About 30 years ago I studied with a Buddhist monk who taught walking meditation.
First thing I should make clear, I’m not a Buddhist. I’ve studied with Buddhists, Christians, Daoists, Zoroastrians, Byzantines, Russian Orthodox, Jewish and Hebrew, Systema, MicMac, Paiute, Mohawk, Tlinglet, Sami, … I’ve studied with these folks, and many others because I was taught and taught and retaught “to know any one thing you must know everything.”
This post is about one gentle, diminutive fellow with an amazing soul and what he taught me.
This teacher and I were walking down a suburban sidewalk in Watertown, MA along Rt 20 towards 128. He had his hands folded behind him, occasionally they’d swing free then return and clasp behind him. His eyes focused on the ground 3-5 feet in front of him. He moved effortlessly. If he did tire, I never knew it. He was in his 60s, I was in my early-mid 30s, and he could have walked me into the ground with plenty to spare. We walked and walked, under elm, oak, and pine that lined the streets, and along browning grasses due to a waterban that prohibited people from watering their lawns. We walked what seemed a marathon of walking, and something I was unprepared for under a hot August sun.
He smiled all the time, asking me questions and questioning my answers. He made me think and think and rethink about things I took for granted, things I thought I understood, things I did and didn’t care about.
And all the time we walked.
We were going up a hill, the heat and humidity were crushing my chest. My shirt and chinos stuck to me making the simplest motions difficult. He wasn’t experiencing any of this. I assumed it was because he was from southeast Asia and use to such weather.
He didn’t stop walking, he didn’t slow. He said, “You walk too hard.”
“I walk too hard?” I sputtered.
“Yes. Walk easier.”
“Watch how I walk.”
Watch how he walked. I suppose that’s a normal enough thing for people studying kinesiology, body movement, athletes and athletics, actors, mimes. I had long watched people and realized I’d never actually watched people walk. I mean walking is walking is walking.
“Watch how I walk.”
Okay. I focused on how he was walking, not the fact that he was walking.
His steps were determined. Focused. Intentional. He was more than walking. Or the walking wasn’t something he was doing alone. It was a shared experience. His walking was something he shared with the earth.
He walked softly. I mean literally softly. His feet reached out to meet the earth. His walking was a greeting to whatever came along his path.
He did swing his arms, not often, but he did. And sometimes it seemed like he was reaching out for something, touching something. Or acknowledging something.
Or welcoming something.
Occasionally he did look further ahead. As if checking something in the distance.
And when he changed direction, which wasn’t often, he “lowed” first, kind of like cattle in a field moving their heads back and forth to find the sweetest grass. Before he changed direction he lowed as if looking for something, and finding it, set off in that new direction.
“Tell me how I walk.”
I shared what I’d noticed.
“Very good. You’ve told me about me. That is half the story. Now tell me about who I walk with.”
His head rocked back and he laughed. “Yes, you. Who else?”
I looked around, a typical BDWG (Big Dumb White Guy).
“Who am I meeting, what am I greeting? Who am I touching? What am I acknowledging?
“Who am I welcoming?”
Who was he welcoming?
“Look at my path and tell me what you see.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “Watch where you’re going”? He did that. He watched where he went and he explained to me why he did so.
“The earth and all that is in it, all that is on it, all that is above it and around it, is riddled with energies. Sometimes these energies create paths.”
He wasn’t sure as he didn’t know enough about ley lines to say yes or no. The energy lines he was describing go and flow everywhere. “Animals in the forests make paths that follow the old ways of the earth. But these aren’t just hidden in forests. People use to see them and follow them, too. We still can, if we watch where we’re walking. Look at the shapes on the earth, how nature raises things here and lowers things there, where the streams and rivers run, how the mountains rise and the deserts and oceans flow and you’ll see where the earth’s sharing her energy. It just takes a willingness to look, acknowledge, understand, accept, …”
I frowned. They were there. Obviously so. I never noticed before.
“Follow these paths when you walk and the earth shares her energy with you. You won’t tire. Stay on these paths and you’ll find peace with all that’s around you.” At which point he jumped up and clicked his heels. Not easy to do in sandals. I would have thought him a leprechaun if it weren’t for the dark brown of his skin, slant of his eyes and shaven head. “See?”
He smiled as he held his hand out to me. “Take it. Learn to walk the path with me. Don’t be afraid. The earth is waiting.”
My next step changed my life. There is much more to the Walking Meditation than is discussed here. That’s perhaps for another post.
Teaching the Walking Meditation is now part of my Practice and I share it with others.
Now it’s your turn.
Take my hand. Come walk with me.
Excellent post! Gives new meaning to talking the talk and walking the walk. I had a friend who has since passed on and we would go together for a walkie-talkie. I wish I could share this with him. Thanks for helping me to walk better!
Victor, happy to be of service.
Should we meet at some point, let’s go for a walk together. I’m sure there’s worlds we could share.