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Mindfulness Is Much More Than Meditation

Opportunities to awaken present-moment awareness. Part 2 of 2

Dan Mager
Source: Dan Mager

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

As I noted in my last blog post, mindfulness and meditation are commonly conflated. And, while they are certainly related, they are not the same. Although meditation practice is a primary pathway to achieving and sustaining mindfulness, mindfulness extends far beyond meditation. It may be helpful to think of meditation as a subset of mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness and learn to observe your present-moment experience—whether positive, painful, or neutral—both internal and external, with greater acceptance, with your eyes wide open, without sitting silently on a cushion, and without special settings or uninterrupted blocks of time.

There are myriad ways to incorporate mindfulness into the ordinary tasks and activities of everyday life. There are virtually unlimited opportunities to consciously anchor your awareness in the here and now and access brief but meaningful moments of mindfulness throughout the course of your day. Small pebbles can make big ripples.

Mindful Walking

When you walk, how much do you consciously consider the process of walking? In general, how much actual attention do you pay to where you are and the physical aspects of the process? To what extent do you really watch where you’re going? A remarkable number of people today pay little conscious attention to how and where they walk. How many people do you see focusing more on their phones than on where they place their feet?

Mindful walking is a form of walking meditation, a process of bringing present-moment attention to the act of walking, wherever you may be. You walk while anchoring your conscious awareness in each step and can practice this anywhere: in your home, at work, while shopping, in a crowded urban area, or out in nature.

Initially, it’s best to learn this practice by walking back and forth between two points about fifteen to twenty feet apart. The beginning practice will help you get a feel for the experience of walking mindfully.

  • While standing still, become aware of your body and how it feels. Feel your feet on the ground.
  • Allow your knees to bend ever-so-slightly.
  • Take two to three deep breaths and bring your awareness into the present moment.
  • Begin to walk slowly, so you can tune in to the particulars of the process of walking.
  • Walk at a pace that allows you to feel the direct sensations of your legs and feet moving.
  • With each step, bring your awareness to the act of lifting your foot, followed by stepping your foot on the ground.
  • To keep your attention connected with the sensations of walking, you may find it helpful to repeat the following phrase to yourself: Lifting, stepping—lifting, stepping—lifting, stepping.
  • Breathe intentionally as you walk.
  • Feel the changing sensations in your feet and legs—the shifting of weight, pressure, and movement.
  • Although the sensations may feel a bit strange and your walking may seem stiff, try to walk naturally and easily.
  • With practice and a more “normal” pace, you may find it helpful to internally say just one word per stride, e.g. right then left, right, left, right, left.
  • When you notice your mind engaged in thoughts or stories, do not judge. Gently bring your awareness back to the sensations of lifting and stepping.
  • When you reach the end of your walking path, stop and stand still, taking a few moments to feel your body standing in a neutral state of rest before turning around and beginning to walk in the other direction.

Once you’re familiar with the process of mindful walking, you can take this practice anywhere you walk, from the inner city to the mountain wilderness. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist monk once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., encourages, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Copyright 2019 Dan Mager, MSW

Author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery and Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain