How a ‘Compassion Walk’ Can Put You in a Better Space

Expanded view of busy New York City crosswalk with people clustered across“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

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, Topic Expert Contributor

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Annie

    September 29th, 2016 at 1:55 PM

    We do this a couple times of year with my church and it really is an eye opener to walk through neighborhoods and won streets that are not always where we live and seeing how others in the very same community where we are live.
    I think that it can be really good for children especially who really only know one way of life to see that not everyone is always as fortunate as they are.
    A good experience, highly encourage

  • Rachel

    September 29th, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    There have been so many times when I have tried very hard to imagine what it must be like on the other side, in their shoes so to speak and I honestly think that I must be missing something because I never can quite get it. I try to force it but it just doesn’t come to me very easily.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 30th, 2016 at 6:12 AM

    Hi Annie- How lovely that your church takes this walk together. Thanks for letting us know.
    Take care,

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 30th, 2016 at 6:14 AM

    Dear Rachel,
    You’re darn right- seeing the other side is extremely difficult. I think that if you’re trying you’re already getting it right. No need to force it, just relax and breathe and it will come.
    Take care,

  • Jordan

    September 30th, 2016 at 7:36 AM

    It will definitely make you more thankful for what you have.

  • Donald

    September 30th, 2016 at 12:34 PM

    I wonder what makes us so apt to want to go through our lives with blinders on? Why would we rather close our eyes to the pain of others instead of trying to do something help?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 30th, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    Jordan, yes, you will learn to be thankful and that’s a way to real fulfillment.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    September 30th, 2016 at 3:29 PM

    Hi Donald,
    Maybe people aren’t able to take in the pain of others, and so they blind themselves, forgetting that when you’re blind you miss out on many things, including the good.

  • June

    October 3rd, 2016 at 9:20 AM

    Eek, I would love to be more compassionate but I have a very hard time dealing with bad drivers and thinking about what bad things they could have going on in their lives that would cause them to act like this. My tendency is to have a little bit of road rage right back at them. But I know, not the kindest or even the smartest thing to do for sure!

  • Hailey

    October 5th, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Sometimes I have to do a little pep talk for myself, you know, get through this and be thankful for that, and it can be annoying but it does keep me more focused on all of the positive aspects of my life and keeps me from focusing so much on the bad.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 5th, 2016 at 6:15 PM

    Wow Hailey, good for you, that’s a wonderful practice.
    Take care,

  • Nate

    October 7th, 2016 at 10:52 AM

    I know that I am so busy getting from place to place that the thought of taking this journey as a time to reflect is pretty foreign to me. I never even stop to think about the people and the places around em, just where I need to go for the next meeting or whatever.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 8th, 2016 at 4:12 PM

    It’s hard to be so busy and on the run, that’s for sure, but I wonder what it might feel like if you decided to pick out one thing to notice– flowers, for example–but it could be anything. And then just say to yourself when you see it, “there it is!”
    Let me know if you try it, and how it feels.
    Take care,

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