Slowly, I open the door and take the very first step; bending my knee, lifting the leg, reaching the foot forward. Heel, arch, ball of foot, toes. I shift the weight deliberately to that foot, beginning the process on the other side. I feel the cool air around me, but the warmth of the shawl I have wrapped over my chest and shoulders. Inhale, exhale.
I reach the stairs, and touch the cold, metal handrail with my right hand. The descent begins, and I notice the challenge of walking ever so slowly as my weight shifts onto one leg on the next step down. I hear the soft shuffle of feet behind me, in a similarly steady and seemingly sluggish rhythm. We had begun our walking meditation – out the French doors of our spacious room and making our way down to the garden.
Walking meditation is a transformative practice for me. I practice mindfulness, like when sitting, but then allow it to encompass the whole of the experience as it unfolds around me, eyes open, while moving. Walking in this slow and mindful way has a profound ability to slow down my mind, too, until it is present enough to really see what is around and within me.
Being fully here
As I make my steady process towards the garden, I realize that it is rare indeed when we are so fully present. Because our culture is focused on speed, needing to get places or results quickly, we become future oriented. How much can I get done today? We look at our list and go about multi-tasking, trying to check off as much as possible.
As we zoom around in our cars, we’re thinking about where we’re going, and what we’re going to cook for dinner that night. The present, and all that is around us, speeds by, unnoticed, while we reside primarily in our thoughts about what is going to happen, and what needs to be accomplished. Often, we’re not fully listening as our partners, friends, or co-workers chat with us or ask how we’re doing. We’ve lost a connection with what really is, right here and right now.
What are we missing?
Not only do we lack the attention for what we’re standing right in front of, like the rose-colored seed pods scattered across the cracked sidewalk as I turn the corner and head towards the garden benches; we lack the ability to see ourselves accurately. Our minds are too busy to really check-in with what we experience. And when we do, it’s all jumbled up with habitual ways of perceiving, carried forward from our past. We rarely are able to see what truly is within our body, our heart, or our minds.
Instead, we fall into the habit of looking for something that we believe is there. When we look for something, we tend to find it. As I sit down on the bench and let my gaze fall, I remember that the last time I did this meditation out among the rose bushes, I had seen an ant ambling over the stepping stones. Where are the ants? I look around and finally find some crawling over the sandstone and disappearing in a hole.
Sure, I found them. But I had become so focused on what I wanted to see that I realized I wasn’t seeing what else was in front of me. The interesting shapes that the various stones made on the ground. The sounds of the birds in the trees, mixed with cars rushing by on Embarcadero Rd. The cold sensation on my toes. When I get caught up in looking for something in particular, what do I miss?
Looking for what we expect to see
We tend to look for what we expect to see or experience based on our past. I had a bad interaction with that woman – she was rude and mean to me. Now, every time I see her, I overlay that experience. I expect that she’ll be that way. Is that how she really is? Is that how she really was, or was it just the way I interpreted it? Even if she was that way, maybe she isn’t now. But if I am not aware of this habit of projection, then I’ll continue to experience her that way. I’ll shut down my heart, become hardened, distance myself. Then, she’ll see me as cold, unfriendly… perhaps she’ll feel judged, or demeaned. And it goes on – projecting our memories, beliefs, and thoughts on each other, and never really experiencing what is.
We come to rely too readily on our interpretations. Then, when we have interpreted something, we file it away in a category and consider it done. Half Moon pose is tiring, or difficult. Child’s pose is easy, boring. We think that is the way it is, or even the way it was.
But is it? When I’m in that “difficult” pose, what is difficult about it? Is it the burning in my thighs, the intense stretching in my arms? Is it the way I clench my teeth when I do it? Is it the fear that I experience when I think about it? Do these experiences really have to do with the pose? And is that burning in my thigh really painful? That’s something interesting to explore. The only thing we can be certain of is that we’re having a sensation. For one person, they may interpret that sensation as pain; for another, they may experience the same sensation as exhilaration, or release.
Experiment with this. Step out of the tendency to want to interpret or categorize, whether in a yoga pose or having a conversation with someone in the neighborhood. Is that feeling in my hamstring bad, good? Or is it just what is? I can choose a number of responses to it, but it doesn’t need to be good or bad. Is it really painful? Or just uncomfortable? Or just a sensation, that begins, has a middle, and an end. See what is, beyond the thoughts, interpretations, emotions, and categories.
My neighbor is squinting at me – is he wincing at what I just said? Does he not like it, or think I’m weird? Or is it just the sun in his eyes, or a bit of sweat stinging them, or does he have a funny habit of doing that, just like I tend to scratch my cheek unconsciously? If we let go of making assumptions and interpretations and simply notice what arises in the next moment, we remain present. We remain in conscious relationship with our neighbor and ourselves.
What is happening now? What is being said right now? I can be fresh and aware, truly listening and connecting, and see (and hear, and feel, and touch) what is, rather than my inner movie about what I think or believe. I can choose to be present with the essence within myself and the essence within my neighbor that is beyond my senses and perceptions, and create an authentic connection.
Seeing what is
Sitting on the bench, I let my peripheral vision and senses take in whatever is there. The shingles on the roof. Someone else’s shoes on the bench next to me. The smell of dry leaves. I notice my thoughts, coming and going – but I let them go. Not perfectly, and I notice that too. I do my best to notice what is. And what I experience afterward is calm.
My mind slows down and becomes quiet. I feel the peace that I long for. What is is vastly different than where I spend most of my time and energy. I revel in the joy of this moment of ease. As I end the meditation and continue on with my day, I’m more relaxed, less reactive. By allowing myself to see what is, I allowed myself to just Be. What a relief. What is feels like home.
Copyright © 2011 by Constance L. Habash