There is something about putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, heading somewhere–even if the destination isn’t clear. I’ve really only learned to appreciate walking in the last few years…before that it was simply a way to get from one place to another rather than an activity in itself.
As I read Brainpickings today, this piece about walking and wanderlust caught my attention. Rebecca Solnit wrote a book called Wanderlust: A History of Walking…and though I haven’t read the book, this quote caught my attention:
Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.
And for me, walking is a way of paying attention. Paying attention to my thoughts and feelings and to the world around me. That “nothing” of walking works as production for me. It generates creativity, increases my energy and problem solving, and generally increases the vibrance of my daily life.
Walking some dusty urban trails in our downtown park yesterday, I was struck by these vivid desert flowers. They’ve taken advantage of the rains in May and blooms are in evidence.
Up hills and down, following the twists and turns of the trails I noticed the dryness and imagined what the brush would look like in August. But for now, a carpet of color explodes calling to the bees and other pollinators…and reminding me to notice and appreciate beauty in unlikely spaces, beyond the park’s groomed landscapes and curated exhibits. Geoff and I were noticing the differences in the yellow flowers…and naming the ones we have come to know, natives (like me) to this dry and wondrous place.
And in the formal park, we walked by many beautiful blooms. This hibiscus caught my eye–not only because it is vivid and beautiful, but because of the way the stamen cast a shadow onto the petals. It would have been easy to walk by, but because I was walking with no particular destination, I took the time to lean down and look closely–finding something wondrous!
Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.
The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete — for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can.
Today’s landscape for walking was quite different as I headed out in the early morning light, beckoned by the low tide and time pressures. There was a stillness beneath the rhythmic roar of the waves, quieting the shouts of work that needs doing and responsibilities to deal with, creating space for thought…and no thought.
And while I find my peace though the lens of my camera, Geoff finds his in his call to pick up litter in this beautiful place. There are plenty of plastic straws, baggies, and food wrappers…and the occasional vibrant red ball left behind, bounced onto the shore by the waves. We are both engaged in our art, in the rhythms of our body, and in the vibrance of the walk.