Walking Meditation

TreesFor each of the past 36 days I have consistently meditated for 20 to 30 minutes. Usually I do this while walking although I sometimes meditate sitting in a chair.

The method I employ is simple. I focus my awareness on the present moment. In a sense I actively abide in the gaps between thoughts in a state of pure awareness that is not overlaid with chattering thoughts or judgments. That is the intention anyway. It is easier to describe what it is not than what it actually is. For example, it is not thinking or evaluating. I can usually capture it in a pure state for only a few moments at a time. Often I can capture it while my mind is commenting on it but I can sort of marginalize the commentary or allow it to exist in the background. When this happens, I am aware of the commentary but I am also in touch with the present. Sometimes my focus on the present involves observing the blueness of the sky or keying into the sound of a bird chirping or the gurgling of the stream that runs along my walking route. Sometimes I can expand this awareness to take in a wider appreciation of my surroundings. The point is that I know when I am there when I am there. I recognize it.

When I meditate I become aware of three internal minds at work. The first is “the commentator.” Some people refer to this as “monkey mind” but I personally find that term to be annoying. This is the mind that comments on everything (often it comments on the mechanics of meditation) or it flashes pictures of memories and the like. I like to think of the commentator as the mechanical brain. This brain takes in information, stores it and repeats it. It is basically a mechanical function and in a sense is “mindless” ironically. The second mind is “the evaluator.” Some people might refer to this one as the ego. This mind judges, categorizes and assigns value to things. This is the part of the mind that is critical of the self and others. It is also the part of the mind that strives to become better, sets goals and becomes jealous. The final member of the mental trinity is the observer. This is the presence of awareness that sits in the background. It is able to observe the other two minds at work. It is also able to observe itself. This last mind is the one that I  try to maintain contact with while meditating. This mind is essentially passive and tends to become dominated by the other two minds if I do not actively try to keep it awake.

The main pitfall of meditation is a wandering mind. Typically, I get lost in the chattering commentary and I forget that I am meditating. When this happens and I become aware of it I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. Similarly, I might find myself evaluating something I observe or think about. I treat this the same way. I simply bring my awareness back to the present moment. I try not to judge myself when this happens. To do so would just be another distraction. In the same way, I try not to congratulate myself when I am successfully focusing on the present. Again that is another distraction. These distractions, however, are not bad things. In fact they are they are the means by which I deepen my practice. Every time I become aware that I am distracted and I bring my awareness back to where it belongs I am flexing my “meditation muscle” which is how it becomes stronger.

Every meditation instructor or book I have read on the subject seems to shy away from discussing the benefits of meditation or goals associated with meditation. I understand this is because thinking about the benefits of meditation or setting goals to become better at meditation simply becomes the content of distraction. This does not mean that it is necessarily bad to think about these things when not meditating. However, when actively meditating these thoughts become distraction and should be treated as such. That said, there are many benefits of meditation including improved concentration, strengthened will power, the ability to not be swept away by emotion, a relaxed mood, greater awareness in general and many other things. I have found that the more I meditate consistently the more an indescribable mystery sort of unfolds inside of me. It is as if my general state of awareness is akin to being asleep and meditation is a means of waking. This is difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it for themselves.

A final insight that I would like to talk about is the concept of the self. I think of it this way. I am not really my body or my mind. I inherited those things and I am grateful for them but I cannot really take credit for them. I had no say in acquiring them (that I am aware of anyway). Similarly, my thoughts and emotions are all products of experience. They are external in origin. This is particularly true with memories, facts and figures and anything I learned. This is also particularly true with the feelings I associate with prior abuse or praise. So I really cannot take credit for those things either (even though in my normal sleeping state I tend to take credit for them). So what part of all this is actually me? The conclusion that I have come to based on my experience meditating is that the only real part of me is that part of me that can choose where to place my attention. I suspect most people (myself included) most of the time squander their attention in the sense that they allow the commentator and the evaluator to run the show. They allow the observer to fall asleep. When I think about it, the ability to direct one’s attention is a very precious thing because it is the foundation for the experience of life. Perhaps it is the most precious thing there is.

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