Some Aspects of Physical Meditation: Walking in the Presence

The first thoughts about meditative postures are all still, static: kneeling, the full or half Lotus, seated with feet flat and straight back, or, the oldest one, standing with hands raised facing East. There is much to commend each of these; but what about movement? Years ago in seminary I prayed dutifully in my assigned stall in the chapel on my knees, eyes focused lightly on a mosaic medallion on the floor.  No one ever taught me anything about this; it just seemed right.  Mostly this was a discipline. Nothing much seemed to be going on between me and the Lord.

One afternoon, tired of sitting with my nose in a book, I did a familiar series of exercises just to break the monotony. After turning this into a routine, I began to notice a sense of well-being (oxygen and a surge of endorphins, no doubt), then came an expanding sense of peace, eventually a sense of presence. The same three-part prayer process also happened on brisk walks, as long as I didn’t get too involved with the scenery. This took place just beyond the point of boredom, when my mind would normally split off to think about things other than just walking. So I cultivated that process. To my surprise, repetitive exercise, just past boredom, turning from unnecessary thinking became, for me, a way into personal prayer.

Over the years, I’ve found this works with swimming laps, jogging, briskly walking, and several cardio machines. Since these activities are all safe, widely available and healthy, I’ve often wondered if many others find physical activity meditative. My hunch is that walking the labyrinth works this way for some (not me!). Certainly Yoga practice is meant to be physical meditation (I can’t stretch that far). My Tai Chi instructor refers to her ancient practice as “meditation in motion,” though our group seems to be involved mostly to develop balance and increase flexibility.

Long walks and hikes can be reflective, if not always technically “meditation.” The solitude, deep breathing and closeness to nature are spiritually enhancing. Not long ago I took a strenuous trek with friends on the Corridor Trails across the Grand Canyon from North to South Rim. My plan was just to walk carefully and enjoy the scenery. Since each step was different, not a sidewalk anywhere, I had to pay constant attention to secure footing. I was disappointed at first; the spectacular vistas were solely for rest periods. The unexpected effect of noticing each step for miles and days was to become more intensely present than I have ever been. This was eventually expansive and energizing, almost as great as the view.

But I digress. Perhaps brisk walking can become an effective meditative practice for many people who are concerned to counter the effects of our sedentary culture. Try this:

1. Choose a safe route where you can walk by habit –even around a track; boredom is OK, if you go past it. Take twenty minutes plus.

2. Offer a short prayer at the outset. Hold some scripture in your attention for a bit. Pray verbally again at the end –the Lord’s Prayer perhaps, slowly.

3. Then, either choose some issue, incident, or problem of the sort one might consider in a “sitting” meditation; let it unfold on its own.

4. Let thoughts go and simply be in God’s presence. “I   will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”