Hiking With Full Awareness - Walking To Enlightenment

I recently booked a three week Buddhist meditation retreat for my three week vacation for this year. It was a combination of one week of teachings on Buddhist yogas and traditions, follow by one week of silent solo meditation and finished with one week of group meditation sessions.
This would basically be the most hard-core meditation experience for me so far. But I changed my mind and cancelled the reservation. This post is about my recent discovery and the reason I changed my mind about this retreat.

Enlightenment by immersion in nature and physical effort?

How To Do It

On the recent weekends and also in the evenings after work, I spend most of my time hiking. And I discovered it to be a joyful and effective practice, when combined with awareness of the senses. I tried to open up my awareness and stay present to whatever arises. Feeling every step, hearing every step, feeling the clothes on the body, hearing the birds, becoming aware of what arises in sight, sound, smell and touch. All at the same to time, as much of it as possible. This is a hardcore practice at first. In the beginning it feels very unnatural and you will quickly lose focus. It feels like to much to take in. And then comes a moment when your mind surrenders and kind of cracks open. You stay aware, you let everything arise and pass away without an afterthought. No distractions arise anymore and it becomes much easier to be present.

Somewhere in that (at first forceful) state of flowing with the present moment lies a powerful mechanism. I do not know where this mechanism works or how, but I seems to have to power to transform your whole outlook on life, how you feel, your degree of appreciation and your compassion. Sometimes you even reach moments of utter clarity and wisdom. Wisdom that everything just is as it should be and a feeling of love penetrates your being. This might sound already far out, but I was able to reach this state after only a few hours of seriously practicing this.
 
I discovered I could remain in this state of mind for a long time. As my body felt great from the fresh air and the natural surroundings, I was also enjoying the practice a whole lot more than formal sitting meditation. In a sense this practice is much harder and in another sense it becomes easier because it is more enjoyable. It is harder because of the initially overwhelming sensory input. This stage might last weeks and I just pushed through it and opened up my awareness more and more. Concentrating on more individual objects at every moment. Until it had to become an overarching resting in awareness. You only get so far with focus. It is a delicate and subtle difference, which is not easy to explain. But if you come to this point you will notice how it feels.
On the other hand walking meditation is easier because it is not so dull, boring and sometimes unpleasant. You do not fall asleep and your body does not become this big obstacle to your practice. It does not limit you in how deep you can go into the present moment.

Shortcut To Enlightenment

In Buddhist traditions, monks are known to practice walking meditation. Sometimes up to 15 hours a day  of this practice are done. And different lineages of the Buddhist teachings have different degrees of emphasis on this practice. There is even a practice which might be translated with “the fast track to enlightenment” and it involves hiking up and down a mountain for 1000 days. https://www.backpacker.com/skills/the-japanese-monk-who-hiked-a-mountain-1000-days-in-a-row

Those practices are certainly extreme, but enlightenment is also the most extraordinary state a human being can attain.

My Plan

Considering that my working time is already spend mostly sedentary in front of a computer, I was thinking that my free time is better spent moving and again sitting for most of the day. In that way I can combine physical exercise with my meditation practice.

I plan on hiking for one week at a time. The routes I have chosen are mainly in quiet nature areas, away from roads and traffic. I take my full camping equipment with me. This includes a camping hammock, an air-mattress and a sleeping bag. My focus will be on staying in the present moment with every action I do. Therefore I do not plan ahead the distance I want to cover. It will basically be hiking from dawn till dusk. Only wild camping will allow me to do this. Staying in hotels would limit the distances I can cover in a day. I like to have the flexibility of shortening or lengthening a hiking day.

Nutrition

There are also people who do fasted hiking. And as I am not at my thinnest at the moment, I know I have a few extra pounds of fat I can utilize and therefore I will not be concerned about food during the hike. I will still buy food whenever I have chance along the trail, but I will not intentionally take detours to buy food. I plan on eating mostly nuts (from the store) and fruit (along the way). And my walking speed will most likely not be super ambitious. The goal is awareness in the present moment, as mentioned. But as I know myself, I enjoy pushing through steep inclines and exert myself physically. And as I want to have the power to do this, I will eat according to my energy levels.

This may sound extreme as well in the light of vacations which are usually done with the intend of maximizing immediate pleasure. But for me this is more pleasurable than any solo meditation retreat, which I would do instead. And the overall goal here is not pleasure but increasing my awareness and walking the spiritual path.

Start With A Few Sensations

In case you have not tried walking meditation, I recommend you just try it out. Take a couple of hours where you can walk in nature exclusively and concentrate fully on all the sensations during walking. It takes practice to really surrender and until you can see the beauty of it. It also prepares you for daily life, more than formal sitting meditation does. At first, adjust this practice to what feels comfortable. Pick a few sensations and concentrate on those. Add sensation after sensation and focus on them at the same time. Let this crack open your awareness until your mind fully surrenders to whatever arises.


I will post updates after my tour on how it went and what I discovered.

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