Too Stressed to Meditate?
by Louise D'Allura on November 27th, 2013

One of the things I know about me is I struggle to sit and meditate.

I know all the science and theory behind the benefits of it.  I have a few awesome CDs by leading gurus in the area - Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Brisbane based Kirsty O'Callaghan, who is a relationships guru (counsellor/ trainer) and a meditation and relaxation teacher for well over 14 years.  I can listen to one of the 20 minute guided relaxations, but without adult supervision, my limit is about 5 minutes.  Any longer than that and my mind goes walkabout, I am uncomfortable or I fall asleep!

The good news is though I have discovered there is another way to meditate - Active Meditation and thought you might enjoy it too.  

A friend of mine went to a Meditation retreat in Western Australia at the Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre. Influenced by the Forest Meditation Tradition of northeast Thailand, they put emphasis on "walking meditation".

Apparently the Buddha stressed the importance of developing mindfulness in all postures, from standing, sitting, lying down, to walking!!  In many cases monks and nuns attained various stages of enlightenment while doing walking meditation.  Today many monks still walk for long hours as a way of developing concentration – up to ten or fifteen hours a day! WHO KNEW?!?!  
Now the approach to Active Meditation that I practice is my own interpretation developed a few years ago when we went on a camping holiday to Carnarvon Gorge in Western Queensland.  One of the wonderful things about the gorge is the walks.

I knew for months that a 22km walk (in a day) was on the cards, and even though the longest walks I had done was about 5km, I was still “way too busy” to do any preparation!  I was more worried about what we’d take to EAT on the walk.   Within the first 15 minutes of the 22km walk I was starting to stress, beating myself up over the how the heck I was going to be able to walk 22km when I could barely do 5km! 

Now the great thing was I had to be a kinaesthetic learner and learn by doing it, because in those first 15 minutes when I remembered this handy piece of information about" Walking Meditation"  there was no phone or internet coverage.  The perfectionist in me couldn't google it to make sure I was "doing it right." 

Lucky for me I remembered all I needed to know:  Focus on one foot at a time, be present in your body.  Honestly that is all I remembered, and it was all I needed!  
I learned lessons immediately - be present to the thoughts in my head!  I had no idea if I could walk that far – I had never tested it, and already I was beating myself – not helpful!  Over the course of those 22km I was fascinated to discover that every time I went into my head and started mulling things over I lost energy; the moment I went back into my body, thanked my legs and thighs for being the powerhouses to keep me walking, noticing nature, sensing things, I had more energy! 
 
As a kinesthetic learner the insights from this 22km walk have been invaluable.  Not only has walking has now cemented itself as my kind of meditation - active meditation, I began to notice the rhythms of my body over those hours.  I noticed what kept me going – alternating my focus between big picture and the detail, stopping to rest every 90 minutes to 2 hours and eating, and being organised with great shoes, water and good food!   

Each morning that I go for a walk and engage in my kind of Active Meditation when I am fully present on my walk I notice how every tree is different, the colour of the sky, shape of the clouds, how the breeze feels on my skin, the strength in my legs to keep me moving.  If I walk in a busy state of mind, however I notice NO details and feel like I wasted my effort!  I missed the trees and feel bummed!  This was really brought home when I read the amazing book Wired for Life by the Mindgardener team - Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse.
 
I also apply these principles of Active Meditation when I go to dance classes.  Being mindful and present and not thinking anything else other than doing what I am doing is helping me to get out of the busy and just be mindful.

I encourage you to have a go at some type of Active Meditation - whether it is swimming or running!  If you struggle to sit still too, you might focus on your breath, your stroke and counting.  It might be just the type of practice you're looking for to give you some quiet mind time, and move into other forms of 'formal' meditation.

Click here to read more from Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre on Walking meditation in the Thai Forest Tradition.


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2 Comments

Karina - December 10th, 2013 at 6:22 AM
This is a great article and I luv to walk so am going to try it out tomorrow. Thx Louie.
Louise D'Allura - December 10th, 2013 at 1:51 PM
Hey Karina! It is an easy one to integrate into a daily practice. Have fun with it! ;)
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