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Contemplative Walking

In this article, Swami Veda Bharati teaches the practice of contemplative walking, or how to bring meditation into walking. 
 
In yoga, one of the central goals in the development of personality and the states of consciousness is sthiti, stability. The practice in yoga, abhyasa, is defined as:tatra sthitau yatno'bhyasah
There, abhyasa, practice means an endeavor at stability;an effort to stay 'there'. -Yoga-sutras of Patanjali I.13

We are taught the ways and means of attaining this stability in sutras I.33ff, that explain how one may establish oneself in a stable state, on a stable pedestal, sthiti-pada, and how this stability, as it were, may be fastened, sthiti-ni-bandhana, so as not to shake loose.

One keeps up with the endeavor till one reaches the highest pinnacle of truth-bearing wisdom, rtam-bhara pra-jna (YS. II.27). 

In the Bhagavad Gita, verses 54-72 of the second chapter define a person of stable wisdom, sthita-prajna. 

Arjuna asks: What is the definition of a sthita-prajna?

Sthita is one who has attained sthiti, stability at a certain level of the development of consciousness. Sthita-prajna is one whose wisdom has stabilized.  Ordinarily, everyone has some wisdom and some ignorance. Sometimes one is so angry that one could smash the whole house down and sometimes the same person is so forgiving that s/he smiles in the presence of a murderer.  Sthita-prajna is someone whose wisdom is always stable.

Arjuna asks: What is the description of a person of stable wisdom? Then he expands this with three further questions:

How does the person of stable wisdom speak?
How does he sit?
How does he walk?

Thus, four questions in all.

These four questions may be subdivided into two categories. The Yoga-sutras teach us of the difference between the state of samadhi, and its  opposite, our spiritually unnatural state, vyutthana - that of being 'up and about', away from our meditation seat.  In the highest attainment of wisdom, the two become integrated, and it is then that one is truly called a sthita-prajna.

The great commentator, savant and yogi, Madhusudana Saraswati, explains that the first of these four questions is about the state of samadhi and it is answered in just one verse, 55.  The last three questions pertain to the state of yogi in the ordinary life when he is not sitting on his meditation 
seat. 

Of these, the second question, how does he speak, is answered in two verses, 56-57.  The third question, how does he sit, is answered in six verses 58-63. Then the fourth question, how does he walk, is answered in eight verses 64-71. However, in these verses, the word 'walking' is used in the very wide sense of walking through daily life of activity, not merely the movement of legs and feet. This may be studied in the various editions of the Bhagavad-gita.

Here we shall attempt to understand the last of these questions i.e. How does he walk, in the limited sense of the word 'walk'. 

Swami Rama used to say: when you walk it should look like you are dancing.  He walked like a king and a lion, as a yogi is both of these.  Watching Swami Rama was to learn to walk with a spine straight, with shoulder joints relaxed, dignified steps - a royal gait. 

For those who never had the good fortune of seeing the Phenomenon called swami Rama walk, a suggestion : Visit Thailand to see the sculptures, unique to that country, of the Buddha walking. To see them is to stand entranced.

In this little presentation we shall try to walk towards the habit of proper walking. 

CONTROLLED AND GUIDED WALKING

Often, when people walk their senses are not coordinated.  Their foot falls one way and the glance another way.  All the active and cognitive senses  go in different directions. There is no coordination between the mind, breath, cognitive senses and active senses.  In yoga one learns to coordinate these in a manner that all four should move in harmony, not contradicting each other, not canceling each other's aim.  No matter what one is doing these four should always be coordinated.  Some of the masterpieces of very fine miniature sculpture and miniature paintings in Asia have been produced by artists applying their skills and tools with coordinated breathing techniques.

Following three steps could be used for improving ordinary walking into controlled and self-guided walking.

This practice of walking requires three elements to consider, to train and observe : body, breath and mind.  First we take the body and the breath.

BODY AND BREATH

Step One

First one learns to coordinate the movement of the feet, the hands and the eyes.  Walk with the spine straight.  All through the systems there is one key word and that is smrti i.e. mindfulness or awareness.  Observe the coordination.  It is not enough to practice coordination alone.  Observe
that the spine is straight, feet and hands are moving in unison, eyes are focussed, chest, stomach and the navel area are relaxed.  Observe that they are relaxed all along.

Step Two

During the walk, establish diaphragmatic breathing i.e. not breathing from the chest but breathing from the navel and the stomach area. Let his be even breathing. The practitioner needs to be sure that (1) all breaths are equal in volume and force (2) flowing smoothly, without jerkiness. 

The ways of training the student into diaphragmatic breathing are well known to the teachers in the Himalayan tradition. When one has practiced this and is fairly confident that one has improved the way one breathes, then comes the next step in the walk.

Step Three

The walking movement remains the same as before but the breath rhythm is 1 to 2.  If the length of the inhalation is '1' the exhalation should be '2'. That is, if the inhalation is to the count of four, exhalation should be to the count of eight, the counting done mentally. Swami Rama used to teach runners to run with that breath and the runner would not huff and puff. 

One should not attempt this breath rhythm in walking unless (1) the breathing is indeed diaphragmatic, without jerks, flowing smoothly, (2) one has first mastered it sitting down, (3) no strain is felt in the chest in attempting this breath rhythm, and (4) one is not having to gasp to maintain the rhythm.

In applying this 1 to 2 breathing, one uses the system of counting numbers mentally to establish the rhythm. For this, again, there are two possible ways. In both the rhythm of the mental count should not vary from one number to the next. The same rhythm is to be used for counting the length of the breath.  One way is to count in sequence, that is, 1,2,3,4 in inhalation and 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 in exhalation. The other way is 1,1,1,1 and 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1.

Between the two there is a difference in concentration.  The second system needs, and gives, more concentration.

One increases the number as one's capacity grows which is tested by the fact that, again, there is no feeling of strain any time that the system is used. 

THE MIND

ONE : COUNTING

With the above system of counting, the mental factor has already been introduced. But only as a concentration. 

TWO : MANTRA

The next mental step both in (1) even breathing, and in (2) 1:2 breathing is to move on to the mantra.  Instead of 1,2,3,4 or 1,1,1,1 one uses mantra, mantra, mantra, mantra, keeping one's personal mantra at the same speed and the same rhythm all the way through.

Once again, the number of mantra remembrances per breath may be increased according to one's capacity.

THREE : PROBLEM SOLVING

Now we move towards more refined mental applications in  walking.  For example: one has a problem.  Some of the tension gets worked off by the movement of the active senses and hence the mind can concentrate on the problem.  During such a problem solving walk if the heart center remains relaxed one could come back from the walk with a solution to the given problem of life.  After this, one learns to do the problem solving walk in a more refined way, that is, introducing coordination mentioned earlier. Here one uses Swami Rama's method of internal dialogue which needs to be learnt separately. It is a very fine mental art and one who has mastered it need fear no life problems.

FOUR : CONTEMPLATION

1. Problem Solving through Philosophy

Here, now, one learns to walk with philosophical contemplation. However, between (1) walking with just the life problem and (2) walking with the philosophical contemplation, there is an intermediate level.  In the first kind of problem solving walk one may be solving the matter pragmatically. In the slightly elevated level of the same, the problem-solving walk, one will be applying philosophical principles.

There is a deep connection between the life problems and the philosophical problems.  All the life problems are philosophical problems.  If one knows how to apply philosophy to solving life problems then there are no life problems left.  If the philosophy is clear then all that one has to do is to
apply, as it were, a sutra, a maxim, a formula. For example: you believe in non-violence.  In handling a difficult neighbor you have an option of using violent voice or a non-violent voice. If you use non-violent method skillfully, you are applying a philosophical formula to solve a pragmatic problem. 

2. Pure Philosophical Contemplative Walking

There are two levels in pure philosophical contemplative walk. 

I. Solving Philosophical Problems

In the first level, the seeker may be confused about some philosophical matters.  For example: If non-violence is right and if it is true, as it is said in the Yoga-sutras: 

Ahimsa-pratishthayam tat-sannidhau vaira-tyahgah

In the presence of someone who has mastered non-violence no violence can occur, YS. II.35.

Then how is it that Jesus and Gandhi were assassinated?  Was it Gandhi's karma to be shot or was it the assassin's new karma?  One may use the walk for arriving at some positive conclusions about such philosophical questions. This is level one of contemplative walking. In India it has even taken a 
social form :  it is quite common to see friends go for their morning or evening walk, discussing such topics aloud among themselves.

II. Metaphysical Contemplation

This system is taught in the monastic orders.  For example: when the vows of renunciation (sanyasa) are taken, the new renunciate, sanyasin, is given a philosophical statement from the scared texts. It is called mahavakya, literally, a great sentence. This is not the same as a mantra. The mantra is used for meditation through its remembrance and further refinements. The mahavakyas  are select sentences from the scriptures. There are four major ones in the tradition of  the dash-nami orders established by Shankaracharya, but there are many dozens also that are used for contemplations of various truths. This author was taught thirty-two different ones at different times of his life. The main mahavakya given at the renunciation ceremony remains with the renunciate, the sanyasin, for the rest of his or her life.  A monk does not only practice the meditation with the mantra but also endeavors the contemplation of that sentence to understand it and apply it to all levels of consciousness.  For example, if the particular sanyasin has been given the sentence               

                tat tvam asi
                that thou art


                       -Chhandogya Upanishad VI.8.7

s/he must spend many hours contemplating its deeper significance, assimilating it into life and thoughts, and use it to solve any pragmatic problems as well. It is a spiritual skill that can be learnt under long-term guidance only, but one may make a start at any station of one's life. One may 
ask one's spiritual guide to assign a mahavakya, or until a spiritual guide turns up, one may use a sentence chosen by oneself from the scriptures of one's own religion and faith.

For further detailed study of this contemplative methods, please ask for the audio-cassettes of the courses offered by this author.

What is the difference between ordinary mental logic and contemplation?  In ordinary mental logic one starts from a premise and then lets the argument lead to whatever conclusion.  In contemplation, one constructs the argument in such a way that it leads to that conclusion which is already given in the mahavakya. 

Use your walk for this kind of contemplation of a few basic sentences and try to understand their deep meaning, assimilate it into your personality, making it the basic personality trait on the basis of which you solve your daily problems as well.

3. Meditative Walk

In meditative walk one's mantra or the concentration that the teacher has given is maintained as though one were sitting for meditation.  For example, if the concentration is in the heart center or the ajna center with the mantra one maintains that concentration while walking. This author, under 
acute angina pectoris has climbed from an elevation of nine thousand feet up to twelve thousand feet by maintaining the yoga-nidra state all the way through.

4. Smrti, Mindfulness, Self-observation

This is part of large set of practices known as smrty-upa-sthana in the Yoga-sutras (YS. I. 20), also referred to in numerous other texts like the Bhagavad-gita (II. 63; 18.73). Among the yogis this an the related practices are taught in the oral tradition of the master training the disciples but no
detailed processes are recorded in the written form. In the Buddhist tradition it is the  fundamental practice, divided into six kinds of anussati, (anu-smrti), and the relevant practical details called 
anussati-kamma-tthana. The central one of these anapana-sati, the practice of breath awareness, fundamental also in the Himalayan tradition. Besides the words of the Buddha himself, the practical details are to be found in the extensive text called Visuddhi-magga (Sections 7 and 8).  The detailed methods taught are used in the monasteries throughout Asia.

The reader may have witnessed, or seen in the film recordings of the monasteries from Tibet to Japan, the monks walking single file in silence, with all the senses tucked in. One is totally absorbed in this observation, aware of every vedana, sensation, and associative movement outward as well
as the thought inward. Then come the further variations. One may be taught to be fully aware of all one's surroundings and yet be totally self-observant. One may enter into the contemplation of philosophical truths, or remembrance of one's mantra, or trying to understand the riddle of one's koan, and so forth. The emphasis differs from school to school, monastery to monastery, country 
to country. The methods are detailed but one may make a start at any time in one's life.

There is one physical detail about such a walk. It is no ordinary walk.  One does not put down one's heel first and the toes after. But vice versa, toes first and the heels after. The heel of the front foot falls right in front of the toes of the back foot. All the while, perfect balance and awareness is 
maintained.

Here the movement is minimal.  The concentration is in observing the process. In this the predominant mental absorption is in self-observation: 

How am I walking? How is it the mind is sending a command in the brain? How is that command conveyed to the nervous systems and kinetically interpreted in the muscular system? How do I lift one foot? What is the state of the other foot in the meantime? How do I lift the other foot? How do I put the foot down?

How is the mind sending its will into the brain?  How is the brain directing the eye to see three feet in front?  How is the brain commanding the active senses to move?  How is that command going through the neuromuscular system?

Which muscle is getting tense that is not required to move?  Relax that muscle.  Use only the nerves and muscles that are actively needed for the specific movement.  Do not allow more tension than is absolutely necessary for making that movement.  Observe and register the fact of each of these 
stages from the mind to the toes.

When one is in the middle of this quiet contemplative walk people who come near you should become effortlessly quiet. 

The eyes are kept on the ground a few feet ahead. This helps to control the cognitive sense of sight.  This also helps the senses in not following a desire to dart about.  This is part of a much larger practice known as concealing the senses (indriya-gupti). Indriya means senses and gupti means concealing. Concealing the senses.  Withdrawing the ears, withdrawing the eyes, withdrawing the nose so forth, and maintaining silence of the senses.

One observes the mind's movement through volition, cerebral system and the neuromuscular system in a controlled channel.  All the while one observes with mindfulness (smrti).  For example: in walking thus one has to use the feet, an active sense, but all the other active senses are kept withdrawn. 

Sense of elimination and generation is withdrawn by maintaining the mula-bandha. The active sense of speech is controlled by turning the tongue into the palate, the hands formed in a certain position (mudra) and shoulders relaxed.  There are different ways of practicing its details.  The main
point is in 'closing'.  Establishing a closed circuit of the energies of the cognitive and active senses including the mind.

One undergoes similar processes of withdrawing all senses during the sitting down meditation but here, in this walk, certain senses are selectively and volitionally activated to the exclusion of the rest. According to Bhagavad Gita, then, a Yogi walking remains in meditation while walking.

Finally this kind of practice leads to witnessing.  Neutral witnessing.  One witnesses the world without becoming a participant in it.  Observe the exterior activities, remain mindful of them, but as a witness. This is the function of the faculty of wisdom and discrimination known as buddhi, which 
is the subtlest part of the mind system closest to spiritual self, atman. In this way, a walk can become an instrument of self realization.

May you learn to walk like a being of stable wisdom, sthita-prajna, whose nature is described in the Bhagavad-gita  Chapter II, verses 64-71, especially the last two of these:

    Being ever filled, the support of the stable forces,
    An ocean into which all waters are being poured -
    The one into whom all desires enter to be absorbed,
    He it is who attains peace, 
    and not one who desires the desires.                                II.70

    Abandoning all desires, the person who
    ever walks without entanglement,
    Free of 'mine', without the 'I-maker',
    He alone arrives at Peace.                                                 II.71