One of my favourite movie opening scenes is from Saturday Night Fever — John Travolta, Staying Alive, and THAT walk.
As a child I could never keep still, I loved to run everywhere, feel movement and energy. Sitting still, forget it! Later in my teens, after some pretty heavy personal disasters, I knew I had to take stock, improve my behaviour, become more aware of the consequences of my actions and maybe take life a little more seriously. I decided I would start by taking my Yoga more seriously. The movement of body and breath were soothing, but that wasn’t enough for the restless spirit that still roamed aimlessly in my head and more importantly my heart, so I signed up for a meditation course at a Buddhist centre in East London.
Things happened at a slower pace there, which was an immediate challenge. I worked hard and built up a personal best of 10 minutes sitting still. This was some achievement, but I didn’t want to graduate in sitting still, I wanted to experience mindfulness, awareness, skilful action and speech, all of the things that sitting meditation had so far placed just out of my reach. After a while, I became aware of an expectation amongst those smiling, previously unexpecting folk, they wanted me to sit for longer, possibly up to 30 minutes. This was a task I was just not suited to.
I move — my mind, body, and spirit fizz and vibrate all of the time. Singing, music, dancing, all stir that movement into a frenzy of happy energy called me, so I began to think that my spiritual days were numbered.
The next session however, introduced something called walking meditation. Eureka! This is for me, enlightenment was jumping up and down and galloping in my direction!
Disaster overtook my premature celebration when the instructor made us ‘walk’ so slowly that I kept losing my balance and landing on the poor person in front, who was attempting to do their best snail impression, whilst smiling of course, although I’m sure the smile was becoming more of an effort each time I toppled into them and whispered ‘sorry’. The eureka moment actually came after the tripping and toppling and a camomile tea break, during a talk about a Vietmanese monk called Thich Nhat Hanh — the father of walking meditation. The rest was history, my history anyway.
Now, 30 years later, I am in a very amazing place — alive — in no small way due to what I learned and continue to learn from this man. I still move, I love moving, dancing, and most of all walking. I think I make Ghandi look a little sluggish.
In his book ‘The Long Road Turns to Joy — a guide to walking meditation’, Thich Nhat Hanh says:
‘When you begin to practice walking meditation, you might feel imbalanced, like a baby learning to walk. Follow your breathing, dwell mindfully on your steps, and soon you will find your balance. Visualise a tiger walking slowly, and you will find that your steps will become as majestic as his’
Although the tiger in my head was definitely a female, the image was there, and I became majestic. For me, the key to my spiritual awareness and development was simply to BE myself, to move — mindfully. The next step was to be WITH myself, content in my own company. I took walks, got to know what good company I was. Adding a sprinkling of acceptance when needed, staying tuned into my own rhythm, it all fell into place. I have improved at the very slow walking required of me on retreats and practice days, although I do leave a larger gap between me and the person in front, just in case the tiger needs some space. Now I don’t feel bad about not doing this ‘captive walking’ well. Thich Nhat Hanh says:
‘The best practice is formless. Don’t walk so slowly that people think you are strange. Walk in a way that others do not even notice that you are practising’.
So, the rest of the time I just walk. My walk is powerful, wild, courageous, rebellious, mindful, aware and awake. I can hear the air moving around me, feel the sound of the birds singing or the waves breaking, and see the thoughts of the people around me, this is how I experience the present moment, and offer it back to all beings. I am inspired, instead of a mindfulness bell I have my footsteps and 6 of Thich Nhat Hahn’s words:
‘ Kiss the Earth with your feet’
I think John Travolta was way ahead of me on that one.