Our teacher Tony sent us an e-mail last week saying he noticed that our kinhin (walking meditation) could use some work. He asked us to watch a nine-minute video on YouTube to pick up some pointers.
The video is by a priest living in Japan. He has numerous instructional clips online, covering a wide range of topics. The format is very simple - just a priest in his robes, alone, standing in a tatami mat zendo next to a scroll, in front of a video camera.
His offerings about kinhin are very basic. He says to walk following the rhythm of the breathing, feet slightly apart gently in alignment with the hips, talking small steps roughly equivalent to half a step forward at a time. When reaching a place where you must turn, make the corner sharp, not curved. The gaze is to be focused one meter ahead, just as in zazen. He says, "There is no need to look anywhere, because in kinhin, we don't go anywhere."
He says to make the walk very simple, almost casual. "The feeling of dignity is not achieved through great self-awareness."
But it is the comment right at the end of the video that really spoke to me. He said kinhin is tricky, because as soon as the body moves, the mind moves. "That's why kinhin is very, very stormy." He said to simply be aware of it, come back to this presence, and go on.
I was so relieved when I heard him speak those words. All along, I thought it was just me. From early on, kinhin has been the most challenging part of my sitting practice, because my mind goes romping through the room, creating all kinds of chaos. I struggle to keep my gaze focused. I do things like count the number of people in the room, look at everyone's socks, plan the upcoming service.
At one of my first all-day sits, kinhin nearly did me in. Each time we went for walking meditation, I found myself embroiled in the most relentless criticism of everyone I was sitting with. I was critiquing everyone's haircuts, their clothing, the way they walked, the sounds they made when they breathed in the zendo. My head was filled with seething negativity. It was horrid. During dokusan, I spoke to Tony about it, and he said, "Wow. You're the first person who's ever told me something like that." I looked at him in shock and embarrassment. Then I realized he was kidding. Obviously, I was not the first.
Over time, now that I have been practicing a few years, I have managed to calm my kinhin, and make it more of an extension of my zazen. It is still a little edgy, but no longer filled with criticism. Sometimes it is even meditative.
What a relief, though, to hear these words by this priest. That kinhin creates a stormy mind. Now I know there is a biological connection - when the body moves, the mind moves. Knowledge is power. Insight can be a balm to a troubled spirit.
Now when I walk with a chattering mind, I can catch myself, come back to the present, and take another step. Just like zazen. Return to the breath.