My Practice: Mindful Walking in Town
In “My Practice,” we share personal routines that create wellness and happiness from spiritual teachers, yogis, nutritionists, and more, in hopes to inspire your own healthy rituals.
Rick Heller leads meditations at the Humanist Community at Harvard. A freelance journalist, he has written for the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Buddhadharma, Free Inquiry, Tikkun, and Wise Brain Bulletin. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University, a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT. Here is Rick’s practice:
“When I go for a walk in town, I turn down the volume of my inner chatter so I can focus on the wonders that lie just around the corner. I live in an ordinary town. Wonders lie everywhere.
In order to see, hear and feel these everyday wonders, I scan the muscles of my face and relax them. I loosen my jaw, letting it drop slightly, so that my lips are together but teeth are apart. I check in with the muscles of the throat, especially the area around the Adam’s apple, and let them go. I bring my attention to the base of my tongue, and relax any tension in the spot where the tongue connects to the lower jaw. Inner chatter is a kind of talking to yourself; when you relax the muscles used in speech, it goes away.
The transformation is amazing. My inner speech quiets down to a whisper and my mind sharpens to a focus on the world around me. Sounds become crisper. Whether the chirps of birds or the hum of a leaf blower, I take in the symphony without the judgment that stems from the inner voice.
Sights become more vivid. When inner silence prevails, I become more aware of how objects inhabit three-dimensional space. When I see a sunflower stalk stand up proudly, I stand tall too. When I see a flower’s stem drooping over, my shoulders slump.
As I walk, I fully inhabit my own body. I’m inside my own legs as they move jauntily and inside my arms as they swing back and forth.
I’ve had a chance to see how the sense of wonder brought on by simply being present compares to that brought on by natural wonders. When my wife and I traveled to Ireland, we visited the Cliffs of Moher, with a seven-hundred-foot sheer drop into the waters of the Atlantic. They were stunning. They riveted my attention—at first. We walked along the clifftops, exploring new vistas. On the way back, though, the scenery was familiar and my attention drifted. I caught myself and decided to pay attention to my steps and to the grass in the pastures that run up nearly to the cliff edge. That effort brought my sense of wonder back, and for some reason, I became particularly mindful of sound. I felt the same sense of wonder that I’d experienced while viewing the cliffs minutes before.
Like all other feelings, the sense of wonder is generated within the brain. Some things, like dramatic cliffs, are better at stimulating our brains to produce the sense of wonder. But when we become skillful at mindfulness, we can produce these states in ourselves anywhere—even during a stroll through our own neighborhood.”
This “My Practice” was adapted from Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy — A Guide from the Humanist Community at Harvard by Rick Heller. Reprinted with permission. For more information visit http://www.rickheller.com.