practice of mindful walking, says THICH NHAT HANH, is a profound and
pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. We
breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home.
of us walk for the sole purpose of getting from one place to another.
Now suppose we are walking to a sacred place. We would walk quietly and
take each gentle step with reverence. I propose that we walk this way
every time we walk on the earth. The earth is sacred and we touch her
with each step. We should be very respectful, because we are walking on
our mother. If we walk like that, then every step will be grounding,
every step will be nourishing.
can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether
it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth
and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we
can be nourished and find solidity with each step.
walk in this way, we have to notice each step. Each step made in
mindfulness can bring us back to the here and the now. Go slowly.
Mindfulness lights our way. We don’t rush. With each breath we may take
just one step. We may have run all our life, but now we don’t have to
run anymore. This is the time to stop running. To be grounded in the
earth is to feel its solidity with each step and know that we are right
where we are supposed to be.
mindful breath, each mindful step, reminds us that we are alive on this
beautiful planet. We don’t need anything else. It is wonderful enough
just to be alive, to breathe in, and to make one step. We have arrived
at where real life is available—the present moment. If we breathe and
walk in this way, we become as solid as a mountain.
are those of us who have a comfortable house, but we don’t feel that we
are home. We don’t want for anything, and yet we don’t feel home. All
of us are looking for our solid ground, our true home. The earth is our
true home and it is always there, beneath us and around us. Breathe,
take a mindful step, and arrive. We are already at home.
Uniting Body and Mind
can’t be grounded in our body if our mind is somewhere else. We each
have a body that has been given us by the earth. This body is a wonder.
In our daily lives, we may spend many hours forgetting the body. We get
lost in our computer or in our worries, fear, or busyness. Walking
meditation makes us whole again. Only when we are connected with our
body are we truly alive. Healing is not possible without that
connection. So walk and breathe in such a way that you can connect with
your body deeply.
meditation unites our body and our mind. We combine our breathing with
our steps. When we breathe in, we may take two or three steps. When we
breathe out, we may take three, four, or five steps. We pay attention to
what is comfortable for our body.
Our breathing has the function of helping our body and mind to calm down. As we walk, we can say, Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I bring peace into my body. Calming the breath calms the body and reduces any pain and tension.
we walk like this, with our breath, we bring our body and our mind back
together. Our body and our mind are two aspects of the same reality. If
we remove our mind from our body, our body is dead. If we take our body
out of our mind, our mind is dead. Don’t think that one can be if the
other is not.
meditation is first and foremost a practice to bring body and mind
together peacefully. No matter what we do, the place to start is to calm
down, because when our mind and our body have calmed down, we see more
clearly. When we see our anger or sadness clearly, it dissipates. We
begin to feel more compassion for ourselves and others. We can only feel
this when body and mind are united.
meditation should not be work. It is very pleasant, especially in the
early morning when the air is still very fresh. When we walk mindfully,
we see the beauty and the wonder of the earth around us, and we wake up.
We see that we are living a very wonderful moment. If our mind is
caught and preoccupied with our worries and suffering, we miss these
things. We can value each step we take, and each step brings us
happiness. When we look again at the earth and the sky, we see that the
earth is a wonderful reality.
We Are Not Separate From the Earth
think that the earth is the earth and we are something outside of the
earth. But in fact we are inside of the earth. Imagine that the earth is
the tree and we are a leaf. The earth is not the environment, something
outside of us that we need to care for. The earth is us. Just as your
parents, ancestors, and teachers are inside you, the earth is in you.
Taking care of the earth, we take care of ourselves.
we see that the earth is not just the environment, that the earth is in
us, at that moment you can have real communion with the earth. But if
we see the earth as only the environment, with ourselves in the center,
then we only want to do something for the earth in order for us to
survive. But it is not enough to take care of the earth. That is a
dualistic way of seeing.
have to practice looking at our planet not just as matter, but as a
living and sentient being. The universe, the sun, and the stars have
contributed many elements to the earth, and when we look into the earth
we see that it’s a very beautiful flower containing the presence of the
whole universe. When we look into our own bodily formation, we are made
of the same elements as the planet. It has made us. The earth and the
universe are inside of us.
we take mindful steps on the earth, our body and mind unite, and we
unite with the earth. The earth gave birth to us and the earth will
receive us again. Nothing is lost. Nothing is born. Nothing dies. We
don’t need to wait until after our body has disintegrated to go back to
Mother Earth. We are going back to Mother Earth at every moment.
Whenever we breathe, whenever we step, we are returning to the earth.
Even when we scratch ourselves, skin cells will fall and return to the
includes the life sphere and the atmosphere. So you don’t have to wait
until you die to go back to Mother Earth, because you are already in
Mother Earth. We have to return to take refuge in our beautiful planet.
I know that earth is my home. I don’t need to die in order to go back
to Mother Earth. I am in Mother Earth right now, and Mother Earth is in
You may like to try this exercise while you walk: Breathing in, I know Mother Earth is in me. Breathing out, I know Mother Earth is in me.
Tillich, the German theologian, said, “God is not a person but not less
than a person.” This is true of the earth as well. It is more than a
person. It has given birth to millions of species, including human
beings. Many ancient cultures believed there was a deity that inhabited
the sun, and they worshiped the sun. But when I do walking meditation
and touching the earth, I do not have that kind of dualistic view. I am
not worshiping the earth as a separate deity outside of myself.
think of the earth as a bodhisattva, a great and compassionate being. A
bodhisattva is a being who has awakening, understanding, and love. Any
living being who has awakening, peace, understanding, and love can be
called a bodhisattva, but a bodhisattva doesn’t have to be a human
being. When we look into a tree, we see the tree is fresh, it nourishes
life, and it offers shade and beauty. It’s a place of refuge for so many
birds and other creatures. A bodhisattva is not something that is up in
the clouds far away from us. Bodhisattvas are all around us. A young
person who has love, who has freshness, who has understanding, who
offers us a lot of happiness, is a bodhisattva. The pine standing in the
garden gives us joy, offers us oxygen, and makes life more beautiful.
we say that earth is a beautiful bodhisattva, this is not our
imagination. It is a fact that the earth is giving life and she is very
beautiful. The bodhisattva is not a separate spirit inhabiting the
earth; we should transcend that idea. There are not two separate
things—the earth, which is a material thing, and the spirit of the
earth, a nonmaterial thing that inhabits the earth.
planet earth is itself a true, great bodhisattva. It embodies so many
great virtues. The earth is solid—it can carry so many things. It is
patient—it takes its time moving glaciers and carving rocks. The earth
doesn’t discriminate. We can throw fragrant flowers on the earth, or we
can throw urine and excrement on the earth, and the earth purifies it.
The earth has a great capacity to endure, and it offers so much to
nourish us—water, shelter, food, and air to breathe.
we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of the earth
bodhisattva, love is born. You love the earth and the earth loves you.
You would do anything for the well-being of the earth. And the earth
will do anything for your well-being. That is the natural outcome of the
real loving relationship. The earth is not just your environment, to be
taken care of or worshiped; you are each other. Every mindful step can
manifest that love.
Part of love is responsibility. In Buddhism, we speak of meditation as an act of awakening. To awaken is to be awake to something.
We need to be awake to the fact that the earth is in danger and living
species on earth are also in danger. When we walk mindfully, each step
reminds us of our responsibility. We have to protect the earth with the
same commitment we have to protect our family and ourselves. The earth
can nourish and heal us but it suffers as well. With each step the earth
heals us, and with each step we heal the earth.
we walk mindfully on the face of the earth, we are grounded in her
generosity and we cannot help but be grateful. All of the earth’s
qualities of patience, stability, creativity, love, and
nondiscrimination are available to us when we walk reverently, aware of
Let the Buddha Walk
have a student named Sister Tri Hai who spent a long time in prison.
She was a peace activist I knew since she was in middle school. She came
to the United States to study English literature before going back to
Vietnam and becoming a nun. When she was out in the streets advocating
for peaceful change, she was arrested and put in prison.
the day, the prison guards didn’t like her to sit in meditation. When
they see someone sitting in a prison cell solidly and stably, it feels a
bit threatening. So she waited until the lights had gone out, and she
would sit like a person who has freedom. In outer appearance she was
caught in the prison. But inside she was completely free. When you sit
like that, the walls are not there. You’re in touch with the whole
universe. You have more freedom than people outside who are imprisoning
themselves in their agitation.
Tri Hai also practiced walking meditation in her prison cell. It was
very small—after seven steps she had to turn around and come back.
Sitting and walking mindfully gave her space inside. She taught other
prisoners in her cell how to sit and how to breathe so they would suffer
less. They were in a cold cell, but through their walking meditation,
they were grounded in the solid beauty of the earth.
of us who can walk on the earth, who can walk in freedom, should do it.
If we rush from one place to another, without practicing walking
meditation, it is such a waste. What is walking for? Walking is for
nothing. It’s just for walking. That is our ultimate aim—walking in the
spring breeze. We have to walk so that we have happiness, so that we can
be a free person. We have to let go of everything, and not seek or long
or search for anything. There is enough for us to be happy.
the Buddhist stories tell us that the Buddha had a lot of happiness
when he sat, when he walked, when he ate. We have some experience of
this. We know there are moments when we’re walking or sitting that we
are so happy. We also know that there are times, because of illness or
physical disability or because our mind is caught elsewhere, when we
cannot walk freely like the Buddha. There are those of us who do not
have the use of our legs. There are those of us who are in prison, like
Sister Tri Hai, and only have a few feet of space. But we can all invite
the Buddha to walk for us. When we have difficulty, we can leave that
difficulty behind and let the Buddha walk for us. In a while the
solidity of the earth can help us return to ourselves.
are made of body and mind. Our body can radiate the energy of peace and
compassion. Our mind also has energy. The energy of the mind can be
powerful. If the energy of the mind is filled with fear and anger, it
can be very destructive. But if we sit mindfully, if we walk mindfully
and reverently on the earth, we will generate the energies of
mindfulness, of peace, and of compassion in both body and mind. This
kind of energy can heal and transform.
you walk reverently on the earth with two other people, soaking in the
earth’s solidity, you will all three radiate and benefit from the energy
of peace and compassion. If three hundred people sit or walk like this,
each one generates the energy of mindfulness, peace, and compassion,
and everyone in the group receives that healing energy. The energy of
peace and mindfulness does not come from elsewhere. It comes from us. It
comes from our capacity to breathe, to walk, to sit mindfully and
recognize the wonders of life.
you walk reverently and solidly on this earth and I do the same, we
send out waves of compassion and peace. It is this compassion that will
heal ourselves, each other, and this beautiful green earth.
Meditation: Walking on the Earth
slowly, in a relaxed way. When you practice this way, your steps are
those of the most secure person on earth. Feel the gravity that makes
every step attach to the earth. With each step, you are grounded on the
way to practice walking meditation is to breathe in and take one step,
and focus all your attention on the sole of your foot. If you have not
arrived fully, 100 percent in the here and the now, don’t take the next
step. I’m sure you can take a step like that because there is
buddhanature in you. Buddhanature is the capacity of being aware of what
is going on. It is what allows you to recognize what you are doing in
the current moment and to say to yourself, I am alive, I am taking a
step. Anyone can do this. There is a buddha in every one of us, and we
should allow the buddha to walk.
walking, practice conscious breathing by counting steps. Notice each
breath and the number of steps you take as you breathe in and as you
breathe out. Don’t try to control your breathing. Allow your lungs as
much time and air as they need, and simply notice how many steps you
take as your lungs fill up and how many you take as they empty, mindful
of both your breath and your steps. The link is the counting.
you walk uphill or downhill, the number of steps per breath will
change. Always follow the needs of your lungs. You may notice that your
exhalation is longer than your inhalation. You might find that you take
three steps during your in-breath and four steps during your out-breath,
or two steps, then three steps. If this is comfortable for you, please
enjoy practicing this way. You can also try making the in-breath and the
out-breath the same length, so that you take three steps with your
in-breath and three with your out-breath. Keep walking and you will find
the natural connection between your breath and your steps.
forget to practice smiling. Your half-smile will bring calm and delight
to your steps and your breath, and help sustain your attention. After
practicing for half an hour or an hour, you will find that your breath,
your steps, your counting, and your half-smile all blend together in a
marvelous balance of mindfulness. Each step grounds us in the solidity
of the earth. With each step we fully arrive in the present moment.
Walking Meditation Poem
I take refuge in Mother Earth.
Every breath, every step
manifests our love.
Every breath brings happiness.
Every step brings happiness.
I see the whole cosmos in the earth.
Nhat Hanh is one of the most renowned Buddhist teachers of our time. He
is a Zen master, poet, prolific author, and founder of the Engaged
Buddhist movement. Still actively traveling and teaching in his
eighties, Thich Nhat Hanh resides at Plum Village, a practice community
in southern France.