Traveling As A Moving Meditation
and What Does It Mean to Meditate Anyway?
Meditate [verb • med·i·tate • \ ˈme-də-ˌtāt \ ]: To engage in mental exercise .... for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. (Merriam-Webster)
I have long engaged in a variety of meditations, often without realizing. Throughout the years, I've inadvertently practiced driving meditation, dancing meditation, walking meditation, and my old favorite, the sitting quietly meditation. Most recently I've added traveling meditation to the mix, though admittedly it's taken me about six years to recognize it.
Meditation doesn't have to be complicated and it certainly doesn't require any special equipment. It can be easily practiced by simply being quiet, anywhere you may find yourself, during any activity [or non-activity]. Mindful intention is all that's required to transform an ordinary act into a meditative practice.
As a pre-teen I read a book which I believe was titled "Meditates, Contemplates and Just Sits". I came across it one day, nearly lost in pile of random items on top of the microwave; the 'just sits' part of the title hooked me. I thought to myself, well I do a lot of sitting, daydreaming and the like, maybe I've been meditating the whole time? Turns out yes, yes I was. That book not only helped me to realize that meditation was not some unattainable ideal, it was easy and simple and I didn't have to be a monk or a yogi to practice. It also taught me about visualization and creating a sanctuary in one's mind; so many useful ideas and tips! It drives me crazy that I can't find any confirmation of its existence on the internet, never mind a replacement copy.
Thankfully the internet does offer a wealth of alternative sources of easygoing approaches to the sometimes intimidating topic of meditation. For instance, The Greatist has a handy compilation of "Unexpected Ways to Meditate" which offers practical ways of bringing serenity and intention to activities you're probably already doing. I don't know about you, but I have always struggled with believing in the legitimacy of my own practices; if nothing else, reading such a post offers helpful validation in the face of insecurity.
Speaking of the need for validation, a few years ago I got in a near argument with a friend over whether or not driving can be a form of meditation. I contended yes, driving is absolutely a form of meditation with all the quiet solitude and soothing constant motion; my friend was adamant that my position was bullshit, something about too much mental focus allotted to paying attention to surroundings and being sure not to crash. I caved and bought into her nonsense for a few months until I heard someone else describe the serenity they got from long drives, how meditative it was — I snapped to attention so grateful for the confirmation of what I already knew to be true. Silly I know, but I'm only human and sometimes I need a little assistance with self acceptance.
Since then I have been much more gentle, much less judgmental with myself about my practices. I got back in touch with the easygoing position so described in that book I read years ago. I started reconsidering the value and purpose behind all of my activities. Dancing with abandon to pounding, bass-heavy techno? Meditation. Sitting on my couch in the dark for an hour just thinking? Meditation. Long walks through the city listening to jazz while window shopping and people watching? Meditation!
I also practice more formally just to mix it up: guided meditations at night with my beloved Insight Timer app, 20 minute group meditations on Sundays, the occasional yoga class or silent retreat. But regardless of the level of formality, each of these methods are united by intention and effect: actions taken to still the mind towards the achievement of serenity, just as described in the incontrovertible Merriam-Webster dictionary definition shown above.
Among all the ways I employ meditation, I find those involving movement to be most effective. There's something about motion and activity that pulls my focus away from my mind into a place of just being, surrendered to the present.
Consider the walking meditation as described by Jack Kornfield, "a universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness. ... The art of walking meditation is ... to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence." Or Qigong, which "uses rhythmic physical movements to focus and center the mind" as described in the aforementioned Greatist article. These are "official" and widely recognized methods of cultivating serenity [hello validation!], practiced all throughout history by all types of people.
Now consider the act of travel, which involves motion in a much broader sense. Is it such a leap to think of it as just another form of moving meditation? When I take a trip, no matter how close or far, I see it as a restorative process centered around advancing forward. Traveling doesn't have to be an escape, it can be a way of connecting more deeply to myself; upon arrival at my destination, I work to maintain the momentum of motion begun the moment I shifted from one location to another. Each day I continue on to the next moment, the next discovery; free from the constraints and habits of every day life, my subconscious, natural responses emerge and flourish.
A key component of an effective traveling meditation is solitude; it naturally cultivates focus and awareness in ordinary activity. When I'm alone with myself in a new and unfamiliar place, I'm forced to use my mind in a totally different way. Every moment is new and every reaction brings me in more profound touch with my surroundings. I am able to be present and aware in a way I can never manage to be at home. I walk and walk and walk, seeing, really seeing, all that is around me. I stay mostly silent as I have no companions to speak with or be distracted by; I am able to disappear into a place as a mindful observer. Every meal is enjoyed slowly as I savor each mouthful and detail. I allow the environment to wash over me, giving in to the newness of every passing minute.
Each trip is beautiful in its singularity; each moment of travel bringing me peace and joy like no other practice. Being so far removed from daily routine, I am able to separate from obsessive thinking and worry and transition into a state of open awareness and gratitude.
Meditation is not an out of reach ideal, but an easily employed process given the proper intention. It can be as straightforward as simply adjusting your perspective towards your current daily activities. With the right mindset, your commute, your morning coffee, your lunch break, your presence at a party, can all be repurposed as meditation. Any act can bring serenity if you bring intention to it.