Mindfulness Walk at the Aruba Butterfly Farm
Text by Debbie Kunder / Images by Steve Keith
The Butterfly Farm Aruba is perhaps one of the most peaceful places on the island. Shanti, a local yoga and meditation teacher who has worked on and off at the farm for 18 years, thinks so too. That’s one of the reasons she chose it as the location for teaching mindful walking (or walking meditation). Shanti explains, “In the Buddhist tradition, walking meditation can be done literally anywhere. Here in the garden, we’re a bit pampered—it’s like walking in paradise—but it certainly adds to the experience of becoming calm and serene.” It’s more than just that, though. For Shanti, there’s a clear connection between butterflies and meditation—transformation. “Just as the process of metamorphosis transforms a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, meditation transforms the mind so it can be more colorful, lighter, and freer, like a butterfly.”
About six of us gathered in the far corner of the tropical garden on a raised wooden deck. Surrounded by the lush greenery and flitting butterflies, we began the session with a seated meditation, focusing on our inhalations and exhalations. Shanti then explained, “With meditation, you focus on one thing. Maybe it’s the breath, a candle, a sound, or a mantra. Today, we’ll be focusing on the sensation of walking with the help of a mantra.”
Shanti demonstrated how each step should be taken—heel, sole, ball…heel, sole, ball—according to the mantra “one, two, three…one, two, three.” “You’ll take ten steps like this, stop, slowly make a full turn, then continue back in the opposite direction. Then keep repeating.” And for those times we become distracted by our relentless thoughts? “Don’t force anything. Just take notice of the thoughts that come up without judgment, then gently bring your awareness back to the walking, which is the entry point back into the present.”
We all spread out in the garden to begin our mindful walking. At this early in the morning, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. And so I began. Heel, sole, ball. Heel, sole, ball. One, two, three. One, two, three. I focused on my bare feet in the sand. Heel, sole, ball. One, two, three. Heel, sole, ball. One, two, three. Did my stomach just gurgle? Should’ve eaten more for breakfast. A coffee would be nice right now. I wonder if they sell coffee here? Probably. Whoooooops! Reining my mind back in, I returned to my one-two-threes, that is, until my mind wandered off again. Remembering Shanti’s words, I simply acknowledged the thoughts and redirected my focus back to the walking.
A bell beckoned us back to the wooden deck, where we regrouped for the close of the class, sharing our walking experiences with one another. I realized I wasn’t the only one prone to distractions. In a later conversation with Shanti, she shed a bit more light on the issues of distraction and focus. “Focusing on the walking is not actually the most important thing. What’s most important is bringing the focus back to the walking after losing focus. This is where the real work lies. The coming back. This is the part that leads to actual changes in the brain. Neurons begin to make new connections, breaking negative thought patterns. This metamorphosis has a name. It’s called neuroplasticity. But it’s not going to happen in just one session. It’s an investment. It takes at least two months of daily practice for new brain structures to form and for negative behaviors to change. Only then will you start to notice the effects of the practice.”
In Shanti’s own words, meditation “cleanses the nervous system,” leading to an endless list of benefits. It clears and settles the mind (reduces stress); slows the aging process; improves sleep, digestion, metabolism, immunity, and concentration; increases self-awareness; makes you feel more connected to others; and makes your happier. Shanti shares, “The benefits are sometimes really surprising. For example, I no longer have sugar cravings, and my skin has cleared up. Meditation really is so incredibly powerful.”
The Mindfulness Walk at the Butterfly Farm Aruba takes place every Wednesday morning from 7:30 am to 8:15 am. Donations welcome. Call the farm at 586-3656 to reserve a spot.