"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao Tzu
This held true for my journey inward during the Inner Walk, a four-day experience of walking continuously in silence for four hours per day. I didn't clock 1,000 miles, but 16 hours of walking sure felt like it! The program takes place each week on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. The practice was created by a Buddhist monk named Prah Orlan. He noticed that people find it very difficult to sit in silence for 8-10 hours during a Vipassana style meditation and that people have a tendency to run away from themselves. It's now organized by Inner Walk, a non-profit dedicated to helping others experience this for themselves.
From the Inner Walk website:
"The walking meditation provides a rare space where one can observe one’s thoughts without distractions, without running away. Instead of ruminating on our thoughts, we learn to see our thoughts without judgement or analysis."
Inner Walkers walking back and forth in silence for 4 hours each day.
You may be thinking, "Ok, soo, why would someone choose to do this?" Great question. I chose to embark on this journey for a number of reasons. First off, I love any opportunity to turn inward. I've come to know that spending time on my internal environment is the most effective way to shift how I perceive my outer one. Getting comfortable with everything that exists within allows me to receive from the outside with more openness and presence. I can extract more truths from life's experiences when I learn how to tune into my inner world.
I also chose to go on this journey because of the alignment of timing and how I discovered the program. When the synchronicities, or meaningful coincidences, show up I tend to follow that path. I met a friend recently who spoke highly of her experience doing the Inner Walk and then I chose to stay at Wonderland Healing Center, a space that has close ties to the Inner Walk. The founder of Wonderland helped create the Inner Walk, he is a facilitator of it, and it was seamless to integrate between staying at Wonderland and participating in the Inner Walk.
Lastly, I tend to be really good at distracting myself from myself. I'll spend hours practicing yoga, walking in nature, cooking, swimming in the ocean, etc. etc. before I choose to sit with myself. All fine activities but not truly meditative in the way that Inner Walk proved to be.
Alright, so I committed to the process. I wasn't sure what to expect and remained open to what was about to unfold. They host the Inner Walk each week, from Monday to Thursday. I started the program with 10 others from all over the world: Brazil, Germany, Russia, Ireland, America, France, and the UK. We were quite the cultural motley crew of walkers! Each day we started with a talk from the facilitator, a wise soul from Italy or from Prah Orlan, the monk who created the practice. The talks were thought provoking and inspiring, meant to give us a bit of a container of inquiry before we started our walk.
Dharma talks before the walk. If the monk was speaking, it was mostly him laughing!
The talks were nice, though unnecessary. As I'd come to learn and experience, the wisdom was in the walk. The Inner Walk was challenging; physically and emotionally. The concrete platform was about 15 meters (~50 feet) wide. We walked in a straight line from one edge to the other, turned, and walked the other way. Each turn was an opportunity to wake up, like a gentle slap across the wrist interrupting me from auto-pilot. Throughout the process we were encouraged to be with everything that came up from our subconscious. The thoughts, the memories, the obsessions, the desires, the discomforts, the joys, all of it. It's amazing to observe what the mind is capable of creating.
Over the course of each 4-hour day we made the turn about 1,000 times. My feet and legs were aching by the end. As physical sensations and discomforts show up they encourage you to be with them. To go straight into the discomfort and just be with it. Interestingly, they usually diminish or go away completely when you allow the feelings.
My experience of each day was very different. Day 1 was emotionally charged and I experienced stories and memories from early on in my life. I relived childhood traumas and grievances, injuries and upsets. I became quite activated and started walking very fast back and forth. I was distracting myself from the thoughts instead of letting them be. The facilitator joined me as I walked briskly and kindly encouraged me to slow down to a normal pace. As I slowed my pace I also slowed my breath. I relaxed and released the tension I was holding from these thoughts. I resisted at first but the moment I gave into the release I felt the relief.
Day 2 was tough, but in a different way. The four hour window of walking dragged on for what felt like days. I was walking barefoot on the concrete floor and my feet began to hurt about halfway through. So for two hours I was with the pain and discomfort. I didn't take a proper break but I did pause a few times to stretch. I could have rested for longer and it would have been ok, but I chose to keep walking. I was relieved when the tone of the gong sounded at the four hour mark.
Day 3 was really enjoyable. I had an idea of what to expect but was still open to what would show up. I found myself walking slower and more mindfully. Occasionally I would pause at the edge of the platform and admire the surrounding nature and the birds chirping. I felt grounded and at peace. There was a lightness to just being with it all. I smiled a lot and even laughed out loud a few times.
The final day was sweet and gentle. I had so much love for the process and for my fellow walkers. Though we didn't exchange any words during our walking time we created an energetic field that supported each other's journey. I walked for hours thinking about all of the people and places that have contributed to my individual journey. I went through lists of all I have to be grateful for. I sent love and healing to friends, family, and loved ones who can't walk for 16 hours in a week.
All smiles after Day 4! These are the 9 brave Inner Walkers with our sage facilitator, Patrizia!
At the end of each day we met in the dome pictured behind us for a sharing circle. It typically started with us lying on our backs listening to a song or two before sharing about our individual experiences. It's amazing how everyone had such unique journeys, but you could almost always relate to what the others went through.
After being with my subconscious for 16 hours I felt a deep sense of relief and spaciousness. I felt connected and at peace with all of the parts of me. I felt rejuvenated, open, and alert. By letting the mind take up space and not pushing it away we actually give our mind a break. It takes more effort to resist our thoughts than to give them space to exist.
While I had many interesting new thoughts and ideas, those are not what I’m taking away from the experience. I’m taking away the spaciousness that I cultivated between me and my thoughts. I strengthened my ability to be the observer, the witness. I’m not so attached to my thoughts that arise. I can both see and feel the distance between them. What a gift. Grateful to have walked within.