I understand the benefits of meditation, and I want them.
Many of my tribe have a healthy meditation practice, from those who work it into their schedule to those who are incredibly dedicated.
I have one friend who goes on 10-day meditation retreats where he resolves to go without communication at all, even non-verbal forms. He has to (insert gulping sound) leave his phone in his car before he enters the compound.
While the thought of 10 days without communication with another human being sounds like a nightmare to me, I would like to harness that energy for at least a couple of hours a week.
Unfortunately for me, I am chronically under-rested. So I joke frequently that meditation equals a nap for me. As soon as I get still with my eyes closed for too long, I am asleep.
While I am working on the rest part, I have explored other ways to connect to my “higher self,” including sleep hypnosis. I am not quitter though, so I set out on a quest to find ways to meditate without checking out into dreamland.
I Googled “falls asleep during meditation” so that I could get some recommendations, and one of the recurrent suggestions was walking meditation. Finally! I am pretty sure that I cannot fall asleep while walking. (Although I have fallen asleep standing up.)
Committed to giving this a try, I downloaded the “Calm” app on my phone and headed to the park. Thinking that it would take just the perfect sound to streamline this process, I spent way too much time listening to calming tracks, trying to discern the difference between “Celestial Sunbeams” and “Gleaming Sunshine,” and wondering why “Silent Clouds” is even an option.
I love the sound of the ocean, so I picked one of the many wave varieties and started my walk. Immediately, I found my mind focused on the incongruence of crashing waves in this little forested park, so I quickly switched to one with a gently flowing stream.
The first crisis averted, I started walking and realized this was going to be more challenging than I anticipated. I am used to walking for exercise, so slowing my pace down to one that is conducive to meditation challenges the competitive part of my ego.
Reminding this loud part of myself that the goal is different today, I brought my focus back to right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. This was going somewhat well, and I did my best to reel in the wandering thoughts and bring my attention back to the rhythm of my feet moving forward.
“Oh, look at that beautiful butterfly!”
I think I may have even said this out loud, and my thoughts drifted abruptly to how wonderful this time of year is at the park with all the butterflies in vibrant colors. I feel like a butterfly sometimes—in the process of becoming. I felt so grateful to have gotten to see this particular specimen.
Stop walking. Re-center. I told myself that I can enjoy the butterflies more after my meditation time.
I was able to keep bringing my awareness back to my steps and brief body scans. The feeling of the wind on my skin, the sun in my eyes, and the feel of the earth under my feet. Until I passed several pieces of trash on the ground, which launched me into an internal tirade about how people toss things on the ground, and then others walk right by or even over it like it does not exist.
Stop walking. Re-center. The trash will be here in a few minutes.
This process went on through cute puppies, playful children, and an adorable, elderly woman who wanted to talk about the beautiful day. I decided that I should not be so dedicated to my meditation that I ignore attempts at engagement, even if I tried to keep them kind but short.
Although I was not falling asleep, I felt like I was starring in an episode of “Short Attention Span Theater.” Keeping my mind from wandering is difficult enough when I am in a quiet room with little distraction. This was going to take some serious practice and planning.
The next day, I decided I was going to pick a quiet time to go to the gym at work and walk back and forth on the mat. Less distraction, or so I thought. Instead of right foot, left foot, it was more like right foot…that floor needs sweeping. Left foot…was that the door opening? Right foot…how many steps is it to the end of the mat? Left foot…was that the phone?
I felt so vulnerable with headphones on. It was like I was going to miss something or someone critical. Obviously my workplace was not going to be the ideal location for this.
In the past, I would have written this whole project off, telling myself that I tried walking meditation, and it didn’t work for me. Two days in a row was enough, right?
This time, I was determined to at least keep trying.
I decided that outside was much better for my energy and ability to walk without the distraction of turning back and forth and the responsibilities inherent with the place I work. What had kept my foray outside from working before? Distractions from others, frustration with trash, and appreciation for the beauty around me, I recalled.
After some thought, I came up with a compromise for myself. I would go to the park and burn off some of the competitive energy with a brisk walk—during which, I spent some time in gratitude to the natural artistry around me. The butterflies, the birds, the flowers, the trees. During this portion of my walk I took the time to chat with others enjoying the day and picked up trash along my route.
After 20 minutes of what I would consider a “regular” walk, I went to the quieter part of the trail and switched from upbeat workout music to my calming stream. I spent a moment setting an intention to keep my attention inward as much as was safe when moving forward, as someone who can legitimately trip over her own feet.
Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. Occasional body scan. When my mind wandered to the external, I returned my focus to this pattern. It was a rejuvenating experience that I was pleased I had persevered. In the process, I learned that I need to unwind and experience my surroundings before I can pull inward.
It is difficult for me to recommend this practice, since I have had limited success in other areas. I can say it that it has enabled me to expand my mindfulness exercises while remaining conscious (pronounced awake). I have developed an appreciation for the benefits and the confidence to expand my meditative activities.
I do not think I will ever be someone who wants to go on a 10-day retreat, but I have such respect for that level of discipline and dedication. For now, I am content to project energy and effort outward through gratitude and connection on the first part of my walk, and then pull all that back inward and apply it toward my own expansion.
Baby steps, pardon the pun.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Image: Unsplash/Paul Dufour
Editor: Travis May