Mindful Walking

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep"

Walking and creativity

Interesting research showing a link between walking and creativity (more details and a radio interview over at openculture.com)

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Farkir Sandals

These were on display at The Wellcome Collection in London as part of an exhibition called ‘An Idiosyncratic A-Z of the Human Condition’:

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Apparently these nail-studded sandals are (or were?) ‘worn by a fakir, a Muslim or Hindu religious figure in India who lives solely off donations and leads a life of fasting, prayer and abstinence. The sandals are worn to show the power of the fakir’s spirit to conquer physical pain. By overcoming the sensation of pain, through many years of practice, fakirs hope to achieve spiritual enlightenment.’ Apparently you keep them on your feet by placing the piece of wood between your toes.

I find walking meditation hard enough without nails in my shoes – thank you very much!


Alan de Botton’s School of Life has produced some awesome animations about philosophy. This one about Heidegger (who valued ‘picking mushrooms, walking in the countryside and going to bed early’) talks about the importance of understanding the strangeness of ourselves and our surroundings and the ‘unity of being’.

We exist in a state of ‘thrown-ness’ (we are thrown into the chaos and social confines of the world at birth) – but we can learn to rise above this, living for ourselves instead of ‘theyself’ (a superficial, socialised form of being).

I’m not doing a very good job of explaining this, or why it’s relevant to mindfulness. Just watch the video:



I came across these guys while walking through a wood today. They were having a great time.

Vipassana Retreats

I want to make a point about vipassana. I think it’s an important one, especially if you’re considering going on a 10 day vipassana retreat (e.g. a Goenka retreat). It does not relate directly to walking meditation but I want to write a little about vipassana and walking meditation in the future and thought I should talk a bit about what vipassana actually is before doing so.

Vipassana, or insight meditation as it is also known, is a form of meditation that teaches you to understand and become comfortable with the way your mind works. It contrasts in many ways with another form of meditation: samadhi, also known as concentration meditation. So, while in samadhi we learn to focus our attention on just one object (e.g. the sensation of the breath as it leaves our nostrils or the changing sensations on our feet as we walk), vipassana teaches us to watch the sensations and thoughts that arise and notice the constant process of change at work inside us. Often meditators begin a session with samadhi until they have achieved a single-pointedness of concentration and then will move on to vipassana – using that focus to examine their bodies and minds.


You may have heard of 10 days vipassana meditation retreats run in the tradition of S.N. Goenka. I know a few people who’ve  been on them and I’ve done one myself (these retreats are pretty hardcore, even by retreat standards). There is a lot of emphasis on the sensations in the body (through body scanning). Attendees are taught to watch the physical sensations of the body, learning to watch with equanimity as these arise and pass.

From being on that retreat and talking to others there I realised that many people attending these retreats think that the vipassana approach taught by Goenka is THE vipassana. What I want to emphasise is that there is a lot of diversity even within vipassana and it is important in all branches of Buddhism and many meditation approaches. In my experience other traditions, for example the Thai Forest Tradition, teach vipassana in very different ways. Here there is also a focus on watching the thoughts (rather than just physical sensations). They even teach you to practice vipassana during walking meditation (i.e. watching your thoughts as you walk mindfully) – this was a bit of a revelation for me and something I’ll write about in a future post. For me this approach to vipassana was much more accessible.

I want to say that if you’d like to learn vipassana, know that you have lots of options. I suppose that the Goenka tradition may have more traction with many people because it is not a religious movement. However, you needn’t identify as a Buddhist to learn vipassana at a monastery (or at least I haven’t found this – there was a Catholic nun at the last retreat I went on). Many people have benefitted profoundly from the Goenka approach and it may just suit you – but equally, there are other ways to experience vipassana.

Walking Meditation Tutorial


Running-with-the-mind-of-MeditationI came across this book today and thought it looked interesting. Normally I avoid running because it hurts and I feel like I’m going to die – but maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

It’s called ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’ and you can read an article by the author, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, on the Huffington post here or buy it here.

… When the desire comes upon us to go street rambling… getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter – rambling the streets of London.

Virginia Woolf

I saw the above today in a BBC article entitled: ‘The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking

5 minutes a day

“Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake,” the Zen master and great American writer Peter Matthiessen once said. “Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well.” 

More on Matthiessen, who died April 10th, here.


A clear forest pool


Each person has his own natural pace. Some of you will die at age fifty, some at age sixty-five, and some at age ninety.

So, too, your practices will not be identical. Don’t think or worry about this. Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. 

Ajahn Chah (full text here)