Monday, June 25, 2012

Walking Meditation

In September Clemency and I are returning to Spain to walk the second half of the Camino Santiago. We booked the tickets last week and have started on the accumulation of packs, shoes, walking trousers, sunscreen, all that stuff. I have to get a bit fitter and I have to brush up on my Spanish. All that is the easy bit. The difficult part is what I am going to do to maintain my meditation.

It seems a strange thing, but participating in one of the world's great spiritual exercises actually threatens the practise I have been building up over the past few years. I will be sleeping in alberges (pilgrim hostels) for the better part of three weeks and sitting on aeroplanes for most of another one, which means finding a quiet space and a secluded place won't be easy. Sure I can meditate on planes but alberges have narrow floor spaces between rows of bunks and there's always someone snoring or walking or reading nearby. And then there's the extra weight in my pack that even my own self made, almost perfected one legged meditation stool will bring. Walking 400km means that before many days are through you notice every extra gram, and my stool will be a nuisance.

On some days I will find a quiet corner of one of the omnipresent churches, but mostly I will practice a walking mindfulness technique which I learned on the first half of the Camino. I woke early one morning to find the guy on the bunk next to mine sitting in the lotus position. As we packed up a half hour later, getting ready for the day's walking I asked if he was a meditator, talk about your stupid questions. He was Korean and spoke very litttle English. I of course, spoke absolutely no Korean, but we struck up one of those odd conversations that can happen across language and cultural barriers and  conversed (in memory I still can't quite understand how) at some depth about meditation. His was a Mindfulness practice and he managed to instruct me in a way of using Mindfulness while walking. I never did get to know his name, nor he mine, but we had, for the rest of the camino, one of those rare, deep understandings between people that we are sometimes priviliged to blunder into.

I had a day off today, and part of that involved walking a few kilometres along an almost deserted Otago beach. It was a still, cloudless winters day, and it was easy to fall into the rhythms of my body as it moved across the sand. The technique I was taught three years ago came creaking back. It was easy enough on a peaceful beach on a lovely day, but I hope that with enough repetition I will be able to use it on a varied and busy trail with interesting scenery opening up at every turn of the road.

It's not advisable, ever, to try and run two different practices at the same time, but Centering Prayer has enough similarities to Mindfulness that I think I can manage it, for a month anyway. I'll kep you posted.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Still Here

It's been a while since I posted, obviously, and a lot has happened; but in the interim I have learned a lot about the same old stuff. Mainly the worth of daily meditation.

So I sit still for a while? Big deal! At the end of any given meditation session I woulod be hard pushed to articulate what the benefits were.  Perhaps that it gives a nice, unhurried start to the day. Perhaps it teaches me that I am master of my own timetable and some other things besides. Perhaps it reminds me that I don't have to be at the beck and call of my impulses, for a few minutes, anyway. But none of those come anywhere near describing the true benefits.

It's only over the long term that the effects of my daily silence can be guaged. After some weeks, or even months I notice subtle but powerful changes. Body, mind spirit I am clearer and less hurried. Even in the times when I am not silent - in fact particularly in the times when I am not silent - God seems closer and more accessible. Ideas flow better. Stress and it's attendant pilot fish of bodily dysfunction are frightened off when they are still just looming shadows. Spiritual exercise is a bit like physical exercise, I suppose. You go for your walk around the block once or twice and wonder whether it really is worth the effort; you do it daily for a month and notice the way your breathing and waistline and heartbeat have all pleasingly decreased.

When I take the time to be still, to practice the discipline of letting go, everything, but everything works better.