Buddha said of himself and his monks: “When we walk, we know we are walking.” This is a beautiful practice and one of the simplest and most immediately rewarding and instructive. It is both grounding and freeing. The benefits suit our need for immediate gratification, because they begin to appear with the first step. And they are endless. All you have to do is be present with each step.
Rather than focus on your destination, gather yourself with each breath and bring your attention to the activity of walking. Set some time aside to spend just walking, or each time you find yourself walking from one place to the next, be mindful of what you are doing and put out of your mind where you are going. Bring your awareness to the walking, and put aside the idea that it is a means to an end.
If you can be there, present, alert, and mindful, as you take steps and move your body across the earth and through space, then you will be there for your life.
This is not a race to the end—even if some days it may feel that way. It is just life and yours at that.
So whether you set time aside to just walk or you take advantage of the various times throughout the day when you’re walking, do it mindfully. Begin by counting your steps, one-to-ten, one-to-ten, and so on. This will bring your attention into your body, into the act of walking. Then, as you continue to count your steps, bring your attention to your breath. Don’t alter your step or your breath; just draw all your attention to them. Notice how many steps you take on each inhale, on each exhale. Notice your impulse to stop, to think of where you’re going, to move faster, and then just count and breathe.
As your rhythm modulates, count the steps you take on each inhalation and each exhalation. Inhale, one-two-three. Exhale, one-two-three. Just notice, breathe, and count. Start to become aware of the surrounding environment. Be in it, be present, and be mindful. It is not about how fast or slow you move; it is only about being present in each step you take. Move toward having the number of steps you take on the inhalation equal the number of steps you take on the exhalation. And then every so often take an extra step on the exhale and lengthen your exhalation.
If you discover that you move so fast through life that mindful walking is near impossible, because each time you make the effort to slow down your body your mind continues to speed ahead, do not be discouraged. Do not, at first, intentionally slow your physical movement. Keep your normal pace, and within that movement, little by little, start to pay attention to your breath, to each step. You may not be able to sustain mindful attention the whole distance from your house to the car or bus, but if a portion of that walk is taken mindfully, it is a good beginning. Each day add one more breath to this mindfulness practice.
Be patient and trust that if you walk with your body your mind will eventually follow. Both will reach a calm place if you continue the practice.
So just walk and let each moment reveal its unique mystery. Then, each time you walk, you will know that you are walking.