Of course as you do this the mind will wander off. Being that you are more open to your surroundings you might need to work harder to focus, but it is worth it. As soon as you realise the mind has flown off bring it back! Just keep focusing on sustaining your attention without interruption. The mind soon starts to wander less as you train it to focus on the footsteps. After a while the immaculate armour of concentration and mindfulness surrounds your awareness and the thoughts bounce pitifully off. Ha!

Continuing to walk in this way you become very peaceful. You find a nice momentum and the mind begins to enjoy it. “Ahhhh! So simple and peaceful. Just my footsteps and the path.” So we keep developing this concentration and the mind becomes more involved. The other senses of sound, sight, smell, taste and thought become less intrusive and we can become very peaceful and still as our samadhi deepens.

Then, when we are ready, we mindfully leave the meditation path and go and sit on our meditation cushion. We then mindfully cross our legs and mindfully close our eyes. As the armour of mindfulness and concentration is already in place samadhi can be attained with much less difficulty.

SUMMARY

In these three posts we have looked at how morality, loving-kindness, mindfulness and walking meditation can deeply affect the quality of our sitting meditation. We should certainly pay attention to at least the first two here, ideally the third, and, if we have the opportunity, the fourth.

Prepare for take off

The runway of morality is as solid and as smooth as a perfectly cut rock; the winds of anger and aversion have been stilled by metta; as we’ve been mindful, the fog of mindlessness and confusion has vanished; and the turbo booster of walking meditation has made the mind ripe for concentration.

The plane’s front wheels have now lifted. The pilot is anxious for me to write the next post! It’s time to take off and get down to developing our sitting meditation.

The next teaching will be given on:

The New Moon Day, Thursday, 6th March

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One Response to “Half Moon Day: Meditation I: Be Prepared III”

  1. Linda Ridpath said

    Tahn Manapo
    So much sense and it all seems so easy! Thankyou for stating the obvious for me, I always seem to need reminding!
    Linda

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