Vacation and any other sort of travel can wreak havoc on your mindfulness practice.
My personal routine on a normal day is to get up early, before anyone else in the house is close to waking. I meditate for twenty minutes. I make coffee and oatmeal. I savor my breakfast as the garden brightens through the kitchen window.
The stillness of early morning is my mindfulness battery pack. I am most present during this time of day, before people and pets and email and to-do lists clutter my brain space. I rely on those quiet, first-light-of-day hours to store up what Eckart Tolle calls “presence power.”
Presence power is generated during mindful moments when things are going smoothly. Alertness arises and we are able to respond to life situations consciously, rather than reactively. I need to fill up on presence power on easy days so that I can draw from it on hard days.
But road trips can throw a wrench in the system.
A key component in my normal routine is getting to bed early enough to be able to wake before my family does. Without enough sleep, though, I undermine my health, wellness, and capacity for mindfulness.
Our vacation last summer involved visiting extended family, many of whom we don’t see often. Conversations ran late into the evening. Sleeping longer in the morning narrowed my window for solitude.
By day five, I had hit a wall. We were at the second stop of our trip, sharing a rental house with four other family members. I love and adore each of these family members. But I am an introvert by nature and this vacation had depleted my energy, not to mention my presence power reserves.
I was in desperate need of meditation.
The house was still silent at 7:00 am and I thought I could squeeze in twenty minutes of meditation in the rental house’s living room. Five minutes in, my brother-in-law came padding down the stairs and I jumped up before he could see me, feeling like a teenager caught smoking a joint.
A few minutes later, my husband came down and asked if I wanted to get some exercise walking with him. It was already too hot and humid for me to run, but walking sounded doable. My thirst for solitude, however, was overpowering.
I had just read about walking meditation in Sharon Salzburg’s Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. I had heard of walking meditation, and had even tried it once in the privacy of a church garden with my mindful parenting group.
But now I was in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Colorful historic homes packed sideways with only a driveway’s width of space between them lined each side of the narrow lane. No place to hide, but so be it.
As soon as my husband embarked on his fast-paced fitness walk, I turned in the opposite direction for my walking meditation experiment.
Sharon Salzburg describes it this way: “The essence of walking meditation is to bring mindfulness to an act that we normally do mechanically.” Instead of following your breath while sitting still in traditional meditation, walking meditation entails focusing on the sensation of your legs and feet as they move through space.
It had been a few days since I had read Sharon’s instructions, which begin with standing still, feet shoulder length apart, and sensing the feel of your feet on the ground. I forgot to do that, as well as the second step of putting all your weight on one leg, noticing what that felt like, then shifting all your weight to the other leg for a few conscious seconds.
But I did bring my full attention to each step of the walk, resting my awareness on my foot lifting into the air, moving forward through space, and coming down again before lifting the other foot for the next step.
DO keep your eyes open during walking meditation! Even though your focus is anchored on your body movement, you remain fully aware of your surroundings.
Just as counting breaths can help maintain focus in traditional meditation, noting the movement of your feet does the same with walking meditation. Sharon suggests the phrases lift, place; lift place or up, down; up down to mentally note the rise and fall of each footstep. When you notice your mind is distracted, bring your awareness back to the sensation of movement.
Slowing down was both an effort and rewarding.
I don’t know about you, but I’m used to walking pretty fast. Though it seems like slower would be easier, the opposite is true. The more slowly you move, the harder it is to balance. Slower steps mean you’re standing on one foot longer each time. Your whole body must adjust for this.
Walking so slowly that I could separate each part of the process (lift right foot, move right foot forward, set right foot down, lift left foot, move left foot forward, set left foot down) was hard.
And then there’s that ego-voice that pops up, telling you how silly you look walking so slowly. But I was only visiting this street and would never see anyone again, so I told my ego to give it a rest.
Here’s the cool part: walking that slowly, with my full attention on my body movement, silenced my internal chatter in the same way that sitting meditation does. A sense of calm flowed over and through me that I hadn’t experienced since the beginning of our vacation. I walked up and down the street for about twenty minutes and returned to our rental house refreshed.
I’ll keep walking meditation in my mindfulness toolbox for use on future road trips. Closer to home, I would probably limit this practice to a garden or forest path, since I don’t think I could fully release self-consciousness if friends or acquaintances greeted me in passing on my slow stroll to presence power.
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