Walking Mindfully : The Journey in Parshat Masei
Parshat Masei and Mindful Walking Meditation
This week’s Torah portion, Masei, mentions 42 places where B'nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, encamped in their forty years in the wilderness. We are not told the names of all the places.
Just imagine the logistics of hundreds of thousands of people journeying through the wilderness and stopping to rest from their wanderings and setting up camp!
Why is this mentioned?
Sometimes we recall places that we visited fondly or nostalgically. Sometimes the memories are negative, and we remember them because of how frightened or unhappy we were there.
The people encamped in each place on average for two years (according to Torah commentator Rashi), and according to our sages, each stop was meant to teach them something, and perhaps to help them strengthen their faith in G-d, who was their protector and provided them with all their basic needs. The people often complained and were impatient to move on to the next stop. Is mentioning these 42 places a rebuke to B'nei Yisrael for their grumbling and rebellious behavior during their journey?
What is the purpose of the Torah's detailed description of all these stops just as the people get ready to enter the Land of Israel?
The journey between Egypt and Israel is not very far -- it's much less than a 40
year trek -- so it’s unlikely that the emphasis is on the physical journey.
R. Jonathan Sacks explains that this journey was a mental and spiritual one.
There were so many challenges along the way. G-d was with the people, but they lacked faith and clung to their slave mentality.
Slowly they got stronger and built up their endurance, but it takes time, and apparently many stages.
Actually, their journey was just starting, as they would soon enter the Promised Land and continue to grow individually, and as a nation.
We are not so different from these former slaves. Most of us know how to get from A to B pretty easily, but we too often become impatient and ungrateful during the journey.
Do we remember how we got there? Do we remember all the points along the way?
In everyday life, we lose touch with the present moment as we run around multi-tasking and checking things off of our to-do list.
We are not really “there” a lot of the time. Our mind is caught up in worries and fears about the future or regrets about the past. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there.
Mindfulness can help us be more present in the everyday tasks that we do.
Mindful breathing meditation helps us to focus, sharpens our attention, and helps us to be more aware of our surroundings. There is another practice that we can do for this purpose:
mindful walking meditation.
Taking an everyday activity that we give very little thought to, and bringing our awareness to it.
Meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:
In our daily lives, we have the habit of running. We seek peace, success, and love—we are always on the run—and our steps are one means by which we run away from the present moment. But life is available only in the present moment; peace is available only in the present moment. Taking a step means to stop running. For those of us who are used to always running, it is a revolution to make a step, and stop running. We make a step, and if we know how to make it, peace becomes available in that moment of touching the earth with our feet.
It would be a pity to let a whole day pass without enjoying walking on the earth.
Walking meditation is a form of meditation in action.
In walking meditation, we use the experience of walking as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while walking and aware of the movements of the body and its physical sensations
Let’s practice walking meditation together-
Choose a quiet place where you can walk comfortably back and forth, indoors or out, about the length of an exercise mat. Begin by standing at one end of your mat or space, becoming aware of the weight of your body and the contact with the ground.
We take our ability to be balanced for granted, so take a minute to notice the work that it takes for us to stand upright and keep our balance. Let your hands rest easily, wherever they are comfortable.
Close your eyes for a moment, noticing the contact your feet are making with the ground while letting the ground support you.
Begin to walk slowly. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease while allowing yourself to be alert.
Pay attention to your body. With each step, feel the sensations of lifting your foot and leg off the ground and be aware as you place your foot down.
Notice the back heel maybe lifting off the ground as you take a step with the other foot.
Let your walking be easy and natural. Feel each step mindfully as you walk.
You might want to say to yourself, “lifting, moving, placing” as you lift up your foot to take a step. Or breathe in as you lift your foot, and breathe out as you place your foot down. When you reach the end of your path, stop for a moment. Before you turn around, notice the intention to do so. Slowly turn around and notice what it takes, all the parts of your body involved in turning around, starting with the feet, legs, torso, neck and head. Turn around carefully so that you can be aware of the first step as you walk back.
You can experiment with the speed, walking at whatever pace keeps you most present. Continue to walk back and forth for ten minutes or longer.
As with the breath in sitting meditation, your mind will wander. As soon as you notice this, acknowledge it and return to feeling the next step. After some practice with walking meditation, you may be able to calm yourself and live more wakefully in your body.
Walking meditation can easily be integrated into our schedules since walking is something most of us do every day. Even walking from the car into the supermarket can be an opportunity for a minute’s walking meditation.
Each one of us can bring more awareness to our own journey. We might occasionally complain and get antsy, like B'nei Yisrael, but ultimately we do have some control over the speed and direction of where we’re going, and we can be truly present as we move through our life.