My personal nightmare resembles something out of Being John Malkovich: outsiders gaining entrance into my brain. Not that anyone would want to. But, gifted with a usually placid mien, spectators might find my mind's actual internality surprisingly murky as Loch Ness with clouding chatter and a monster—affectionately named Nessie!—definitely lurking in its midst.
'I can't escape my thoughts,” I heard a woman say in a recent learn-to-mediate class. Heads bobbed in silent agreement like Wilson in the Pacific. Maybe it's a product of environment. One appropriate city-infiltrating-brain metaphor from Renata Adler's Speedboat: “My own mind is a tenement,” Or maybe it's hours spent on my computer or phone—writing, reading, mainly searching for distractions—with endless streaming updates.
There's some comfort knowing the sentiment is shared, but it's still no solution. My dad often refers me to the acronym MEDS: meditation, exercise, healthy diet, and sleep for stress-free (OK, reduced stress) living. Its exact source he can't remember and a Google search yields no origin story, but I've adopted it. Or, EDS, rather—I rarely manage to meditate, making it sound like I've spent my whole day in an unoriginally named dive bar instead.
Sure, there are centers with guided sessions (highly recommended), apps, or the DIY route (see here and here). I find excuses. But, baby steps, people! Heavy emphasis on steps. While I can always fake a reason (no time, space, energy, etc.) for not sitting and meditating, there's zero excuses for not trying while walking because I walk all the damn time.
While Vegan Aharonian, a meditation teacher at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, notes walking meditation has a specific technique and typically occurs within a designated space, “when you walk to the subway, you can use the meditation training to have your mind present,” He suggests picking an object of meditation. “For example: I'm going to look at everybody who passes by. Another option: I want to continue to feel my breath, how my body moves, the synchrony—you can pick any aspect,” Don't feel you have to “concentrate' on one thing, though. It's more like a buoy: anchoring your mind as you drift with the tides of thought.
If wavering consciousness seems counterintuitive to meditation (the mind is supposed to be crystal calm and clear, right?), Aharonian offers encouragement: “Bringing the mind back to the subject matter is a more successful accomplishment than being present for a long time,”
Personally, I count four inhales and exhales while walking from place to place. It's no substitute for an actual meditation session but it helps to settle my mind. Another useful meditative-without-actually-meditating practice? “Being interested in your thoughts, your feelings. Asking, 'What am I feeling right now?' If we are able to ask that question, rather than being overwhelmed, we are able to become an observer of where we are. That gives us a chance to gain some wisdom,”
Illustration by Beth Zimmerman.