“There's a bunch of zombies roaming up and down our halls,” snickered a woman to her companion. Shaken out of my concentration, I felt slightly offended and then self conscious. I was attending a half day meditation retreat and one of our practices included a walking meditation. Since there were a good number of folks at this retreat, walking meant taking it out into the world of business as usual, in the hallway of the old mill.
It wasn't until I was participating in a silent retreat this past weekend, that walking like a zombie took on new meaning for me. It was Saturday afternoon during one of our bitterly cold winter days and I settled into my practice of walking meditation in the large meeting room. I'd found my pathway to slowly walk back and forth between two stable points, when I silently burst out laughing. Here I was walking like a zombie and this time it took on an entirely different meaning. I was indeed walking like a zombie, as I was totally in the present moment, had no thoughts, was completely focused on my task, and for at least that moment had let go of all attachments. In other words, we all did look like the walking dead. The epitome of a zombie, minus the flesh eating part! I clearly heard the words of the two women and this time thanked them for their insight.
There is something deeply satisfying to move with focus and intention. Each foot as I lift and step it forward, is placed by planting the heel into the floor first, then shifting my weight across the foot and up to my toe base, feeling fully each part of my foot as it makes contact with the floor or ground below me. I choose a line to follow between two points, maybe 15-20 feet apart, walking silently with clear intention to be mindfully present. When I immerse myself into this practice I am fully aware and open to my surroundings, yet not engaging with my mind. Thoughts have quieted, and when they do arise, I let them drift in and out, noting them as a silent observer. My senses are open and alive to the environment, in a way that is trans- formative. I feel my legs as they lift and hear the sounds and silences around me. There is no specific destination beyond the two points of reference, as I retrace my steps back and forth. At each starting and end point, I might pause and take a few breaths or observe the environment in front of my eyes, before I turn and begin this slow walk once again. Most of the time, I let my arms rest against my sides, with hands relaxed and sometimes bring them to rest against my chest. What's important is to find a position that feels relaxed and open. Throughout this practice, I tune into my breath, noticing the inhalations and exhalations, and finding a rhythm that supports a deeper awareness. If my mind is particularly busy, I might count my steps back and forth or settle on a mantra, to still the mind into a quieter place.
To plunge more deeply into this practice, I choose a place that is relatively undisturbed from outside distractions. If I'm outside, I find a quiet spot in the forest or off on a side trail where it's unlikely that I'll see anyone. I hand the responsibility of keeping time over to a soothing timer, so I can let go of thinking about how much time has passed and surrender into the slow and deliberate actions of walking and tuning in. Before I begin to walk, I take some quiet moments to breathe deeply into my body and ground through my feet.
So what are the benefits of adding a walking meditation to a seated practice? Walking is a great way to stretch the body after sitting for long periods of time, whether that's in meditation or from sitting at work. It helps bring the mind into a focused and relaxed state, so not only replenishes us physically, but wakes up the entire body/mind system. Some folks find walking meditation an easier way to access a state of quietude, by bringing action into stillness, by feeling the breath coordinated with each step.
When I was first introduced to walking meditation, it didn't hold much appeal for me. Somehow it didn't count as “real” meditation and when I tried to walk with intention, I was distracted by my surroundings and thinking too much about how to walk. But the more I've practiced walking like a zombie, the more connected I feel to this form of tuning in, and the deeper I can go when I mindfully walk. So take all the good lessons that zombies have to teach us and notice how you lose your mind.