Even though meditation practices offer us a way to recenter and settle into a focused, quiet state of mind and body, for some people the process of doing a sitting meditation creates anxiety. For these people, rather than bringing pleasure and relaxation, focusing inside is an uncomfortable experience, and may activate fear instead of calm. When we’ve been hurt as children, or struggle with anxiety or panic for any reason, we often learn to ignore or push away awareness of what was going on inside ourselves. By definition, most meditation asks us to focus on being aware of our awareness – just the opposite of what we may have done historically in an effort to feel safe and comfortable in our own skin.
There is tremendous benefit in learning to be comfortable with your own internal world, so an important question is how to begin to develop that comfort. This takes me to one of the things I care most about sharing with people: the power of awareness. When we are able to be more conscious of our ongoing thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges, we learn that awareness of what’s going on inside us generates the possibility of choice. With an increased capacity to choose how we want to be and respond in each moment, we have an opportunity to move through the world with a greater sense of mastery, empowerment and safety.
Most importantly, when we are able to be in touch with what’s going on inside us, we can discover that there is nothing there that can really hurt us. What we discover are thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that arise in the present moment, along with all of our various urges and impulses. In and of themselves, these “contents of consciousness” can’t do anything to us. We may have thoughts that frighten us, feelings that seem to be overwhelming, or urges that may be self-destructive, and it’s important to learn strategies to deal with these. But, awareness in and of itself is only awareness. Nothing more, nothing less.
When we learn to fend off awareness of our own internal world, we are likely to disown parts of ourselves, or feelings, that cause us discomfort, whether we intend to or not. We become frightened of our own thoughts and emotions. We learn ways not to know what’s going on in and around us. We avoid spending time with ourselves in ways that would allow us to move toward a greater sense of wholeness. It’s within a context of wholeness – of being able and willing to experience the positive and not-so-positive aspects of ourselves – that we can feel safer in our present-day world. Paradoxically, as we allow ourselves to come to know those things that frighten us about ourselves, we develop greater resilience and internal strength. We tap into an increased ability and willingness to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us, as well as our internal responses to these events and situations. Rather than hiding from awareness, we discover that safety and balance emerge from embracing it.
The following meditation offers you a way to go inside and feel grounded at the same time. Rather than sitting and experiencing the quiet, this is a walking meditation. It is a variation on a popular and often-used meditation practice found in a number of traditions. It offers you an opportunity to ground yourself in the bottoms of your feet and to focus your attention on your sensory awareness in this moment.
You can do this meditation indoors or out, depending on what’s available to you. Your focus will be on the contact your feet have with whatever surface is under you. Allow whatever amount of time you have available.
If you can, spend 20 minutes or so doing this meditation. If you find it stressful to focus at all, then five minutes would be enough. The key thing is to give yourself an opportunity to discover that it’s safe, today, right now, to be aware of yourself and what’s moving through your experience. If you’re someone who enjoys sitting meditation, doing a walking meditation offers an alternative way of engaging your practice.
- Begin by deciding where you’re going to walk – someplace where you won’t be disturbed.. Be sure you have on comfortable shoes and clothing and that you have set aside whatever time you need to do this meditation
- Take a few moments to focus your attention on the bottoms of your feet. Feel how your feet make contact with the surface under you.
- Remind yourself that your feet support your body and the surface under you supports your feet. There’s no effort here. Just be aware of the support available to you.
- Now, slowly take a step forward. As you do, notice how you lift one foot and, as you move forward, the foot still on the ground begins to roll forward, as well, and you naturally shift your weight. Do this slowly enough so that you can feel the various elements of taking a step.
- Pay attention to how your other foot touches the ground as you move into the step. Very slowly, simply allow the step to unfold and notice the movement of your body. Do this in whatever way allows you to keep your balance comfortably. The point here is not to get anywhere. It’s to be aware of each element of your steps, to bring awareness to the process of walking mindfully.
- As you walk, also notice your surroundings, the colors, shapes, textures, smells. Allow into awareness whatever arises, and invite yourself to refocus on the bottoms of your feet and the steps you’re taking if you find that your mind has drifted away from the meditation.
- Also notice your breathing. Notice how it feels to settle your awareness in your belly, as well as in the bottoms of your feet. Become aware, as well, of the palms of your hands and your fingers. Your goal is to be present in your body as you notice your experience of walking slowly in this moment.
- If you notice any feelings or thoughts arise, whether you experience them as comfortable or uncomfortable, name them – “thought”, “feeling” – and then let them just keep moving through. Notice that if you will allow it, every thought, feeling, and sensation that arises naturally moves through and moves on. It’s the nature of all the contents of consciousness to keep moving if you allow them to.
- When you have walked for the time you allowed, stop and take a moment to notice how you feel, physically and psychologically.
- As you come back to everyday activities and awareness, notice what happens if you continue to inhabit yourself the way you did during your walking meditation.