“Try taking a compassion walk during which you see everyone, regardless of their behavior, as doing the best they can in that moment. Instead of judging others, try assuming they are struggling in the same ways you have, and send a silent prayer for them to suffer less, to have opportunities to learn and grow.” —Swami Ramananda
I live in New York City and walk everywhere—one of the joys of living in New York—and I confess that I am a people watcher. There are scads of people walking all over the place, just like me, so there’s plenty to see. And it’s good exercise.
Seniors with walkers, kids on skateboards, parents pushing strollers, other parents with babies strapped to their chests or backs. Folks in electric wheelchairs whizzing by—is there a speed limit?
People in elegant dress (me, rarely), others dressed like slobs (me, most of the time), many folks in between (also me, sometimes).
Some people stand up straight and stride forward with confidence; others hunch over and try to be invisible.
Those who know how to share the sidewalk (always walk to the right), those who block the sidewalk and get in everybody’s space, some who push right through you—they’re in a hurry, get out of the way! NOW! And let’s not forget people who are so busy studying their phones that they walk right into you.
This is the mad and sometimes maddening mixture that makes walking a city exciting. Walking gets people where they want to go! It can do more than that, though. You can practice deep breathing, synchronizing your steps with your breath, a kind of meditation. Swami Ramananda, spiritual teacher and president of the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco, suggests using this time to practice compassion.
Practicing compassion softens your heart and makes you feel better. Instead of feeling angry at the guy who pushes past and jostles me, I can think of what his life might be like. Maybe he’s attending to an emergency.
Practicing compassion softens your heart and makes you feel better. Instead of feeling angry at the guy who pushes past and jostles me, I can think of what his life might be like. Maybe he’s attending to an emergency. Maybe he’s in a hurry for no reason; he’s just always like that, thinking only of himself and his goal. Or maybe he lives in a dog-eat-dog world and figures it’s him or you, so it has to be him. I wouldn’t like living in a world like that. Instead of ruining my mood, I can feel angry at first and then reflect on his experience and hope he isn’t always running and pushing, that he can learn to relax and enjoy the world around him.
What about the space hoggers? It makes me mad when people block me. Get out of the way, why don’t you? Want to talk with your friends? Fine, but move to the side so other people can walk. The space does not belong to you, it belongs to everybody.
Maybe that’s what I should remember. That the sidewalk, like the earth, belongs to us all. We all need to remember that, to treat one another with kindness, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view. It’s easy to get mad and think about the apparent selfishness of the other person, but it doesn’t get us very far. It’s harder, but more profitable, to try “walking in the other person’s moccasins,” as the saying goes. They are suffering too, just as we are, and we can wish them and ourselves plenty of opportunities to “learn and grow,” as Swami Ramananda says.
That’s my walking meditation.
Swami Ramananda. (2016, September 6). Saucha: Cleanliness as a Spiritual Practice. Retrieved from http://integralyogasf.org/category/blog/
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