When we lived in England, we would often be asked if we were related to the well-known rock and roll star Helen Shapiro. She was a fabulous Brit singer in the '60s who sang with the Beatles and other icons, and her most famous song was "Walking Back to Happiness." We would always humorously reply and smile, "No relation, but we're walking forward to happiness!"
Walking is a powerful practice of mindfulness. Through such movement the mind becomes quiet, while the boundaries between stillness and movement dissolve. We were leading a meditation retreat in Ireland, and Alistair was restless and having a hard time sitting. His posture was askew: he would start out sitting upright but within five minutes would be bent over. Every so often we would very quietly say, "Keep your back straight," and he would try but it did not last long. When we interspersed sitting with walking meditation, however, he was in his element, maintaining long times of quiet movement. At the end of the five days, we asked how everyone had done and if there was anything they would like to share. Alistair simply said, "Thank you for introducing me to my feet."
Although meditation can be an experience of profound awareness and unconditional happiness, of merging into a greater whole and dissolving boundaries, it is not a matter of either ignoring or forgetting the body. There are many stories of ascetics denying their physical needs in an attempt to purify their bodies and minds, and the Buddha himself also practiced such austerity, until he realized that spiritual awakening was not separate from his physical self.
"Meditation is a way to become a full human being, a mature human being, a person who is in possession of themselves and experiences this world in a complete way," says meditation teacher Reggie Ray in our book "Be the Change." "When you bring awareness into your body you enter into a realm of mystery and openness around feeling and sensation... Insights arise, but also new ways of feeling and experiencing the world."
Mindfulness is more than just being aware of thoughts and feelings (or how we relate to others); it also applies to our physical movement, such as walking or how we pick up a cup of tea. Do we reach out and grab the cup with aggression, or do we pick it up with dignity and respect? How do we experience and treat our world? So often seekers want to reach for the sky without noticing what is here, all around them.
Rather, we can sit, sing, or walk our meditation practice in the body, as through it our thoughts and feelings find expression. By paying attention to the body, we find that it will speak to us, it will show us where we are holding or resisting, and enable us to embody awareness in the relative world.
"For me, it is easier and more effective if I work through my body -- I can unravel things pretty deep and quick," says Sounds True owner Tami Simon in "Be the Change." "I breathe right into those tight places and ask them to show me what they are holding... If we listen to our body, it is asking us to enter a natural meditation, it tells us to lie down when we are tired, it tells us when we need to stop, to slow down. Moving meditation is the ideal way of slowing us down enough so our body can speak to us."
The beauty of walking or moving meditation is that we can do it anywhere at any time. There is awareness of how things are; we pay attention to what is without judgment, no good nor bad. Life is without bias and becomes richer as a result. There is greater clarity and way more unconditional happiness.
Are you walking forward to happiness? Do comment below.
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See our award-winning book, "Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World," with forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman and contributions from Jack Kornfield, Gangaji, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie, and others.
Our three meditation CDs -- "Metta: Loving-Kindness and Forgiveness," "Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight" and "Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation" -- are available at www.EdandDebShapiro.com.
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