A lot of forms of meditation work on inward reflection whether focused on the body or the mind. However, it is equally important to be aware of your surroundings and your place among them. Sensation walking is meant to heighten your awareness of your surroundings and your presence among them without getting caught up in your own thoughts and feelings.
You can do this alone or with others. The setting does not matter, whether urban or rural. Personally, I feel more relaxed in a rural setting like a forest or park, but doing this practice in an urban setting is just as beneficial, if not more beneficial for heightening my awareness even if it is sometimes uncomfortable. If it is safe to do so, I encourage you to walk barefoot to further sync with your environment, or at least allow yourself to stop and touch the textures of your surroundings.
You should pick the same time and path to walk for this practice so that you can better observe how the surroundings change and stay the same over your daily trips.
Begin, motionless. Close your eyes. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Be aware of the impressions that your footsteps leave. Breathe deeply focusing first on your body, allowing yourself to relax.
Then, move your awareness outwards. Do you feel the warmth of the sun? Coolness of wind? What does the air smell like?
Let sounds come to you, allowing your mind to be filled only by the immediate impulses and sensations of your present surroundings.
When you are ready, open your eyes and begin walking. Take in not only the sounds and smells but also the colors and motions. Observe how your perspective shifts as you move around stationary objects or alongside moving objects.
Look first to the details nearest you–a leaf on the ground, a wrapper in a bush, a nearby chirping sound. Allow yourself to stop and observe closer when moved to do so. Look at the way light hits dewdrops. Pick up a piece of litter. Feel the texture of pine needles. Observe what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Be aware of how your presence changes your surroundings. Do the birds take flight? Do people move around you? How long until your footsteps will fade? Do not let your thoughts wander further than the immediate present, spurred by your direct observations. Be aware of your perspective and possible bias, let those bias pass away for the moment. Take in your surroundings without judgement, see things as they are.
Expand your awareness farther and farther outwards until you are craning your neck back to observe the apex of the sky and space beyond. Become aware of the vastness of time and space and aware of your own eye and mind observing it. You are alive, you are present, within this vast universe and eternity, and you have an effect on it just as it has an effect on you.
I’ve always been good at observing, but at the risk of detaching and dissociating myself from my surroundings or allowing my mood to skew my observation or my observation to skew my mood. There are days that are sunny, and I feel happy. Cloudy days that I feel tired or sad. Sunny days that look gray because of my mood. And rainy days that glimmer from my optimism. I must acknowledge that my connection with my surroundings skews the observation, but by acknowledging that, I am able to shift my perspective beyond and realize that beauty may yet be found in the dark day and that darkness still lurks in the shadows of the sun unrelated to me but still affecting me.
By regular observation of surroundings, I can still say that a particular tree may be beautiful, though it may look ugly on a day that I am upset, because in past observations I had thought it beautiful. This ability to acknowledge an alternative view even if you can’t shift the perspective in the moment is a useful practice for combating rage, depression, and other overpowering emotions that can skew observation. You acknowledge that your inward awareness affects your outward view, even if the outward has not changed. And thus, you can breathe knowing that, like every present moment, this moment will also pass and a brighter moment may be awaiting you in the future.
This practice is also about action. Your presence has an affect on the surroundings. If a sidewalk looks nasty because of litter and I clean it up, the next day it may not look so nasty. I can know that I had a direct affect on the surrounding and, therefore, altered the surrounding’s affect on me. It is through observation that we are able to discern the action needed to make a change. Meditation doesn’t need to be idle.
The practice of sensation walking is to instill a self-aware observation of surroundings. By doing this regularly, you may become aware of how your perspective shifts and acknowledge that the world is constantly changing as you are also.
The present lasts only for one non-judgmental moment. Living in the present, you act on immediate impulse. Judgement and wisdom come after experience and reflection. There must be a balance between observation and reflection, outward awareness and inward awareness. The practice of sensation walking attempts to let these opposite types of meditation meet in a way that can be acknowledged and acted on.