People often believe that meditation has to be done in a rigid, seated position, but even Buddhist monks practise mindful movement in the form of walking meditation. Formal walking meditation can look (and feel) a bit strange. The idea isn’t to reach a specific destination, but to walk intentionally, often back and forth. It tends to be a slower, more deliberate pace than ‘normal’ walking, as you guide your awareness to the movements you usually make automatically, for example how your feet move and the feeling of your body weight shifting from side to side, as well as paying attention to your breath and surroundings. As with other mindfulness practices, when you notice your mind has wandered, you gently guide it back to the focus of your attention.
Walking meditation has never been a straight forward practice for me. There are elements I draw upon in my physio, for example following my breath, feeling my weight ground through my feet, and noticing my weight shift side to side, but in the traditional sense, as a wheelchair user it’s a practice I used to tell myself I couldn’t do. Then last year I had a breakthrough; if the key elements of walking meditation are to be aware of the body, breath and surroundings, why couldn’t it be done from a wheelchair? It might be different to walking back and forth in slow, deliberate steps, but it was certainly a change from lying or sitting in a static position to meditate. I made a conscious decision to consider what the practice was about and to make it my own. When I did, my senses came alive and my practice was enriched.
Last week, I received delivery of a long awaited new wheelchair. Its set up is bespoke for me and it gives me the comfort and manoeuvrability to be able to access the beautiful surroundings I live in. As I’ve been getting accustomed to it, I’ve been tapping into walking meditation. I pause to check in with my breath. I notice the feeling of my muscles yielding into the soft, moulded seat and my hand lightly cradling the joystick. I feel the varying textures and surfaces I wheel over and notice how my body responds to them. I hear sounds around me. I feel the temperature of the air on my skin. I spot colours. I notice smiles. It’s amazing how this awareness can truly transform an experience and it’s a powerful reminder that whilst there are formal guidelines out there, we can make the practice of mindfulness our own.
I’m sitting on my porch in the late afternoon sun. My chair rocks back and forth as Bertie tickles my toes with his whiskers and soft fur. The colours around me have been unveiled from days of misty rain; vibrant pinks, firey oranges, soft purples. Bees are hard at work, buzzing industriously from flower to flower. Swifts are soaring in amongst puffs of clouds, shrieking as if letting out a cry of exhilaration. Sounds of laughter and play reach me from the nearby park.Read More
“As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong.” Jon Kabat-Zinn delivered the first Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in an American hospital in 1979. It was originally designed to catch people falling through the cracks of the healthcare service, a clinic in the form of a course, helping people with all manner of conditions. It gave patients hope and empowerment, and treated them as people, not diagnoses or body parts, re-establishing the common humanity that can easily be lost within healthcare. Jon and his colleagues successfully brought meditation into medicine, an idea that is continuing to develop with life changing results. Since then, similar eight week mindfulness courses have spread around the world, not limited to healthcare. 145 MPs have completed an MBSR course; perhaps the wisdom will start filtrating Parliament? “Human beings are technologically phenomenal. Why can’t we take care of people? Why can’t we realise what the causes of suffering may be before we create the catastrophes, and address them?”Jon said. “Much of our diet is the news and there seems to be fantastic compassion after events, but zero wisdom beforehand.” He suggested localised greed, hatred and delusion are often motivators, which we need to move beyond if we are to change. “How do you know if you’re doing harm unless you’re awake, you’re mindful, you’re heartful?”Read More
My formal mindfulness practice began five years ago when I read ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, ‘the father of mindfulness’. I quickly discovered the positive impact this had on my health and wellbeing. It was a large part of my jigsaw puzzle that until then had been missing. It is perhaps no coincidence that it came during the same year when the rest of my life had been taken to pieces; I was being forced to contemplate a new way of being in light of a neurological diagnosis and complete change of life circumstance, and Jon’s work opened the door to what continues to be a wonderful, nourishing and inspiring journey. Jon’s presence can be felt even through his books and recordings, and it has always been a dream of mine to experience it in real life, to meditate with him and have the opportunity to thank him for the profound influence he had on me at an incredibly difficult time.Read More
Practising mindfulness is a process. It’s not about trying to get something, but about living and being, allowing the practice to unfold just as life does. There is no end point but that doesn’t mean we don’t make progress. Every so often, something happens that makes me realise just how far I have travelled. It’s a moment to acknowledge, to explore and to celebrate.Read More
Two weeks ago I posted about the Breathworks Mindfulness teacher training I was about to embark on (here) and how mindfulness is enabling me to align my needs with my aspirations. I had the most wonderful time on retreat. We had a week of sunshine and inspiring training at Vajrasana. As I’d hoped, my practice most certainly was my protector.Read More
It’s an exciting week, the official start of a new pathway I have been embarking on. Tomorrow, I will start the Breathworks Mindfulness teacher training programme. It’s not unusual for me to start a new venture, to say I’m going to do something and then make it happen, often against quite unfavourable odds, but something about this feels reassuringly different.Read More
The ring of a bell is a familiar sound to meditators; an invitation to settle and become aware, it marks the start of a formal meditation practice. When I hear the chime, I find myself more awake to my immediate experience, my breath, my body, my thoughts and my feelings.
A helpful way to include mindfulness in daily life is to use ‘bells’, or cues, as a reminder to become aware. It can be an object you keep in your bag or on your desk, a particular activity you do regularly (for example answering the phone or opening a door), a reminder on your phone, a post-it note on your fridge, there are so many ways to scatter bells throughout the day.Read More
There’s a lady in the bed opposite. She’s waiting patiently with such elegance and poise. Later today she is having surgery to remove a tumour from her brain. She’ll be awake during the operation. She’s been warned of possible complications; loss of function and changes in personality. She waits, calmly. “It’s okay for me,” she says, “this is a one-off. It’s you I feel for having an ongoing condition.”
There’s a lady in the bed alongside me. She’s been waiting for hours, days, for tests she desperately hopes will reveal answers. “I just want to know what’s wrong,” she says, jumping up every time someone approaches her bed. I don’t know what’s tormenting her more, the waiting or the unknown.
As for me, my bags are packed and I’m waiting to go home. My face lights up as I think of seeing my kitties and being in the peace and quiet of my little oasis. But here I find myself, waiting.Read More
I once found myself sitting in a hospital patient group with a raisin in my hand. What did it feel like? What did it look like? What did it smell like? What did it taste like? At this point, there were murmurs of distaste going around the room as most of the group, myself included, didn’t like raisins.
The raisin exercise was my introduction to mindfulness. I may not have particularly enjoyed the taste, but I did notice the sweet earthy scent and the wrinkled grooves sitting on my tongue for the first time. That one little raisin was bursting with flavour. It proved a point; when you deliberately pay close attention to something, using all of your senses, whilst not being clouded by the past or the future (or the judgement, ‘I don’t like raisins!’), your immediate experience can change in powerful and unexpected ways.Read More