Years ago, while I was completing my 200-hour yoga-teacher training, my instructor took our group to a walking labyrinth: a twisted meditation maze that’s supposed to help you journey farther into your own mind as well as to its physical center. It was the first time someone told me that meditation didn’t have to look like sitting down with your eyes squeezed shut, and I learned that, actually, the only requirement of a successful meditation session is simply paying attention.
That’s exactly the message that composer Murray Hidary—who studies Zen Buddhism—communicates via his “SilentWalk” programs with his company MindTravel. The strolls are tailor-made to create “gatherings where hundreds or even thousands of people gather together for a meditation led by music and movement. According to Hidary’s website, MindTravel SilentWalk experiences are “an exploration of the notion that bringing the lessons of music into our daily lives can radically improve our clarity, our ability to reflect and relax, and that with music as our teacher, we can peel back layers of our self.” In a way, Hidary creates meditations labyrinths through music instead of through space.
Before the pandemic, Hidary’s events covered plenty of physical ground, too. He’d led meditations in Santa Monica and Denver, Dubai and Italy, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. (You can listen to a recording of his live Santa Monica concert in the video above.) But 10 cities into a 70-city walking tour, COVID-19 forced the composer to move his events into the digital sphere. At first, he doubted the in-person experience, which could include as many as several hundred people per session, could be simulated remotely. But it quickly became clear that MindTravel SilentWalk experiences are reaching more people than ever before—thousands, rather than hundreds.
While quarantining, Hidary released 30- and 60-minute meditation soundtracks ($17) that you can take on your neighborhood walks, hikes, or treks to the grocery store. “For so many years, I’d been traveling around the world and sharing this experience because no matter what’s going on—whether it’s global or whether it’s personal—there’s always something to process or something to heal,” Hidary says. Right now, with a pandemic sweeping the nation and the Black Lives Matter movement finally getting the attention it has always deserved, this has arguably never been more true.
Here’s what happened when I tried a musical MindTravel SilentWalk walking meditation
I’m in a tree-lined suburb in upstate New York, on the day I try Hidary’s SilentHike for myself. The neighborhood’s quiet, nature-drenched atmosphere makes it the perfect location to walk without a particular destination in mind. So I put in my headphones, and Hidary meets me in a private Instagram Live. We say hello, and soon the meditation begins, with music pouring over me in binaural beats that melt into more orchestral sounds like piano and strings.
Immediately, Hidary’s meditation is beckoning me away from the day I’ve had—the emails answered and unanswered, meetings, etc. He instructs me to start walking slowly, to run a fine-toothed comb across my surroundings and really notice the operations of the world around me. I’m not in a labyrinth, exactly, but the curl of one lawn into the next and the shifting amounts of shade make me feel like I am, in some way.
Hidary instructs me to feel the natural sway, back and forth, that you will feel if you stand still for long enough. I’m there for five minutes, feeling so calm and present.
I keep walking along until Hidary tells me to stop in place somewhere safe: I stand at the edge of a driveway, looking at Sugar Maple that has—inexplicably—become exquisitely beautiful now that I’m actually paying it attention. Hidary instructs me to feel the natural sway, back and forth, that you will feel if you stand still for long enough. I’m there for five minutes, feeling so calm and present. Then we begin a snail-slow walking pace.
Hidary tells me that I should basically feel every centimeter of my foot landing on the ground, from heel to toe. There’s a lot of concentration required here, but I find that I can shift the focus created by the meditation to the rest of my surroundings. Even something as simple as a bird swooping into a tree has a comforting slowness to it in a world that’s often moving too fast.
By the end of the meditation, the world is lagging in the best way possible. It’s interesting to think that we—me and everyone listening to Hidary’s meditations—are participating in some sort of collective healing in a time that’s at once intensely painful and has the power to be a stepping stone to a more inclusive future.
Maybe that’s what we’re walking toward; maybe that’s the “center” sitting in the labyrinth.
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