Mindfully walking in a forest or a city, we can lose our way, just as in the mind we can become lost inside ourselves, confused, and lose touch with what’s true and with our values. Following a walking path is often easier than achieving clarity in the mind and in life. Walking in Manhattan, orientation is easy because most streets are on the grid system. But the life path, and the mind, have no such orderly grid. What’s the road to happiness, we wonder? To skillfully navigate both outer and inner worlds, Mindfulness establishes Right Understanding, which means accurate perception.
Walking Mindfully, we first establish Right Understanding on the physical level, by clearly focusing on a tree, or a nearby taxicab. From this foundation of clear seeing, we examine more subtle levels of experience, like thoughts and mood. If we notice the thought, “This walk is going to be difficult,” we know it’s just a thought. Knowing thoughts as thoughts and not truth is accurate perception. It’s crucial because so many thoughts are distorted, and can lead us into confusion, and poor decisions.
As we continue walking, Right Understanding makes clear the truth of impermanence: We perceive that each walk is a flow of changing experiences, one after another. This illuminates a truth about life that’s easy to ignore: That nothing lasts forever- including us. Life is fleeting. As we grasp the importance of impermanence, we are led to reflect wisely on how we are living. What will be most important to devote precious time and energy to? Community? Kindness? Love? Mindful Walking and Right Understanding helps us create a life rich with meaning, as we stay clear about what matters most to us. We notice the beauty around us as we walk, and appreciate life more completely, even when it’s challenging. Our intention of walking mindfully radiates into an intention of living mindfully.
Mindful Walking is an excerpt from Douglas Baker’s upcoming book Five-Minute Mindfulness: Walking by Quarto Publishing, to be released December 2016.