Contemplation has long been associated with static and seated postures in isolated locations, mirrored in images like the seated Buddha or Rodin’s Thinker. In spite of the long historical association of contemplation and walking, the history of contemplation has favoured particular low-mobility forms of reflection, a limited relationship with the physical body and the environment of the contemplative act.
Padakun Contemplative Walking …
- asserts that contemplative walking connects us with our experienced external realms and requires that our contemplative process be grounded in our physical experience, and interactive and negotiative with the physical space and other beings of our contemplation .
- proposes that contemplation in motion, such as walking, allows us to discover meaning in and through our experienced and embodied practices, and not be imposed on them.
- proposes that we go beyond merely accepting walking practices in a collection of contemplative acts, but recognize that walking, and most other forms of contemplation-in-movement are a necessary complement to sedentary or stationary forms of contemplation.
We could content ourselves by making a strong case for a more prominent place for walking in a “tree” or hierarchy of contemplative practices. However, this is not our point. We are not simply looking to increase the variety of contemplative practices available to practitioners. Instead we are proposing that the embodied form of walking practices contributes a unique dimension to contemplation itself – one of experiencing what Thich Nhat Hahn calls “interbeing” . This term describes a combination of the blander term “interconnection” and the more provocative “inter-penetration”. This challenges dualistic tendencies in contemplative practice which may prompt us to play the role of a contemplating subject reflecting on an exterior and even abstract or ideal contemplative object. Walking practices locate us in the environment of our bodily experience and require an alertness and sensitivity to that.
With walking practice there is no textbook or instruction manual. It is not a matter of learning a set of instructions. Walking demands an on-going experience of the environment, and a negotiation with it. Walking does not seize, capture or contain the space of walking. We cannot abstract where we walk. Walking requires a relationship between us and the space of our walking, and that space informs how we know ourselves. We know ourselves as a part of the walking experience, that movement of the body through a space, with or without other beings.
Martial arts training is a good demonstration. The senior demonstrates and the student performs what they witness. There is no pencil and paper exam, no reference to debates or theory, it is a body duplicating another body. Approval only comes when the teacher recognizes their own skill represented in the student’s behaviour and character. It exemplifies the process of transmission, so central to Buddhist learning. As suggested by the Japanese term shugyo, walking contemplation is a disciplined and repetitive performance, to be sure, however, it is a creative response to the presence of the practice environment. Walking contemplation always takes place in, with and through the experienced space of the practice, a space which may be entirely non-human but may easily include shared human presence.
This is not to disenfranchise or diminish more sedentary forms of contemplation, the value of such practices has been firmly established across history and cultures. Rather, we suggest a necessary complementarity between practices of movement and those which emphasize a stationary site. In the simplest way, walking practices are characterized by an externality – we must be attentive to what is happening outside of our own bodies, we must attend to the space of the practice. However, this is more than proposing that sedentary practices are primarily internal, while movement practices are external in focus. Movement practices, like walking, go beyond any inside/outside dichotomy to locate our full experience of self in the larger context of the world. To repeat, walking practices bring us to experiences of interbeing, because we have to “inter-be” to perform these practices. They are by necessity dialogic, interactive and negotiative. The complement is that walking practices ensure we experience and confirm our location in the living world in ways that sedentary practices may not. Walking practices embed us in the world, fostering ways in which the world informs and defines us.
Welcome to the path,