Walking Meditation: Does it Work?

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Over the years I have read many accounts about doing walking meditation. Here is my own, which I sometimes carry out whilst walking alone.

Walking by its very nature can be rhythmic and relaxing. But is it possible to meditate at the same time?

Let’s be clear, one thing I have found is that a walking meditation is quite different from standard meditation. The latter requires you to sit comfortably and still the mind, to allow the excessive chatter of the left brain to dissipate and allow the more creative right brain to come into its own. You are allowing stillness and silence to enter your mind.

One of the best simple methods of standard meditation is to simply follow the breath, in and out, sensing the subtle changes of pressure on the nostrils. Your breathing will naturally slow down, your body will relax.

Whilst walking even at a relatively easy pace, depending on your level of fitness, your breathing will be deeper. Nevertheless, so long as you can maintain a steady pace, you can still concentrate on that breath.

My method is as follows:

  1. Allow at least half an hour for a walk. Forty five minutes is probably around the optimum time period.
  2. Pick a route you know, one you are either fond of, or find peaceful, or both. It doesn’t necessarily have to been in a quiet country setting or on a beach, for example. One can find solace even in a crowd if you control your breath and remain mindful.
  3. Set off at an easy pace, one you can maintain for the time period. Swing those arms gently too to maintain a rhythm in the walk.
  4. Set your eyes about eight to ten feet (three metres) ahead of you so you can see what’s ahead of you – intersperse this with occasional glances around so that you become aware of the environment you are in – obviously you do not want to walk into any one or any thing. This is not meant to be a day dream. Be careful. Accept everything around you as it is, don’t try to shut it out.
  5. After a minute or so, begin to focus on your breath, that sense of pressure in and out of your nostrils, the rise and fall of your chest.
  6. Now, if you wish, after around five minutes, you can then introduce calming key words, either to say or whisper out loud, or in your mind; I use ‘stillness’ to begin, with each inward breath. Then I bring in ‘tranquility’, ‘serenity’ and finally ‘peace’, the idea being that these words represent different levels of relaxation, each one getting calmer. You should begin to feel more at one not only with yourself but also within the environment you are walking. Effectively you are not trying to shut out the world as you would in your home, you are walking more peaceably within it.
  7. Equally, you don’t have to introduce any words, you can simply keep purely concentrating on the breath. In time you will probably find your own method; the key is the controlling of the breath. The idea is that not only can you have good exercise but you can also relax your mind more fully in the process. Once complete, try to maintain that sense of wholeness. How does your environment feel now? Afterwards, you may also become of aware of new ideas, new insights you never imagined before.

Naturally, there is always the risk that you may come across people you know, so you may have to interrupt the process. If you are walking in a town or city, then naturally you will have to regularly stop, look around. Even so, you can still maintain a strong sense of mindfulness with the breath. Just like in general meditation, if you find your mind wandering elsewhere for whatever reason, just bring it back to the breath.

Be easy on yourself and enjoy your freedom. After a period of time you may find that this little space becomes restorative, a little ‘you time’. And don’t you deserve it?

* Always remain mindful whilst walking, be careful.

Copyright Francis Barker 2020

Album Review: ‘For The Roses’ Joni Mitchell – A Sleeper Masterpiece

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Any album which followed Joni Mitchell’s groundbreaking 1971 album ‘Blue’, still considered to be her best by many, would have difficulty in competing with such brilliant, heartfelt songs and musicianship.

Predictably, Mitchell’s 1972 release of ‘For The Roses’ (Asylum), did indeed seem to underwhelm by comparison. Even the title of the album does not exactly inspire one as much as the emphatic ‘Blue’, unless you happened to be a gardener or a seeker of some bucolic escape. Nevertheless, I have to say I find this album something of a sleeper.

Unfair Comparisons

I, like many, first became aware of Joni Mitchell with songs like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, songs which made you stop, listen and take notice. Then along came ‘Blue’ and the plaudits, rightly, went bananas. Then, at least to me at the time, a youngster barely in his teens, there seemed to be a bit of a lull. Suddenly it was 1974 and the wondrous ‘Court and Spark’ was released, another groundbreaking collections of songs. Somewhere in the middle of all that came ‘For The Roses’. It has only been over the last fifteen years or so that I have come to appreciate how good this album is.

And it turns out the album’s name and character did indeed indicate the singer songwriter’s partial retreat from the hurly burly of superstar life. So here are songs perhaps less intense than ‘Blue’, but reflective of a different inner life, the beginning of her more observational, anecdotal story telling songs which have become so much a trademark of her later career.

Retreat

The opening track ‘Banquet’ sets the tone firmly, yet gently, indicating her retreat from all the pandemonium, stepping down towards the shoreline and taking a wider philosophical look at life and all its absurdities. Here too I can sense the true beginning of her more jazz-folk inspired trajectory, followed up in the next acoustic guitar driven track, ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.

If the first two tracks evoke a certain subjective melancholy, track three, the more upbeat ‘Barangril’, really brings out Mitchell’s great gift of taking an everyday snippet of daily life and turning it into a timeless masterpiece of modern Americana.

‘Lesson in Survival’ returns to the reflective melancholy, but beautifully so. Few songwriters, one would imagine, have ever been so well read. The wish for escape is overpowering. ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ continues with the theme, but gives us more than a glimpse of parental influences, how they seem to us as we age when we realise Mum and Dad were not perfect either. I love the little jazzy flourishes with the voices and wind instruments in this song, something she would continue to perfect in later albums. In this song they evoke the whistles of steamers.

Wild Canadian Expanse

It has been said before (probably by me previously too) that Russian composers like Rachmaninov can’t help but sound like the vastness of the Russian Steppes. I think the same goes for more contemporary Canadian composers too, particularly Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. In ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ I can hear the vast open plains of central Canada where she was brought up and also the equally wide Pacific Ocean off California.

‘For the Roses’, the title track, is an understated guitar song of exquisite guitar work and minimal arrangement, critiquing the lifestyle she has become accustomed to and which she is now eschewing. ‘See You Sometime’ is more straightforward, reflecting on former loves, their lifestyles, in a major key, leaving open the possibility of staying friends.

Transition Period

‘Electricity’ is a beautiful guitar track, spanning this transition period. ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ might also have appeared on an earlier album, but served the purpose of being a catchy hit single from this album.

‘Blonde in the Bleachers’ definitely looks forward, another anecdotal snippet finding meaning: It transforms beautifully in the middle to a more soft rock number with sophistication. ‘Woman of Heart of Mind’ really does sound to me like it was composed a year or so prior to the album’s release – it is, nevertheless, beautiful and understated.

The final track, Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s tune)’, is probably the most sophisticated piano based track on the album, Joni leaving us typically with a philosophical view based on much reflection. The arrangement of wind and strings is also tasteful.

Overall, this is still one of my ‘go to’ albums. It helps me relax and reflect, probably the desire of the composer at this particular juncture in her life. It is generally understated and certainly not her best offering – yet it is still a great album in my view.

copyright Francis Barker 2020

Astrology – Our Nature In The Sky

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Photo by Suleyman Seykan on Pexels.com

The ancient art of astrology appears to be as old as human civilisation.

But from the 18th century with the beginning of The Enlightenment, there was a concerted effort among the so-called scientific community to discredit astrology (and other ancient holistic beliefs) as if it represented something outdated and superstitious, a hangover from the days when all cosmic models of the universe depicted a flat earth.

At various times the astrological community, if it can be called that, has also contributed to its own poor reputation. For example, to my mind in the present age the preponderance of Sun sign astrology has weakened and cheapened its standing. ‘I’m an Aquarian so I don’t get along with a Scorpio’ – this is often the kind of conversation you will hear.

So with the Enlightenment and its subsequent change of philosophy, which claimed to rely upon observation alone, scientists effectively became the new priests, a factor which we still see today when we read the news, especially where the word ‘scientists’, or ‘scientists say’ appears. This phraseology has become almost like a trigger to make us sit up and take note, like some new prognostication from a priest. If a scientist says so it must be true. In most cases this may well be true, but we also need to do our own research, rely and trust our own discernment.

Decrying the Sacred

And whilst scientists began to look intently out into ‘the heavens’ with an increasing disregard for its sublimity in regard to God, they also too decried the idea that the Sun, Moon and planets could have any significant psychological and spiritual effect upon us, either in a real, or symbolic fashion. The sky ceased to be sacred and the whole of creation gradually turned into the result of one big ‘happy accident’, beginning roughly 14 billion years ago.

Until around ten years ago, I would have generally concurred with the general scientific explanation for our existence. I do not anymore. Increasingly, I have come to realise that we do indeed live in a sacred space, where nature is the outward expression of the creator, otherwise called the Mind of God. As to the actual nature and age of the ‘universe’ I am not at all sure anymore. However, I do know that astrology works when applied correctly.

As Above, So Below

We need to get a true understanding of what astrology is and how it works. I believe the earth and all things within it do indeed resonate with the stars, the movements of the planets. Each represents a function within us, and depending on sign, house and aspect, describes how we work, what we may well have brought with us into this life, either by inheritance or perhaps from former lives.

Suddenly, astrology and the birth chart assumed a much more sacred significance for me. Everyone was the centre of their own universe, truly important and here for a specific reason. We are not irrelevant because we are told we inhabit this ordinary planet, in an ordinary solar system, on the outer limb of an ordinary galaxy, which, along with many others, is hurtling through a vacuum at an incredible speed as a result of the biggest explosion ever.

The Universe Within Us

In the final analysis, whatever the nature of reality and our universe, all of us can only experience life through our own senses. It was Christ after all who said:

“The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)

We cannot take for granted that any other individual sees life in the same way. By that token, then the individual birth chart truly assumes a sacred importance: with accurate interpretation it can cast light upon who we are, why we are here – and perhaps, where we are going. With that in mind, every individual birth chart is a new challenge to explore. The greatest minority of all is the individual but together, in true understanding of our life’s purpose, we become a new transcendent whole.

copyright Francis Barker 2020

***If you would like your own birth chart interpreting, or perhaps that of a loved one, please feel free to contact me at: francisbarkerart@gmail.com