It’s Not the Destination. It’s the Journey
Sitting crossed legged on the floor, still and straight-backed, has never been easy for me. It’s hard for me to focus, clear my mind, breathe with awareness, and stay calm. My mind wanders, my body often aches, and I can’t help fidgeting. But I love the feeling of alignment, clarity, and lightness I feel after finishing a meditation.
That is why when I began walking my dog 17 years ago, I started practicing a walking meditation. One day I might listen to the sounds of birds, leaves rustling, wind blowing, or pebbles crunching under my feet. Another walk I might think about my breathing, maybe counting the seconds breathing in, holding, and breathing out. Another may be walking and feeling the elements of the outdoors on my body—how the ground under my feet feels; how the sun feels on my skin.
When I moved to the beach over two years ago, I gained an environment that is perfect for walking meditations. We have beaches of all kinds, alluring state parks, great walking trails and—one of my favorite ways to meditate while I walk—a labyrinth at Lavender Fields in Milton. In fact, we have several labyrinths throughout the area: one in the cemetery at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes, another at Epworth UMC in Rehoboth, and one along Union Street in Milton, close to the ice cream parlor. These are all excellent surroundings in which to walk and meditate.
What is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation is more than just a simple stroll on the beach. It is usually done slower than normal and involves a specific focusing practice. Because the body is moving, not seated, it can be easier to be aware of body sensations and remain focused in the present moment.
Meditating when you are walking is about concentrating on where you are, not on where you are going. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” The Best Guide to Meditation, by Victor N. Davich, echoed, “You are not trying to get to a particular place but rather to be totally aware of the place where you are.”
Traditional meditation is the ability to allow thoughts and inner chatter to fall away and to create a deep feeling of stillness and peace. Philosophies such as Buddhism use meditation as an integral part of their faith.
Benefits of a Walking Meditation
Walking meditation does double duty. Not only does walking help your body overall stay healthy but it also contributes to a calm state of mind (similar to traditional meditation) which helps your immune system function optimally. The walking part helps the health of your heart, improves circulation, and contributes to overall health and wellness physically. Meditation combined with walking may allow a person to reduce anxiety and develop a deeper connection to nature. It also may help with depression and improve concentration. It can improve digestion, improve sleep quality, inspire creativity, and enhance balance.
Inner awareness has been the biggest benefit for me. I can discern better what truly resonates with me, apart from what may resonate with another. It has made me better able to hear and listen to my inner voice to guide me to what’s best for me.
Different Kinds of Walking Meditation
Where and how you practice is your choice. There is no wrong or right way to do a walking meditation.
You can walk in a circle, back and forth, in a straight line or in a labyrinth. (Labyrinths are one of the oldest contemplative and transformation tools known; they have been used for over 4,000 years for prayer, ritual, and spiritual growth.)
For me, the best ways to do a meditative walk is outside so I can be in touch with nature—smell the flowers, trees, and grass; hear the birds, the wind, and the waves; and see the sky and the clouds. It’s called mindful observation. It keeps me focused and present.
Another walking meditation I practice is one that involves focusing on my breathing as I walk. I can use my steps to measure breath. For example, I breathe in for eight steps, hold for eight steps, and breathe out for eight steps. Or I can exhale for twice as long as I inhale—inhale for a count of four; exhale for a count of eight.
Techniques can be as detailed as breaking down each step into parts or simply strolling mindfully in a space. You may incorporate breath or a mantra (an incantation).
An Insight Meditation teacher describes walking meditation as a metaphor for how we want to live our daily life—making each step count. Learning to walk without a purpose or compulsion in a controlled and relaxed way enhances the happiness we can experience. ▼
Pattie Cinelli is a journalist who focuses on leading-edge-of-thought ways to stay healthy and get well. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Fabiola Nadjar Fiore walking the labyrinth at Lavender Fields. Photo by Pattie Cinelli.