Thursday Evening Online Program
April 14, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern Time
Dear Still Water Friends,
This weekend, I encountered an old friend, walking meditation, on the Lake Artemesia trail. I used to walk this trail every morning as I went into the office because it leads to my bus stop, and it had become my practice to walk each of these mornings in mindfulness. During the pandemic, I have not been going into the office and so for the past two years I have not done this practice. This weekend, in preparation for Thursday evening, I was thinking about the Second Mindfulness Training. As I walked the dog on the Lake Artemesia trail, I listened to the book Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Chapter 4 has a beautiful description of walking meditation, and it reminded me of my former practice and helped me to begin it anew. The chapter begins with a beautiful gatha:
During the pandemic, the dog and I have walked the Lake Artemesia trail nearly every day and lately I have found it to be boring and uninspiring. However, as I walked with mindfulness that morning, the trail came back to life. There was a symphony of birds singing as the wind danced gently across the lake and energized the trees and bushes along the shore. I noticed other people laughing and enjoying the blustery, sunny day. I felt the tensions in my body leave as my mind was freed of worries and plans for the day. After only a few moments of walking mindfully, I felt the same deep happiness and contentment that my dog seems to enjoy every time we go out on the trail!
I realized in retrospect that this experience was the Second Mindfulness Training in practice. The training states that:
I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.
I left the house that morning with a list of things to accomplish: get the dog walked, get some exercise, study the training so that I have something to share, hurry back home so that I can start enjoying my day. In the process, I completely lost track of the possibility that I could be fully alive and happy by focusing my attention on the present moment. In stopping the busy-ness of my mind, I could recognize that all the elements I need to be happy were available to me then and are always available to me.
In my experience, distraction is the number one detractor from being happy. I am often preoccupied with activities, plans, good intentions, worries, and things that I want to accomplish. I find that I am constantly distracted by my cell phone, my computer, work, TV, social media, etc., all of which create stress and a sense of urgency. The Second Mindfulness Training invites us to remember to stop the peripheral busy-ness of our minds and focus our attention on the present moment. By paying attention to the present moment, we can find true happiness and make deliberate decisions about how we want to be in the world.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation and reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings, our Dharma sharing will focus on the Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness. Please join us. We will begin our sharing with these questions:
- What is your experience of walking meditation? How does it help you stay in the present moment?
- What strategies or practices have helped you realize true happiness? What distractions challenge your ability to be present to true happiness?
- What elements of the Second Mindfulness training have been difficult for you to practice?
The complete section, Walking Meditation, from Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.
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From Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each Step, a gentle wind blows.
With each Step, a flower blooms.
We walk all the time, but usually it’s more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind and the Earth.
Walking meditation is walking just to enjoy walking. Walking without arriving, that is the technique. There is a Sanskrit word, apranihita. It means wishlessness or aimlessness. The idea is that we do not put anything ahead of ourselves and run after it. When we practice walking meditation, we walk in this spirit. We just enjoy the walking, with no particular aim or destination. Our walking is not a means to an end. We walk for the sake of walking.
Our mind tends to dart from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and they forever pull us along into the world of forgetfulness. If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness. Our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. Then we can say, “With each step, a gentle wind blows.”
You can practice walking meditation anytime you walk, even if it’s only from the car to the office or from the kitchen to the living room. When you walk anywhere, allow enough time to practice; instead of three minutes, give yourself eight or ten. I always leave for the airport an extra hour early so I can practice walking meditation there. Friends want to keep me until the last minute, but I resist. I tell them that I need the time. Walking meditation is like eating. With each step, we nourish our body and our spirit. When we walk with anxiety and sorrow, it’s a kind of junk food. The food of walking meditation should be of a higher quality. Just walk slowly and enjoy a banquet of peace.
A. J. Muste said, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Walking in mindfulness brings us peace and joy, and makes our life real. Why rush? Our final destination will only be the cemetery. Why not walk in the direction of life, enjoying peace in each moment with every step? There is no need to struggle. Enjoy every step you make. Every step brings you home to the here and the now. This is your true home—because only in this moment, in this place, can life be possible. We have already arrived.
The Earth is our mother. When we are away from mother nature for too long, we get sick. Each step we take in walking meditation allows us to touch our mother, so that we can be well again. A lot of harm has been done to mother earth, so now it is time to kiss the earth with our feet and heal our mother.
Some of us may not be able to walk. When we practice walking meditation at our retreats, each person who can’t walk chooses someone who is practicing walking meditation to watch and become one with, following her steps in mindfulness. In this way, he makes peaceful and serene steps together with his partner, even though he himself cannot walk.
We who have two legs must not forget to be grateful. We walk for ourselves, and we walk for those who cannot walk. We walk for all living beings—past, present, and future.