I have long struggled with learning to meditate. I struggle with the tasks of dismissing distractions, emptying my mind, focusing on my breath and remaining in the present. That being said, I regularly recommend mindfulness and meditation practices to friends and clients alike citing the volumes of evidence which prove its efficacy. It is one of the go-to strategies for individuals with anxiety and is especially helpful to people with panic disorders.
These past few weeks I have found myself with an abundance of downtime and I am not just referring to times when I feel down about the Covid-19 situation. I simply have more time to learn about various meditation and mindfulness techniques and put them to the test. There is one practice from the world of mindfulness meditation that I have found remarkably useful and easy to add into my new schedule, which consists mostly of telework, television, avoiding snacks and walking. The practice is a type of walk called an “Awe Walk” or a “Noticing Walk” and it has specific guidelines.
Start by turning off your cell phone. Cell phones (and other gadgets) can be distracting and draw your attention away from what’s happening around you. Ideally, don’t bring your phone with you at all so that you won’t be tempted to check it. At its most basic, which is also its most effective, this is a walk where one chooses to focus on: Color, sound, shapes, feelings.
For example, choosing the color red, begin the walk with a few deep breaths followed by taking in the environment and noticing a red stop sign, then a red car, a red jacket on another socially distant human, red front doors, red tulips and on down the road. The goal is not the total of red items, but rather to keep one’s mind paying attention, looking and seeing, acknowledging each red thing and perhaps even stopping to pay special attention to a cardinal or robin’s red breast.
The walk can work the same way with feelings- when something you see makes you smile or evokes a happy memory. Also, how your body feels as you walk, or how the people you pass (from a distance) affect your thoughts. Pay attention to your reactions and acknowledge the feelings as they ebb and flow with your attention.
Younger children can also participate by suggesting that they notice things like numbers on the walk-three leaves on a branch, three cars at a light, the number 3 on a license plate or house. Letters and shapes will also work well with children learning to be mindful on a walk. The more common the theme, the more chances we have to notice it, and the more we notice, the more we benefit!
During your walk, try to approach what you see with fresh eyes, imagining that you’re seeing it for the first time. Let your mind open to receive the world around you without expectations, deadlines or goals and you may have succeeded in your very own mindfulness meditation.
Author: Jean Schwab, LCSW
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