Back in the early 90s I quit my glamorous job in advertising and set off to go travelling, little did I know that it would lead me to many things including mindful walking. I use the word glamorous somewhat ironically; everyone thought the world of advertising was but I had come to realise that it wasn’t.
Making my way down through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore I found myself in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and it was here that I met Frank the German Buddhist (his name was Frank, and he was German!), who would introduce me to mindful walking.
‘Met’ is not quite the word either. I had decided that I was going to take myself off to the swimming pool that had been built in Jakarta for the Pan Asian games a few years earlier and Frank had rather brusquely invited himself along.
Frank didn’t endear himself to me very much on the journey there as he operated on a ‘need to know’ basis i.e. he talked constantly telling you what he thought you needed to know either about the world or yourself without any request for such.
The pool was big, the swimming was good and the effort of getting over there seemed worthwhile.
Frank was a reasonable swimmer so I could see why he wanted to come but long before the session ended I observed him walking very slowly round the edge of the pool. When I questioned him later on what he was doing he told me it was “mindful walking”, a Buddhist meditation technique.
Being a person with ‘things to do, people to see, no time to waste’ I found this notion faintly ridiculous.
We returned to the hostel in a taxi with Frank still maintaining the general stance – that he had done me a big favour by muscling in on my trip rather than politely thanking me for the opportunity and then capped it off by telling me somewhat aggressively that I looked at my watch too often.
‘No wonder,’ I thought, ‘I have things to do, unlike you…’
Bizarrely, the watch I had at the time fell off my wrist the next day and smashed on the floor. From there on I didn’t wear or use another one for nearly the next three years but that’s another story.
Fast forward a few years and I am back in the UK (wearing a watch) having retrained to teach, working in a school in Northampton and getting to grips with the practice of exam invigilation.
Oh my, what a drag it was.
A whole 50-minute period, in which chatting to your colleagues is strictly forbidden and the only excitement is to hand out a bit more paper or escort a student to the toilet. Eventually the race to be the first there with the extra paper or to be the one who says, “You have 15 minutes left” became a bit heated.
In this state of truly hysterical boredom I began to wonder what to do. Slowly my mind drifted back to a swimming pool in Jakarta and I thought ‘what the hell’ and so I set off walking up and down the long lines of exam tables in the sports hall as slowly as I could.
To be fair to Frank, walking really slowly and purposefully without falling over is quite hard work and takes a lot of concentration but I was amazed at how the time started to disappear when I engaged in this new strange activity.
As the exam season wore on, so my practice increased and eventually I was aiming for one full up and down of the whole hall in the single period.
Requests for more paper and the toilet were now real irritations as they disrupted my flow and I certainly made it clear from the look in my eye that I expected my colleagues to do the job and leave me in peace.
What happened next is what surprised me the most though; some of my students asked me what I was doing and why I was doing it.
I explained the story to them and to my surprise they were really intrigued. Some even said they enjoyed me invigilating as my calm pace made them feel more relaxed. Before long I was getting small nods and smiles from students as I walked past their desks, which turned to major grins when I managed to take the whole period to start at one side of the room and finish at the other.
My colleagues found it even more confusing when I started to volunteer to cover their invigilation periods, but my apparent madness won me more than a few returned favours and heartfelt thanks from those with a desperate piece of marking to do.
Today, Mindfulness is now all the rage and seems to permeate every facet of life. For many people I think the concept is something they understand but can’t always find the time or practical application for.
Mindful walking is, to my mind, one of the easiest ways to practise the art whether it be taking time to consciously focus on your surroundings, perform a quick body scan as you walk, think about your breathing or simply trying to walk in a uniform and co-ordinated.
To be frank – it doesn’t really matter as long as you walk with a little bit of purpose and don’t keep looking at your watch.
If you’d like to be ‘Frank’, and learn more about how Mindful Walking may help you, give me a call.