Training your ever-wandering attention to be more present is a bit like taking an all-over-the-place puppy to obedience school. And it can be just as worth it,
freeing you up to be more of the “you” that you want to be.
Dedicated practice using an app or an audio can be invaluable.
But when you don’t have much time, and who does, there is gold to be discovered in the margins of the day. For example, chances are you will walk, at least to the car, bathroom or kitchen, during your day. Even these short walks can be used to get present, aware and open.
Walking mindfully can help also if you
- find sitting still for a meditation practice difficult
- find it difficult to focus on the breath
- would like exercise to be more fun and meaningful – and that half hour goes by so much quicker!
Four ways to walk mindfully,
- Mindful Magazine has an article here describing one approach, together with an audio.
- This practice written by Russ Harris, involves quietly sending good wishes to the people and creatures that you see during your walk. You could abbreviate these wishes, for example, to “May you experience joy today”…. to the driver of the van that passes by. Or “May you be free from danger”, to the duck family waddling to a pond. When your mind gets distracted, as it naturally will, notice what captured your attention, and gently bring your attention back to the exercise.
- You could practise “snippets” of mindfulness in just a few steps – when walking to your car in the morning, for example, you might notice the crunch of gravel under your feet, the bag strap on your shoulder. Breathe in deep the morning air, perhaps sending good wishes to everyone who is starting their day, making space for other thoughts and feelings you might notice.
- If you have a religious or spiritual tradition then you could use a phrase from this as an anchor, while you walk. Here is a walking meditation from the Navajo (Diné) tradition, called “The Beauty Way”:
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
You could shorten this in some way, for example “beauty before me, beauty behind me” and so on, noticing beauty as you walk.
- Notice what barriers show up; the mind doesn’t like change and will find all sorts of reasons why a practice like this won’t work or be a good idea…
- Feel free to adapt the practice with your own words, and to suit your energy levels/time.
- For variety, you could randomly dip in and out of practices like these during one single walk.
- You could also experiment with walking in an area (a) that you don’t know well, or (b) that you don’t find pleasant (being sensible about your safety of course). It can be interesting to notice where your attention is pulled in these situations, and the thoughts and images that show up. Also, how your emotions often follow accordingly.
- I say this often, but remembering to practice can be the hardest part. A client of mine has inked a big red dot on the toe of her walking shoes as a reminder to walk mindfully awhile!
Awareness is a conduit, not a solution – Jonathan Fields
Might you be willing to take your next ten or so steps with gentle and open awareness, when you have finished reading this?
Why might training and gathering your attention in this way be helpful?
As an example, right now my head feels foggy after working at the computer for a long while. I know from past experience that if for example one of my children talks to me right now, I will look at them, dazed, and only half hear what they are saying 🙁 So I am setting the intention now, that when I have finished writing this, I will slow my breathing and notice the ground under my feet as I walk outside. This will help me be more grounded and present for my family.
ps it’s not possible to always be this aware, and if you ask my family they will confirm I am often not! Making practice a habit really is the trickiest part.