Formal walking meditation is done fairly slowly. You maintain awareness of each part of your foot, the sensation as each part touches the ground, your breathing, the touch of your clothes as your body moves, etc. It’s often used to give the body a little relief between multiple sits, without breaking the concentration that you’ve built up. Standing meditation is also used in this way.
Rush hour walking meditation
Although it’s not possible to maintain this level of awareness on a busy London street on your way to or from work, you can still use the principles. I try to do this twice a day – between the train and the office.
It’s very easy for our minds to be caught up in the day – either what we anticipate the day will be about, or going over what it was about. When the mind is in this state, you aren’t really experiencing your life. For me this is important. Life is a temporary state. And this period of your life is even more temporary. Whether you’re young, middle aged or older, this is a phase that will be over before you know it. Why not enjoy it while it’s here?
The incredible truth is that it’s impossible to go through your entire life without really being around for any of it. All the things you worry about, or fantasise about, that never happen. All the replayed frustrations where you think of all the different ways you would’ve handled it if you’d had that time again – they end up being what your life was. A bunch of fictions in your mind.
Meanwhile, the world shoots past. The kids grow up. Your parents get old. Your years of optimal health pass you by.
Bringing your attention back to right here and right now can be a bit of a struggle at first. It can also cause some anxiety – “Oh but I really need to think about X otherwise Y might happen!”
If that happens, just agree with yourself to postpone thinking about that for half an hour. Then you can come back to it. Often you’ll realise you don’t need to. It was just anxiety.
Another (traditional) technique I use is to consider the consequences of not putting some effort into maintaining a level of mindfulness. See above for a few suggestions!
If you persevere, you’ll find it easier and easier, and you’ll even enjoy it. Each moment is rich and beautiful. There is a magnificent peace to be enjoyed, even in the middle of big city rush hour.
One of my early teachers said to me that a good time to come back to yourself is when there is a change of rhythm. It can act as a reminder, like a meditation bell. For example, when you go through a doorway, that could be a reminder. When you go upstairs or downstairs. When you go inside or outside. When you stand up or sit down. All these changes can become the meditation bell. The world is full of them.
Those guys are both pretty gentle and slow. That’s their thing. But mindfulness can happen at speed, and can even promote it.
There is a story (that I’m paraphrasing and will probably mess up) about a Japanese emperor who had a samurai teacher and a Zen teacher. One day he received a tiger as a gift and decided he’d have a bit of fun.
He had the tiger brought into the room (in a cage of course) and called his two teachers to his side.
He commanded the tiger’s keeper to open the cage door.
“You!” he said to the samurai master. “Bring me a whisker from that tiger!”
The samurai got up and stealthfully made his way to the tiger. Moving slowly and gracefully, he eventually arrived. Carefully, and with great control, he extended an arm, then the hand, then the fingers, plucked a whisker, and retreated just as stealthfully as he had advanced.
“Emperor,” he said, bowing deeply, and offering the whisker.
The emperor was impressed.
“Now you!” he snapped at the Zen master.
The Zen master immediately leaped up, ran full pace to the tiger, grabbed a bunch of whiskers, and returned just as quickly.
I kind of wish the tiger had eaten the samurai, then the emperor, then the Zen master, than gone back to the jungle.
But aside from the animal rights issues, I quite like that story.