For Thich Nhat Hanhthe late Vietnamese monk who popularized mindfulness in the West, walking was not simply a way to get from place to place, or an activity to be reserved for a perfect forest path. It could be a deep contemplative practice putting people in touch with their breath, their body, the Earth – and an awareness of what he called “interbeing”.
Thich Nhat Hanh, who was one of the most influential Buddhist leaders in the world when he died on January 22established the term to describe “our deep interconnectedness with everything else”. “It all depends on everything else in the cosmos to manifest – whether it’s a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.” he explained.
Like scholar of contemporary BuddhismI studied how the monk’s teachings combine personal practices like mindfulness with social change – a movement called Thich Nhat Hanh developed through his peaceful activism against Vietnam War. But one of his most beloved teachings is walking meditation, a key part of every visit to 11 Plum Village Monasteries which he founded worldwide.
Thich Nhat Hanh believed that the Earth is sacred, so wherever someone walks, they can be reminded of this spiritual connection while unite one’s mind to one’s body. He taught that people’s true homes are in the present moment, through awareness of their footsteps on Earth, their bodies and their minds. Walking meditation brings practitioners back to this solid foundation.
Here are the steps of walking meditation as practiced in the Plum Village tradition:
1) Take a moment to breathe and center your body in the space you are about to walk through. At practice centers in Plum Village, monks and nuns lead participants in chanting a few mindfulness songs before starting. In “We all move“, for example, the band sings, “We’re all going on a journey to nowhere, taking it slow, slowing it down. No more worries, no more rushing, nothing to pack, let go.”
2) As you walk, pay attention to your breathing and your steps. Walk in a slow, relaxed manner, preferably with a slight smile. Think of the miracle of being alive and being able to walk on Mother Earth, repeating these sentences: “As I breathe in, I know that Mother Earth is within me. As I breathe out, I know that I am in Mother Earth.”[Over 140,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.]
3) Take one breath per step, focusing on your foot touching the Earth. You may also notice how many steps you take as you inhale and then exhale, naturally. The goal is to find a connection between your breathing and your steps.
Instead of sitting meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh practices focus on adding mindfulness to daily life anytime, anywhere. By incorporating walking meditation into a daily or weekly schedule, each step can become part of a deeper practice of interbeing.