A day of outdoor Chan hiking meditation

A day of outdoor Chan hiking meditation

On August 8th, I was privileged too be able to participate in a day of outdoor Chan hiking meditation.  As a beginner to Chan mediation, I was not sure what I would be in store for; but I knew that I had been reaping the benefits of meditation with Warren, at the Dharma Drum Mountain Meditation Center in Fremont on Saturday mornings and thought I’d give it a try.  

The day started in a pleasantly shaded field in The Redwood Regional Park near Oakland, California.  Warren guided the group through the eight form moving and then seated mediation.  These exercises prepped my mind and body for the hike.   Then we began our silent meditative walk through the redwoods. Being a part of this group of mediators (though silent) produced an unseen synergy that uplifted me and, I believe, enhanced the experience.

 As a novice, I struggle with learning the techniques and my mind often wanders a bit about whether I am doing “it” right.  I know I should be in the moment—to ensure my mind is where my body is—but at this stage my mind still wanders.  However, it was in these moments that I found Warren and Virginia were there to gently and unobtrusively provide reassuring words of guidance and instruction and I was able to (for the most part), as Warren says, “acknowledge the thoughts.. and let them go..”

The silent eating mediation during lunch was also a wonderful experience—I couldn’t help but wonder, how often do we eat without being in the moment or even being aware of what we are really doing?  When I think about it now, it is amazing that something as important and life sustaining as eating, isn’t done meditatively more often in my life.

After lunch, we again walked in silence and even practiced some slow walking mediation.  At one point, we stopped and were instructed to pick an object to look at.  We were not to judge it, name it, or even describe it but to just watch it and experience the suchness of it.  This exercise was extremely difficult-- of course my mind immediately wanted to do just those things I was told not to do.  I will not pretend to fully grasp this concept but the process of trying to watch and take note of the object’s existence without thought of its characteristics had a relaxing and calming effect that occupied my mind in the present.  When my mind would try to wander, I had an object to focus my attention back to the moment.

We went on to climb up some rather steep hills and Warren encouraged us with the story of Master Sheng Yen who had made an arduous journey up to a mountain monastery by simply allowing “each step to be a new one.”   At the top of the hill, we meditatively looked out over the vista and then took a break under the shade of a copse of trees and talked about the experience.  It was very peaceful and relaxing.

By the end of the hike, I felt that I had seen the forest and nature with new eyes.  Though a long way from being an experienced meditator, I was learning to experience each moment with mindfulness and clarity.  I felt more relaxed and refreshed than one would think a person who had just hiking five miles should feel.  I left the park feeling relaxed and content with a feeling of well-being that is often all too elusive in the hurly burly of life in the Bay Area.   I am now eagerly awaiting the next hike!
Steven Clements