Thich Nhat Hanh shares how to turn the everyday act of walking into a meditation.
I would like to offer you some instructions about walking meditation. The first thing we shall do early tomorrow morning is to practice walking together, which we call walking meditation. Walking meditation means to enjoy walking without any intention to arrive. We don’t need to arrive anywhere. We just walk. We enjoy walking. That means walking is already stopping, and that needs some training.
Usually in our daily life we walk because we want to go somewhere. Walking is only a means to an end, and that is why we do not enjoy every step we take. Walking meditation is different. Walking is only for walking. You enjoy every step you take. So this is a kind of revolution in walking. You allow yourself to enjoy every step you take.
The Zen master Ling Chi said that the miracle is not to walk on burning charcoal or in the thin air or on the water; the miracle is just to walk on earth. You breathe in. You become aware of the fact that you are alive. You are still alive and you are walking on this beautiful planet. That is already performing a miracle. The greatest of all miracles is to be alive. We have to awaken ourselves to the truth that we are here, alive. We are here making steps on this beautiful planet. This is already performing a miracle.
In order to be able to touch the earth with our feet and enjoy walking, we have to establish ourselves firmly in the present moment, in the here and the now.
But we have to be here in order for the miracle to be possible. We have to bring ourselves back to the here and the now. Therefore each step we take becomes a miracle. If you are able to walk like that, each step will be very nourishing and healing. You walk as if you kiss the earth with your feet, as if you massage the earth with your feet. There is a lot of love in that practice of walking meditation.
The Buddha said that the past is gone and the future is not yet here. Let us not regret the past. Let us not worry about the future. Go back to the present moment and live deeply the present moment. Because the present moment is the only moment where you can touch life. Life is available only in the present moment. That is why walking meditation is to go back to the present moment, in order to be alive again and to touch life deeply in that moment. In order to be able to touch the earth with our feet and enjoy walking, we have to establish ourselves firmly in the present moment, in the here and the now.
In walking meditation, we walk like a free person. This is not political freedom. This is freedom from afflictions, from sorrow, from fear. Unless you are free you cannot enjoy walking. I would like to propose to you a short poem that you might like to use for walking meditation:
I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
You might like to take two steps and breathe in and say, I have arrived, I have arrived. And when you breathe out, you take another two steps and say silently, I am home, I am home. Our true home is really in the here and in the now. Because only in the here and the now can we touch life. As the Buddha said, life is available only in the here and the now, so going back to the present moment is going home. That is why you take one step or two steps and you awaken to the fact that you have arrived. You have arrived in the present moment.
If you are able to arrive, then you will stop running—running within and running without. There is a belief in us that happiness cannot be possible in the here and the now. We have to go somewhere. We have to go to the future in order to be able to really be happy.
That kind of thinking has been there for a long time. Maybe that feeling has been transmitted to us from our ancestors and our parents. That is why we have to wake up to the presence of that habit energy in us and to do the reverse. The Buddha said that it is possible for us to be peaceful and happy in the present moment. That is the teaching of trista dharma sadha vihara. It means living happily right in the present moment. When you are there, body and mind united, you have an opportunity to touch the conditions of your happiness. If you are able to touch these conditions of happiness that are already available in the here and the now, you can be happy right away. You don’t have to run anywhere, especially into the future.
Please train yourself to make the present moment, the here and the now, into your true home.
When we practice walking, we might be aware that we have strong feet. Our feet are strong enough for us to enjoy running and walking. That is one condition for happiness that is available. When I breathe in and I become aware of my eyes, I encounter another condition for my happiness. Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes. This is an exercise, a very simple exercise to help you realize that you have eyes which are still in good condition. You need only to open your eyes to see the blue sky, the white cloud, the luxurious vegetation. You can see all kinds of forms and colors just because you have eyes still in good condition. Your eyes are another condition for your happiness. We have so many conditions like that for our happiness and yet we are still unhappy. We still want to run away from the present moment, hoping we’ll find some happiness in the future.
To take an in-breath, to smile, and to touch the conditions of happiness that are available, is something that all of us can do. Because of that we can stop and establish ourselves in the present moment. That is the teaching of living happily in the present moment. Please train yourself to make the present moment, the here and the now, into your true home. That is the only home that we have. That is the only place where we can touch life. Everything we are looking for must be found in the here and the now. In that way walking meditation can be a great pleasure and can be very healing.
While you walk, if you allow yourself to be there mind and body together, then walking will become mindful walking; it will be healing, refreshing and nourishing.
Excerpted from “Rest in the River.”