Walking the 100 miles of the Two Moors Ways between Ivybridge and Lynmouth takes about seven days. In those seven days one travels through the ancient landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Burial mounds, standing stones, hut circles and ancient trails punctuate the walk with the constant reminder that these places have always been special for humans.
Carrying a 20 kilo pack containing tent, sleeping bag, food and equipment forces one to practise one of the main tenets of walking meditation – that of moving the feet. Buddhists are instructed to be mindful of four stages in each step: (i) lifting the foot; (ii) moving it forward; (iii) putting it down; and (iv) touching or pressing the foot on the ground.
And step by step, as I travelled these ways, I entered the meditative state of mind by putting one foot in front of the other, or as some practitioners suggest ‘stepping, stepping, stepping’.
Walking the moors, one has to be aware of these actions because to put a foot wrong means a turned ankle or worse. By increasing our awareness of our bodies actions we also become increasingly aware of things outside of ourselves, objects we might trip over, other people we might walk into, and these are many other things outside of ourselves that we will be more aware of than when we are sitting –especially if we sit inside. These include the wind, the sun and the rain, and the sounds of nature and of humans and machines.
But as one finds the natural rhythm (and using a pair of trekking poles forces you into such a rhythm) you find that every footstep forms part of a natural mantra. And as the length of the walk progresses, it becomes easier to enter into the detached but aware state that walking meditation facilitates.
While walking long distances there will always be feelings associated with our bodies, from the niggling pain of the blister to a pleasant feeling of relaxation. There will also be feelings associated with the things we see and hear, and with all the other sensory modalities we experience – including those that are imagined.
In paying attention to feelings, the important thing is to notice them without either clinging to them or pushing them away. When we are unaware, it is common for our minds to grasp after experiences associated with pleasant feelings.
Many people say when I walk a long-distance path I’ll “be able to have some thinking time – to sort things out”, but it always seems that when walking I have very little ‘thinking time’. My mind becomes attuned to the mantra of walking, my eyes to the path ahead and my body to experiencing the sensations of physical activity. By experiencing our sensations, rather than thinking about them, we help to cut down on unproductive thinking and bring about more calmness.
Walking the Two Moors way allows us to ‘be in the moment’. That moment where we can fill out mind with the richness of the experience of walking, leaving less room for daydreaming and fantasy and becoming deeply aware of our present experience, which becomes far more fulfilling than any daydream.
This detached state then becomes an integral part of the ‘Art of Walking’. The Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh tells us that ‘If we practise walking meditation, we walk just for walking, not to arrive. We have to be alive with each step, and if we are, each step brings real life back to us. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy each step you make’.
Walking alone through the wilderness of Dartmoor and Exmoor is a pure exercise in walking meditation and each step becomes a prayer and each mile dharma.