Last Updated on February 4, 2021 by Paul Farrell, MRP, JD, PhD

Hiking! Walking! Climbing! ... Walking meditation works best for 72,000,000 Americans who love nature, outdoors!

Hiking! Walking! Climbing! … Walking meditation works best for 72,000,000 Americans who love nature, outdoors!


“Our true home is the present moment. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature and within us – in our bodies and our spirits.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ


My grandparents raised me. Grandpa loved gardening, which was a good thing, we lived off his harvest. He was a gentle soul with a big heart and strong values. He walked the way he talked, with integrity. He was a great example, a true teacher.

Today when anyone tells a story about their grandfather, my ears perk up and I smile, reminded of my youth. I felt especially warm reading this one by a well-known walking meditation teacher whose grandfather taught her a important lesson – that meditation is something we all do, naturally, without thinking.

Walking Meditation Guru Learns The Ancient Secret from Grandpa

"When I walk, I walk." A lesson in mindful walking meditation from Grandpa.

“When I walk, I walk.” A lesson in mindful walking meditation from Grandpa.

“I visited my grandfather when he was very, very old,” says Sylvia Boornstein in It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness. “Twice a day, after breakfast and lunch, he would invite me to accompany him on a walk around the block. It was a long walk, because he walked slowly. He explained to me that this was his regular regimen, his daily exercise. “

Then came the sudden ah-ha to this young psychotherapist, “I said to him, ‘what do you think about when you walk?’ He looked at me in surprise. ‘What do you mean, what do I think about?’ he asked. When I walk, I walk!’ By that time I thought he was a Buddha.” Maybe all granddads are, mine sure was.

Grandpa Walks and Meditates Like a Buddha… Because He IS One!!!

Is walking meditation really that simple? Yes! When you walk, you just walk. I guess it just takes time to grasp the simplicity of mindful walking meditation, and life in general! Maybe all grandfathers are enlightened because they’ve walked around the block a few more times than we have. They get it, and I guess that’s what makes them great buddies as well as Buddhas.

Walking with them helps us see as they see. And if you‘re lucky, you’ll get it too. In getting the deeper meaning of her grandfather’s simple remark, this meditation teacher saw something about herself. She saw that he really was enlightened – and in that, she was also enlightened in that moment! Isn’t that what meditation is all about!

Mindful Walking Meditation

Walking is so natural, yet so easily ignored in the rush of the daily work commute. Walking slows you down. Get out of your car, feel the world around you, see the colors, smell the roses – and as you walk, look inside at how wonderful you are.

Walking is exercise for many of us, an opportunity to get in touch with ourselves and with others. It is a way of communion with the divine for others. As the American naturalist Henry Thoreau walked the trails of his beloved Walden Pond he say “heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

Backpacking – A “Most Profound Meditation!”

Nature is one big meditation room.

Nature is one big meditation room.

Every hiker, every climber, every trail blazer, every backpacker on a long trek is a modern day Thoreau … in action. I stumbled on this profound message unexpectedly in Ryel Kestenbaun’s The Ultralight Backpacker, an outdoorsman whose entire life is a meditation. Listen to his magical way of drawing you onto the path with him:

“In daily life, there is precious little time to let our minds rest quietly. Our brains are so used to being fed a constant diet of stimulation that we find it difficult to engage in the practice of doing nothing. The interesting thing about cutting off that stimulation for a little while is what remains behind. Rather than our minds becoming an empty box, they become conduits for the myriad of thoughts, emotions, and celebrations that never had a chance to flow before. That is one of the gifts of meditation.”

Suddenly he shifts from giving you expert backpacking advice – on stuff like tents, tarps, sleeping bags and boots – to letting you into the big secret he has discovered walking in nature:

“You can practice meditation anywhere, at any time—sitting in your car at a red light, eating dinner at a restaurant, and yes, backpacking along a trail. The most profound meditative states I’ve ever reached came while walking by myself along a trail deep in the backcountry, immersed completely in the world around me and within my own self.”

Nature is the World’s Biggest Walking Meditation Temple

My spine tingled when I read Kestenbaun, our favorite backpacker, speaking in pure Thoreau imagery. Listen:

“Nature is one giant meditation room. Whether you are striding along a rugged trail beneath a canopy of dense pines, or sitting on a giant granite rock overlooking a glass-smooth lake, or standing high up on a lonesome peak with a view that stretches to infinity, nature provides us with an opportunity to turn down the volume of our everyday lives and become utterly connected with who we truly are. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a single trip to the wilderness without coming back feeling more aware of myself and appreciative of the people and the world around me.”

Years ago I spent a few months at Esalen Institute in the Big Sur hiking the Coastal Sierras with Steve Harper, an Outward Bound instructor. Steve knew every inch of the trails in those rugged mountains.

Aerial view of the Esalen Institute in the Big Sur.

Aerial view of the Esalen Institute in the Big Sur.

On one hike he took us way up to an 800-year-old village site of the Esalen Indians. There we saw mounds of mussel shells that they had carried up from the Pacific Ocean shores hundreds of feet below. Their culture disappeared with almost no trace. Why? You think of those kinds of things while you’re walking slowly through the greatest meditation temple of all.

If Your Sitting is “Penance”, Walking Meditation Is “Pure Grace!”

While at Esalen I had a chance to hear Sam Keen, a popular speaker on philosophy, relationships and men’s issues. Keen is a former editor of Psychology Today, and was featured in a Bill Moyers PBS special, “Your Mythic Journey.” In Keen’s Hymns to an Unknown God: Awakening the Spirit in Everyday Life he speaks poetically of his love of walking meditation:

“For me, sitting meditation, like repentance, is work that requires a sizeable amount of concentration, soul-searching, and willpower. Walking, by contrast, is pure grace, an effortless art that produces surprising moments of spontaneous self-transcendence. When I walk, my mind leaps ahead, skips steps, and presents me with images and ideas out of nowhere. With surprising regularity the thoughts that come to me when I am on a long hike in the hills contain the breakthrough insights I have been unable to reach after weeks of hard intellectual or emotional work.”

Who could ask for anything more! Yes, walking is the prefect meditation. And fortunately, like breathing, we’re doing it all the time anyway, so it is the perfect time to meditate every day!

Healthy exercise, trailblazing, a journey through history, communion with nature, delightful sounds, colors and images, birds, flowers, a little soul-searching, conscious contact with the mysterious creator of the universe, and a chance to turn off all the endless distractions of everyday life. That’s walking meditation – the way to your soul.

The Sports Climber’s “Mental Edge”

The climber with the ‘right head’ with prove the superior climber every time.

The climber with the ‘right head’ with prove the superior climber every time.

Many outdoorsmen prefer the challenges of mountain climbing and rock climbing, as a way of meditating on nature and the soul at the same time. In fact, deeply religious Sherpas, Tibetan Buddhists from Nepal, make their living as guides for climbers on their journey up Mt. Everest.

The sport of rock climbing is closer to home and more widely practiced. As its popularity grows, rock climbers are also turning to sports psychologists and sports training techniques to enhance their performance. Goddard & Neumann’s Performance Rock Climbing emphasizes the basic meditation techniques of breathing, muscle relaxation and concentration, complete with a sketch of a climber in the lotus position to emphasize concentration!

Psychological and Behavioral Preparation are Essential

John Long’s Sport Climbing adds that psychological and behavioral preparation are as essential as physical preparation, not just for survival, but for peak performance:

“Take two climbers of the same ability and fitness. The one with the ‘right head’ with prove the superior climber every time. She’s the one who knows how to program her mind for performance. She may do this through imaging, visualization, self-hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and a host of other methods … all of which long have been used by athletes to gain some mental edge.”

In short, the sport of climbing has become yet another great way of meditating. As Long puts it:

“The biggest weapon we have in our quest for peak performance is our mind.”

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