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Sep 06
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Finding True Courage

Pathway-BridgeOn Walking Meditation

For many of us, our early experiences with the Shambhala teachings and meditation practice are powerful. Brian Renner, of Los Angeles vividly captures moments of inspiration and insight during an outdoor walking meditation.

In a quietly shaded spot a little off the beaten path in a beautiful arboretum on a typical sunny afternoon in Southern California, I prepared to practice walking meditation. I had just finished a short sitting meditation and was ready to take my practice off the cushion.

I started my timer and began walking in a large circle around a very big tree. With walking meditation in particular, I have found that it’s very easy to lose focus on the feet. It is so much easier to focus in on what we are seeing as we walk. Very quickly I noticed the distraction of watching where I was walking and picking my route rather than feeling the ground under my feet with each step. Right there in that distinction I decided to focus my attention, bringing myself back to the feeling of the grass beneath my feet.

With each step, I endeavored to feel my foot as it was coming down onto the ground. Noticing how it felt as my weight fully transferred onto that foot, and experiencing what it felt like as my foot lifted off the grass. I focused on staying present with each and every step, noticing all of these aspects of the sensation of walking.

I certainly wasn’t able to maintain this with every single step, but recognized the joy of that too.

Focusing in this way, I became more able to feel and recognize each of these sensations. I was able to notice all of these feelings, perhaps only about one time per trip around the tree. But I noticed it! I started realizing how much more complex the simple act of walking can be when you really pay attention. Every single step has its own complex array of feelings.

As I started relaxing with these sensations and opening up to them, I became very aware that no step ever actually felt the same. Each step felt different from the previous step. No step felt the same, even as I circled back around to the same piece of ground. During some parts of my circle I would step on the tree’s roots. Sometimes I would step on dried leaves which had fallen. Some parts of my short route consisted only of dirt. My repeated footsteps felt different, one from the other. Some footsteps in the grass felt soft and seemed to hug the bottoms of my feet, while some of them were a little uncomfortable as I stepped on roots, small rocks, or sticks. However, whether pleasant or unpleasant, I knew the sensation was only temporary.

When I took that next step it was gone. And gone, forever.

I began to recognize the temporary nature of my sensations. I started seeing the tendency to find a comfortable place to step and the desire to just stay there. How easy it would be to not seek the next step because this one was comfortable. Culturally, we have been trained to keep walking. We cannot stand in one place for the entirety of our lives. But the subtle desire to do so was still there. There was also the voice that said, “Oooo, that didn’t feel so good. Let me try to not walk right there again.” It became quite clear that I have felt this feeling before, outside of the feeling on the sole of my foot. I have noticed this very same feeling in my life.

I already knew that there was nothing truly threatening about where I was walking, so there was no need to have any concern about injuring my feet. With that, I was able to walk and simply feel what my foot was experiencing in each step. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, I could let it go and wait to see what the next step was going to feel like. I was able to feel the pleasant and unpleasant without an attempt to avoid any of the experience, and in some ways there was enthusiasm towards feeling that next step’s array of sensations. I began to recognize how we find ourselves in life, “buying thicker soled shoes” to protect ourselves from the harsh things we’re walking around, which also prevents us from feeling the pleasant moments of the journey. I began to see how we find ourselves clinging to the pleasant and avoiding and shunning the unpleasant, all the while struggling to find enthusiasm and joy in our current situation.

How often do we forget about our footsteps and twist an ankle, just to go searching for shoes that offer better support? I wonder then, what would happen if we took the “shoes” off completely and instead walked around paying full attention to our steps, feeling each one fully and staying present with each one? What would happen if we were able to be truly mindful of our steps, or our “steps” in life? What would it be like to be able to relax and let each step come, experience it for what it is, and let it go without clinging to it or pushing it away?

How likely it is that we will stumble or even trip when we do this. I don’t think I have had a session of walking meditation yet where I didn’t stumble. However, even while stumbling or tripping, there is value in the entire experience. There is value in feeling and opening up to heightened sensation.

There is value in tripping, falling, and getting back up.

This is the point at which Pema Chodron might say that we have an opportunity to get closer to finding true courage. Through this experience, a powerfully clear realization arose for me: in seeing our difficulties, our patterns of avoiding displeasure and seeking pleasure “like a moth to a flame,” we continue our suffering. Being fully open and experiencing things just as they, we move closer to unconditional confidence, one step at a time.

Brian RennerBrian Renner is a chiropractic doctor who transplanted to Southern California 7 years ago to practice chiropractic and to work in the film industry. He has been attending the Orange County Shambhala Center since June, 2013 after learning about Shambhala through books by Pema Chodron and Chogyam Trungpa. Recently he has been spending most of his time working in medical imaging, teaching classes at a college in Anaheim, and enjoying outdoor activities such as standup paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, wine tasting trips, and pretty much anything that takes him outdoors.

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