Even though meditation practices offer us a way to recenter and settle into a focused, quiet state of mind and body, for some people the process of doing a sitting meditation creates anxiety. For these people, rather than bringing pleasure and relaxation, focusing inside is an uncomfortable experience, and may activate fear instead of calm. When we have been hurt as children, or struggle with anxiety or panic for any reason, we often learn to ignore or push away awareness of what was going on inside ourselves. By definition, most meditation asks us to focus on being aware of our awareness - just the opposite of what we may have done historically in an effort to feel safe and comfortable in our own skin.
There is tremendous benefit in learning to be comfortable with your own internal world, so an important question is how to begin to develop that comfort. When we are able to be more conscious of our ongoing thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges, we learn that awareness of what is going on inside us generates the possibility of choice. With an increased capacity to choose how we want to be and respond in each moment, we have an opportunity to move through the world with a greater sense of mastery, empowerment and safety.
Most importantly, when we are able to be in touch with what is going on inside us, we can discover that there is nothing there that can really hurt us. What we discover are thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that arise in the present moment, along with all of our various urges and impulses. In and of themselves, these "contents of consciousness" can't do anything to us. We may have thoughts that frighten us, feelings that seem to be overwhelming, or urges that may be self-destructive, and it is important to learn strategies to deal with these. But, awareness in and of itself is only awareness. Nothing more, nothing less.
When we learn to fend off awareness of our own internal world, we are likely to disown parts of ourselves, or feelings, that cause us discomfort, whether we intend to or not. We become frightened of our own thoughts and emotions. We learn ways not to know what is going on in and around us. We avoid spending time with ourselves in ways that would allow us to move toward a greater sense of wholeness. It is within a context of wholeness - of being able and willing to experience the positive and not-so-positive aspects of ourselves - that we can feel safer in our present-day world. Paradoxically, as we allow ourselves to come to know those things that frighten us about ourselves, we develop greater resilience and internal strength. We tap into an increased ability and willingness to be aware of what is going on in the world around us, as well as our internal responses to these events and situations. Rather than hiding from awareness, we discover that safety and balance emerge from embracing it.
The following meditation offers you a way to go inside and feel grounded at the same time. Rather than sitting and experiencing the quiet, this is a walking meditation. It is a variation on a popular and often-used meditation practice found in a number of traditions. It offers you an opportunity to ground yourself in the bottoms of your feet and to focus your attention on your sensory awareness in this moment. You can do this meditation indoors or out, depending on what is available to you. Your focus will be on the contact your feet have with whatever surface is under you. Allow whatever amount of time you have available. If you can, spend 20 minutes or so doing this meditation. If you find it stressful to focus at all, then five minutes would be enough. The key thing is to give yourself an opportunity to discover that it is safe, today, right now, to be aware of yourself and what is moving through your experience. If you are someone who enjoys sitting meditation, doing a walking meditation offers an alternative way of engaging your practice.
Run The Planet thanks the Conscious Living website (www.nancyjnapier.com) for the permission to reprint the article "Walking meditation" by Nancy J. Napier. Text © 1999 by Nancy J. Napier. Nancy J. Napier is a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in private practice in New York City. Author of "Sacred Practices for Conscious Living", "Recreating Your Self: Increasing Self-Esteem Through Imaging and Self-Hypnosis" and "Getting Through the Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt as Children", Nancy also conducts workshops around the country for both professional and public audiences. Run The Planet also thanks ronemmons.com for the permission to reprint the photo of a monk practising walking meditation at Ram Poeng.