Friday, December 04, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mum!

In Australia today my mother celebrates her 77th birthday . . . Happy Birthday, Mum!

I've said it many times before and I'll happily and truthfully say it again: My two brothers and I are incredibly fortunate to have Margaret Anne Bayly (née Sparkes) as our mother. She’s a beautiful, wise and strong woman who extends care, kindness, and love to everyone she encounters.

I love you, Mum, and can’t thank you enough for who you are and for all you continue to be and give to me, my brothers, our family, and so many others whose lives are fortunate enough to be touched by yours!

In celebrating Mum's birthday at The Wild Reed in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 I shared quite a number of photos from the Bayly family archives. This year I thought I'd do something a bit different.

Both Mum and I have been attempting to develop a regular walking routine, knowing that such a routine has been proven to improve overall health and take the edge of a range of maladies, including depression. For various reasons, though, we've both found it difficult to establish and maintain such a routine. Hence my sharing of the following, which I hope will encourage and, despite the distance between us, unite us in our efforts.

And what exactly is it that I'm sharing today on Mum's birthday? It's an excerpt from Thích Nhất Hạnh's The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation.

The context of Thích Nhất Hạnh's teaching on walking meditation, and thus the importance of mindfulness, including being mindful of our breathing, is the Buddhist tradition. Yet as Hazrat Inayat Khan reminds us, every school of mystics – Buddhist, Christian, Sufi – has, as one of its most important teachings in the way of connecting with the sacred, the understanding of the mystery of breath. Thus the walking discussed in the following has both physical and spiritual benefits.

Walking meditation is practicing meditation while walking. It can bring you joy and peace while you practice it. Take short steps in complete relaxation; go slowly with a smile on your lips, with your heart open to an experience of peace. You can feel truly at ease with yourself. Your steps can be those of the healthiest, most secure person on earth. All sorrows and worries can drop away you are walking. To have peace of mind, to attain self-liberation, learn to walk in this way. It is not difficult. You can do it. Anyone can do it who has some degree of mindfulness and a true intention to be happy.

In our daily lives, we usually feel pressured to move ahead. We have to hurry. We seldom ask ourselves where it is that we must hurry to. When you practice walking meditation, you go for a stroll. You have no purpose or direction in space or time. The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving. Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end. Each step is life; each step is peace and joy. That is why we don't have to hurry. That is why we slow down. We seem to move forward, but we are not drawn by a goal. Thus we smile while we are walking.

In daily life our steps are burdened with anxieties and fears. Life itself seems to be a continuous chain of insecure feelings, and so our steps lose their natural easiness. If you think that peace and happiness are somewhere else and you run after them, you will never arrive. It is only when you realize that peace and happiness are available here in the present moment that you will be able to relax. . . . Touch the ground of the present moment deeply, and you will touch real peace and joy.

If you look deeply, you can see all the worries and anxiety people print on the Earth as they walk. Our steps are usually heavy, filled with sorrow and fear. We feel insecure, and our steps reveal it.

This world has many paths. Some are lined with beautiful trees, some wind around fragrant fields, some are covered with leaves and blossoms. But if we walk on them with a heavy heart, we will not appreciate them at all.

When we were one or two, we began to take tottering steps. Now we have to learn to walk again – slowly, with joy and ease. After a few days of practice you will know how to do it. When I see you walking with deep comfort and peace, I will smile happily.

. . . Walking mindfully on the Earth can restore our peace and harmony, and it can restore the Earth's peace and harmony as well. We are children of the Earth. We rely on her for our happiness, and she relies on us also. When we practice walking meditation, we massage the Earth with our feet and plant seeds of joy and happiness with each step. Our Mother will heal us, and we will heal her.

Conscious Breathing

The core practice taught by the Buddha was mindfulness, including mindfulness of breathing: "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out." It is like drinking a glass of cool water. As we breathe in, we really feel the air filling our lungs. In sitting meditation and in walking meditation we practice like this, paying close attention to each breath and each step.

While walking, practice conscious breathing by counting steps. Notice each breath and the number of steps you take as you breath in and as you breath out. If you take three steps during an in-breath, say silently, "One, two, three," or "In, in, in," one word with each step. As you breathe out, if you take three steps, say, "One, two, three," or "Out, out, 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 counting.

When you walk uphill or downhill, the number of steps per breath will change. Always follow the needs of your lungs. Do not try to control your breathing or your walking. Just observe them deeply.

When you begin to practice, your exhalation may be longer than your inhalation. You might find that you take three steps during your in-breath and four steps on your out-breath (3-4), or two steps/three steps (2-3). If this is comfortable for you, please enjoy practicing this way. After you have been doing walking meditation for some time, your in-breath and out-breath will probably become equal: 3-3 or 2-2 or 4-4.

Don't 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.

If you see something along the way that you want to touch with your mindfulness -- the blue sky, the hills, a tree, or a bird – just stop, but while you do, continue breathing mindfully. . . . Always stay with your breathing.

When we practice walking meditation, we arrive in each moment. Our true home is in the present moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows and anxieties disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders. Breathing in, we say to ourselves, "I have arrived." Breathing out, we say, "I am home." When we do this, we overcome dispersion and dwell peacefully in the present moment, which is the only moment for us to be alive.

– Thích Nhất Hạn
Excerpted from The Long Road Turns to Joy:
A Guide to Walking Meditation

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thanks, Mum!
Happy Birthday, Mum (2014)
Happy Birthday, Mum (2013)
Happy Birthday, Mum (2011)
Happy Birthday, Mum (2010)
Happy Birthday, Mum (2009)
Congratulations, Mum and Dad!
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
Port Macquarie Days
Australian Sojourn – March 2015 (Part 2)
Australian Sojourn – March 2015 (Part 6)
Australian Sojourn – March 2015 (Part 7)
Australian Sojourn – March 2015 (Part 13)


Margaret Bayly said...

Thank you for the greeting and your words of wisdom. I should refer to them on a regular basis! Love you!

Cathie Bayly said...

I'll give it a whirl too. Thanks, Michael. X