Bumping into the wall and walking to the edge of a swimming pool with eyes firmly shut is not the best way to do a walking meditation.
I found that out when I finished swimming in the Olympic size pool at the LA Fitness gym in a section of Philadelphia recently. I leisurely finished 36 laps (that’s a half-mile, mostly swimming on my back because I never learned the proper breathing technique for the breast stroke. I gulp too much of the pool when I push my self to be a “real” swimmer. Give me the back stroke eight out of nine strokes any old day).
I spoiled my self in the spa, meditating in the hot waters, feeling myself back in the womb and safe despite the turbulent waters gushing on, over and under all of my body parts. Now, as I exited the whirlpool, I had extra time to perform a Zen-like practice that I have never really liked, but heard could do wonders for me if I persevere at it enough: Walking Meditation.
You extend your right foot first (don’t ask me why, but the Buddhist Monk I studied with at a recent workshop advised us to follow his lead). As you step forward, you inhale a long breath. All of your weight is resting on your back foot, your left foot, and as you slowly, ever so slowly, begin to lift that foot, you start to exhale, gently placing the left foot down and removing the bulk of your weight off the other foot. Your right foot. Got that?
By focusing on the weight and the feel of each foot lifting and coming in contact with the ground, you are better able to avoid the racing of thoughts from your mind that seem to constantly intrude on your breath, the anchor for your meditative posturing. Focusing on your breath allows you to be calmer, to relax your shoulders, and feel looser with each succeeding step.
I took it one step further, to pardon my pun.
I shut my eyes.
Now, shutting one’s eyes can work if you are in a large group, say 50 people as I was with over a week ago at an Omega Institute workshop on PTSD. You have people in front and behind you and you can pretty much “feel” where they are in relationship to where you are, even with your eyes closed. At least for a couple, three or four steps, that is.
I would not recommend any one to do this alone, particularly on a thin rubber mat running between a concrete wall and the edge of the pool.
You guessed it! I hit both in the span of just a few steps, all of which I believed were straight forward paced steps but actually turned out to be meandering, off the center of the mat steps to a world beyond.
My left elbow struck the wall as I staggered forward, trying to keep my balance as I slowly placed one foot ahead of the other. What is it with the aging process and the lack of balance? I have a hearing problem and some ringing in the ears, but I still feel relatively healthy and physically vibrant. Why am I crashing into walls when ever I try this meditation technique?
I recovered, however, and adjusted my internal compass, intentionally moving with my eyes closed to the opposite direction. Three steps later, my right sandal and the foot within it feels nothing beneath it, and I pull back before stepping off the mat and into the pool where a young woman is swimming.
Feeling a little peculiar, I explain to her about this method of meditation, and how I had my eyes closed and how I am usually more coordinated than I am now, and she just smiles, adjusting her swimming cap and getting ready to push-off for another lap. I give up trying to explain it to her. Hell, she is young, might still be in the late 20s or early 30s. What does she know about inner ear problems and the imbalance of my aging life?
So, I bring my two hands together, palms facing each other with both wrists against my chest where the heart resides and I bow, saying: “Namaste.”
She smiles, looks up from the pool, and responds in kind, “Namaste.”
That more than made up for any awkwardness I felt in my new way of walking.
Hours later, I can still feel the smile it brought to my face.