“Every morning in winter when I wake up, I put on some warm clothes and go out to take a walk around the Upper Hamlet. It is usually still dark outside, and I walk gently, in touch with the nature all around me, the sky, the moon, and the stars. One time, after walking, I came back to my hut and wrote this sentence :”I am in love with Mother Earth”. I was as excited as a young man who had fallen in love. My heart was beating with excitement. It is true – as soon as I even just think about going outside to walk on the Earth and enjoy nature, her beauties and wonders, my heart is already filled with joy. The Earth gives me so much. I am so in love with her. It’s a wonderful love and there is no betrayal. We entrust our heart to the Earth, and she entrusts herself to us, with her whole being.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Sr. Chân Đào Nghiêm
In Lower Hamlet, the monastery where I live, I often sit under a weeping willow in the early morning and enjoy the silence of the dawn with a cup of tea.
Before coming to Plum Village, I lived in a community of practice where we practiced walking meditation and I enjoyed walking in silence and in the beauty of nature. In the past I did not know how to stop my mind from wandering into the future. Whenever I walked I was always making plans for the day to come and was not present enough to really get in touch with Mother Earth, even when I walked in silence surrounded by incredible beauty.
It was not until I came to Plum Village and started practicing walking meditation with Thầy, following his mindful steps, that I discovered the healing and transformative power of this practice. I feel that Thầy continues to walk through our feet even though he can no longer walk independently now and he does walking meditation in a wheelchair.
One of my first experiences of deep healing through walking meditation was a time when Thầy told us to walk “with our father”: to first feel our father’s hand in our hand, and then to feel that we were walking with our father’s feet. My father passed away just before my twentieth birthday. I let Thầy guide me and I allowed myself to feel the presence of my dad by my side, holding my hand, looking at nature through my eyes, my feet were his feet walking on the path. My heart was full of joy to be in touch with my dad after so many years. It was a very powerful experience.
I have continued walking with my dad, reconnecting with him through walking meditation. This practice has also allowed me to understand my father better than when he was alive. The practice of walking meditation enabled me to reconnect deeply my father and heal us both. I realized that he has been with me all these years. He has never left me.
Over the years this powerful practice of walking meditation also allowed me to be present for other loved ones. When my sister had leukemia or when Thầy was in a coma, I offered each one of my steps to them and I felt that I was really present for them. I saw clearly that if I let myself be carried away by despair, sadness, worries, I would not be helping my beloved ones. I knew that my mindful breath and my mindful steps were the best thing I could do for them and for myself. At the same time I felt gratitude for their showing me that each moment in life is truly precious.
In 2013 my daughter and I walked for over forty days across the Pyrenees mountains from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. I dedicated this walk to my father and to all my ancestors, in particular my mom, brother, and sister who have all passed away. During the whole trip I could see my ancestors present with me in the clouds, in the fog, the birds, the trees, in the silence, in the rocks, the flowers.
Now my daughter and I try to walk together in the high mountains every two or three years. We usually walk together in silence, walking slowly and stopping frequently to breathe three breaths in stillness while enjoying nature’s beauty. In the evenings we have deep sharing and as we walk our mind becomes more and more silent and we come in touch with a deep joy.
We enjoy walking carrying everything we need, our food, tent, gas, water. The practice of walking in high mountains has taught me that I need very little, much less than I think I do. For example, when we first started walking together we used to carry an enormous amount of food for fear we would be hungry. But as time went by we learned that with some dry fruits, nuts, and a slice of bread and water we have more than enough. Walking in the high mountains has helped me overcome many fears and learn to trust my body, my instinct, and feel the deep love of Mother Earth.
Several times in the mountains I had to walk over dangerous paths and it was by focusing one hundred percent on my steps, only breathing, trusting entirely Mother Earth but at the same time I let myself “walk”. I felt completely secure and cared by Mother Earth. I now often experience the joy of “walking”, simply “walking”, letting Mother Earth carry me. It’s just as Thầy tells us, “Breathe, let the Buddha breathe. There is no breather, there is only the breathing”.
Mother Earth is our greatest teacher. We must listen to her, but to be able to listen to her we need to stop, and make ourselves present for her. As Thầy said: “Each step is a miracle”.