I lead quite a few walks through the woods. I do this for a wide range of purposes – but mostly to engage more people in the love and care of the natural environment. I have realized over the years that there is a meditative aspect to walks that can be of value to people going through challenging times. I thought I would share with you a few suggestions for centering yourself while walking alone in the woods.
The suggestions below come from a collaboration with John Caughey, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and American Studies at the University of Maryland. He, too, is an avid walker and, as a student of Sufism and Taoism, has had a meditative practice for decades. We have enjoyed walking in the woods and meditating together as well as creating these suggestions for you. We wish you the best in your walking and meditation.
WALKING AND MEDITATION SUGGESTIONS – John Caughey and Ned Tillman
INTRODUCTION: We know that sitting in meditation in the morning helps with whatever we do later including taking a walk. But directly bringing meditation into our walking enhances the experience.
- Meditate First: Instead of just setting out on a walk, do a short sitting or standing meditation at home or at the trailhead before starting out. This provides a transition, helps clear our minds of thoughts and concerns, so we can experience the walk more deeply. Pick a path less frequented by others.
- Pause and Center: At a good spot near the beginning of the walk, pause, close your eyes, breathe, and tune into the gestalt of the day seeing and registering all of nature. Feel the sun and wind on your face, breathe in all the essential vapors from the trees and plants that surround you.
- Set Walking Pace: Instead of hurrying or looking at the path, try walking at a leisurely pace. Look around, near and far, continuing to open all senses to oneness with nature. Try walking in inner silence, for a few minutes or for ten meditative breaths.
WHEN APPROPRIATE TRY ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:
- Meditation and Seeing: When something catches your eye, don’t just glance and walk on, stop, close your eyes, take a meditative breath. Then open your eyes and try to see the bird, or tree without thought, try – in Zen terms – to see its mysterious “suchnesss’ and to sense your oneness with it, then let associations that arise flow up…
- Meditation and Listening: Identify the background hum of car or air traffic, then set it aside, close your eyes and listen to all the sounds of nature. After ascending a hill, close your eyes and listen to the blood course through the veins in your ears. Listen to it subside.
- Meditation and Smelling: Close your eyes, center, and smell whatever is in bloom, a twig from a Spice Bush, the animals and trees around you, smell the living soil being transformed under your feet.
- Meditation and the Landscape: Notice the shape of land forms all around you, feel the flow of the watershed, how it runs, how it has shaped this area, how it has changed over the millennia.
- Meditation and History: If you come upon the ruins of houses, mills, dams, abandoned roads, piles of rock, fence lines, gardens, Native American names or artifacts, center and reflect on those who have been here before, your ancestors, and the gifts and lessons they have left for you.
- Meditation and Reflection: As you return towards home, after a period of walking in meditative silence and natural world connection – while still walking at a leisurely pace – it can be productive to center and gently concentrate on issues of current concern. This can enhance good thinking and intuition such as insight into current projects (like a writing project) and it can also help in the processing of difficult emotions including anxiety and grief in these strange times.
- Bringing it all Home: Consider what you can bring back from this walk: a refreshed, and perhaps even healed state of mind, good memories to return to later, insights about your projects, questions about the natural world we might explore in books or online, thoughts about how to save and take care of the places you walk, perhaps the basis of a poem or a story, something you may have learned about meditation and walking – and also the trash we pick up.