Hiking the Zen Path

Long ago the Zen master Yunmen (864–949) purportedly admonished his disciples: “If you sit, just sit; if you walk, just walk—but don’t wobble.”

It’s hard not to be scattered, especially in lives that are way too busy. Some of us may even wear our scurrying as a badge, as if it indicates that we’re important and doing impactful cutting-edge things in the world. When busyness becomes a virtue, we’re in deep trouble.

Those of us caught up in frenetic living require strategies to guide us to an alternative. On a hike or a walk in a park, when you sense yourself hurrying or tangled in thought as you clomp along, walk slowly for a few minutes. Better yet, stop for a minute. Take a few breaths. Listen. Do you hear any birds? What is this place saying to you? Is a breeze hitting your face? Can you smell the ground or any of the vegetation around you? What’s the taste in your mouth?

Take a few slow steps and really feel your shoe contacting the ground, your weight shifting, your back foot rising and swinging forward into the next step. If going steeply uphill, take a rest step by locking your back leg with most of your weight on it, pause, then step forward onto the front foot. This can be a form of walking meditation, what Japanese Zen practitioners call kinhin.

Checking in with each of your senses can enhance your awareness of your body and everything that’s happening around you there in the forest or in your garden. It may even help you begin to slow down and generate what psychiatrist and theologian Gerald May (1940–2005) called “the power of the slowing,” a slowing of both the body and the mind.

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