WALKING ROUND IN CIRCLES
I’ve been taught to walk around in circles, as a meditative exercise, by three varieties of Buddhist. In each case the walking was partly a break within sitting meditations, allowing sitters literally to stretch their legs. It also gave a focus for attentional training other than the breath.
But the styles and to an extent the meanings were different. The Theravadin Insight Meditation Society asked for very close attention to the process, a mental noting, for each step, of ‘lifting, lifting, lifting, lifting, moving, moving, moving, placing, placing, placing’. Mindfulness to the changing action was everything. Walking provided a context for mindfulness – without pleasure, aversion or independent purpose.
For the Tantric Shambhala Buddhists, walking was partly about stilling the mind in the service of ‘peaceful abiding’, partly (in group settings) about negotiating with other people so that a meditation group worked smoothly and partly about guru devotion, so important to all forms of classical Tantra. Chogyam Trungpa had described it as ‘boring’ even as he asked people to do it – and there was an element of doing it for him (and his successors).
In the Western Chan (original Chinese Zen) there was more of an emphasis on the movement itself, on slowing down and getting into a physical flow. There was a view of ‘body-mind’ rather than ‘mind’ alone. In contrast to the Theravadin approach, there was no mental noting. Led by body and movement, practitioners found their point of flow, gliding into choiceless awareness within the moment.
I learned from this that an apparently simple activity can give rise to different states and have different meanings, and that experience flows from intent, which then flows into experiencing.
I have, as a Druid, carried a circumambulatory walking meditation into my morning solo practice, free to make my own meaning. The main difference is willing surrender to the senses and to memory, the soft pleasure of the footfall on my woolen magic carpet, bought in the west of Ireland 19 years ago and the heart of my indoor sacred space ever since. As I walk, I trace my egg shaped ‘circle’ around the rectangular carpet, deepening, with my human action, a physical sacred space.
As someone who has undertaken to accept suffering and joy within an embrace of life on this earth, I don’t have to cut off desire and aversion at the root as the Buddhists, especially the Theravadins, are committed to do through their allegiance to the four noble truths. Yet I am still mindful to the gestalt of my experiencing. In an abundant now, which finds room for pleasure, memory and anticipation, the little ‘I’ (itself a cherished navigator through 3D reality) can still dissolve into an expanded awareness of experiencing.
That, for me, is the shift from a Buddhist view of indoor walking meditation to a Druid one. I will write about the external one another time.