When I learned that I would be teaching Mindful Walking at our next training, my heart sank. I have never been a big fan of Mindful Walking. It feels too scripted and fake. Probably not a very open, non-judgmental viewpoint, but even Mindfulness Teachers have preferences.
The image I associated with Mindful Walking came from a trip to Marin County back in 2007. I was at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and saw a large group of middle-aged women walking aimlessly around the grounds, looking like soulless corpses said to be revived by witchcraft - the Oxford Dictionary definition of Zombie. The dictionary entry continues with this: A person who is or appears lifeless, apathetic, or completely unresponsive to their surroundings. Doesn’t sound very mindful to me. Or one bit fun.
But that was my assignment, so time to look a bit deeper. The simplest definition I could find of Mindful Walking was:
Walking and knowing that you are walking.
It seems obvious, but the truth is that most of us walk in Automatic Pilot, absorbed in our thoughts and barely paying any attention to the walking itself. Automatic Pilot is actually a wonderful skill that only human brains can accomplish. Auto Pilot extends our working memory so we can concentrate on a small number of things at once by creating habits of doing that allow us to drive a car without thinking about every integral aspect of driving a car. The problem comes when we become driven by our habits and miss what is actually going on. One habitual action leads to another and another and eventually it extends to our thoughts and feelings.
So…... Walking and knowing that you are walking. I still wasn’t convinced. The week before the training, I had volunteered to spend 9 days with my granddaughter, Emma Rose, while her parents were on a trip to Greece with my daughter-in-law’s family. It was a great opportunity for them to get away, so I happily took the time off from teaching and clients to bond with my little sweetheart. Emma is 16 months old and obsessed with extending her working memory so she can learn to walk without thinking about walking. At this point, she can only walk if she holds your finger. She’s little, so the walking is slow, and usually back and forth if we are outside, or in a circle if we are in the house. I’m a tall Grandma, so I’m stooped over so she can reach my finger, and even though I love her more than any other human on the planet, I got really bored with the pace and repetition. But then I remembered my assignment for the following week. What an opportunity to practice Mindful Walking! So we did.
The first step was getting out of THINKING MODE and into SENSING MODE, which meant that instead of thinking about what else I could be getting done or how bored I was with the 3 driveways we were walking between, I opened up to the sensual world around me. The sound of the birds, the scent of the flowers, the taste of the wind. But sensations aren’t always pleasant, so I also noticed the litter, the police sirens, the weeds. And I must admit it was amazing what I noticed. I wasn’t being lifeless, apathetic or completely unresponsive to my surroundings. I was noticing them in a way I hadn’t been noticing them – and it wasn’t boring or frustrating at all. Even the weeds were more interesting than being bored and frustrated.
Another aspect of Mindful Walking is getting out of DOING MODE and into BEING MODE. In Doing Mode we are walking to get from A to B. From the car to the door. The door to the stairs. Up the stairs to the office. Walking to get somewhere. Being Mode is more nourishing, more present, and more accepting of whatever shows up, whether its pleasant or unpleasant, boring or stimulating. In Being Mode, I opened my awareness and realized that very soon Ms. Emma Rose is NOT going to need my finger to walk. In fact I’ll probably tell her to hold my hand before we cross the street and she won’t want to. So even though I had already seen the weeds and noticed the blue sky, it was the relationship I brought to the experience that really mattered. Appreciation goes a long way on the road to Mindfulness.
OK. So the truth is that I was sporadically mindful that week. I still got frustrated and a little bit bored, and I also noticed when I did. There were also times when we were walking and I was so full of love I almost burst. We were close that week in a way we never will be again. She’s coming again next weekend and it will be different. She’ll be a little more independent and maybe her fascination with Grover will have been replaced by Baby Stella…. That’s the thing. Each moment is amazing and precious if we can just wake up and notice it. Frustrated? Bored? That’s being mindful too, because until you notice it, you’re on Auto Pilot.
Mindful Walking. Turns out I’m a big fan. I just didn’t know it until I woke up and noticed.