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.