Our family just spent 2 months in the country of Bhutan. If you are unfamiliar with our wanderings you can check us out at Byers Without Borders and if your geography needs help, you can find this little gem of a country nestled between India and China. You may also know Bhutan as the happiest country in the world, famous for placing Gross National Happiness (GNH) ahead of Gross National Product. This beautiful Himalayan country is heavily steeped in culture and tradition, reflecting a predominantly Vajaryana Buddhist influence.
One way this influence manifests is through the activities witnessed at Thimphu’s National
Memorial Chorten. It’s a prominent landmark in the heart of the city center with tinkling bells, engraved Buddhas and a large golden spire. A Chorten (Tibetan translation) or Stupa is a structure that contains buddhist relics, and is used as a place of contemplation/meditation. In the himalaya Buddhists traditionally perform clockwise circuits around chortens while gently chanting, praying or reflecting. Thimphu’s National Memorial Chorten is one of the biggest in the country and is dedicated to their third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. At nearly every hour of the day you can find devotees circumambulating this impressive structure. It is a large part of everyone’s daily practice, so naturally it became the focus of our daily mindful-walking practice. Over the 2 months we lived in Thimphu we set the goal to make 108 koras (circles) around the chorten. A sacred number in many eastern religions including Buddhism.
Daily we practised mindful walking, making koras around the chorten. We practiced being mindful of each step, feeling the support of the earth beneath the foot, the micro-pause that leads to the flowing shift of the body’s weight into the next step. When our monkey minds wandered we gently brought focus back to the present, to that very step, to that snapshot in the kora.
At times we adopted local traditions as aids to keep us mindful. Mantra, mala, and prayer wheels are tools that many Buddhists use to keep the mind present. Mantras are short phrases, sometimes as short as a single word, chanted aloud or simply repeated mentally. They give the mind an anchor in the present, when you catch yourself wondering what’s for dinner. Om mani padme hum, the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, is the most common mantra throughout the Himilaya and is the one we adopted. Mala are strings of prayer beads (108) similar to western rosaries. They are used to count mantras recited, koras walked, prostations performed, or simply breaths taken. Prayer wheels are cylinders whose interior contains
rolls of paper printed with a repeating mantra, and whose exterior is embossed with a mantra. Rotating on a central axis, the act of spinning a prayer wheel invokes its mantra. We found the physical act of maintaining its spin a useful aid in staying present.
Mindful Walking simply means walking while being aware of each step, each breath; it means intentionally engaging with each present moment. It can be practiced anywhere. You can mindfully walk alone in nature, on your way to school, in a crowded city or in another country.
In this video you can see us mindfully walking around Thimphu’s National Memorial Chorten. Stella is using mantra, Isabelle mala, and Lily the prayer wheel.
Watch the video HERE.