Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Art of Walking (2 November 2014)


"In its mixture of direct physical engagement and relaxed, aesthetic awareness, the walk serves as an ideal vehicle for the poet who wishes to evoke the world in both its seductive beauty and its obstinate solidity.’ (20)
‑ Roger Gilbert Walks in the World (1991)
As I walker I saunter in my thinking and think when I am out and about on two feet.  Never mind the four-wheeled conveyances; when I can walk-about, I do.  And it never ceases to amaze me how many people do not know how to walk.

Walking is not just a matter of ‘getting somewhere.’  Of course you can use your two legs to do that; go places on your two feet as an alternative to taking a car, bus or plane.  But the art of walking involves much more than that; it embraces, first of all, a spirit of openness to the way and then, simultaneously, a resolve to let the saunter itself be worthwhile.  The art of walking is about experiencing yourself in the context that opens up around you as you are going on your way, however chosen.

A true walk need have no destination; though a ‘place to go’ doesn’t necessarily ruin a good walk, well taken.  Getting up to go somewhere interesting; perhaps out to the duck blind by the lake or down to the dam at the back end of a local park, a walk often begins with a desire simply ‘to go’ – and not just for some merely useful reason.  I can walk to the store, and I can walk to work, and enjoy both—but a good walk is one where there is hope of something interesting; either along the way or at the desired end-point—whether or not one reaches that end!

The urge to ‘get up and go’ is the initiation of most genuine walks, though you can find yourself on a good walk for other reasons.  There are many ways to find oneself “gone rambling,” as one old rune puts it.  Sometimes a needed errand takes you to a place where a potential walk presents itself; a saunter off on a trail nearby or down a lonesome road—just to see what might be there.  At other times, going out for exercise (i.e., taking yourself for a walk rather than your pet) leads on to an excursion that was unplanned and unexpected in its direction, leading to bodily and mental pleasures unanticipated and even undreamt of – at least before you found yourself up and walking off hither or thither.

The Art of Walking is a spiritual discipline, in that it empowers us to slough off the burdens of the day, the week, or the condition in which we presently find ourselves, and open actual, physical vistas that metaphor the varied possibilities that are always presenting themselves at our doorstep; if we could but ‘see’ them_ and realize their potential indicators.  To walk well is to be able to just go; not irresponsibly (i.e., not abandoning what needs done or what we must do) but with a deep sense of opening to the world and thus to ourselves as manifestations of the world on the way.

We exercise too much; we ‘go for walks’ to lower our cholesterol and get in shape, but we do not let ourselves really walk.  We are on a leash that is self-imposed and that we are unwilling to relinquish, at least most of the time. 

To nurture the art of walking is to allow ourselves time to just saunter; to amble about and ramble here and there, preferably beyond the bounds of our usual daily rounds.  If we learn this art, we may get ‘in shape’ as the fitness gurus would call it; but we will reap a much richer reward than we will if we are just taking ourselves out for a walk around the block.  “Well, I’ve got to go out and do my steps, now,” I’ve heard people say.  And then they dutifully go for their ‘walk,’ often coming back feeling drained or tired or just bored; ready to do ‘something else’—anything else.  At best, they feel they have ‘done their duty’ for the day!  _And how sad is that?

If you walk well, though, and practice walking as a spiritual discipline, you will learn to love the ramble and the amble; the occasional jaunt that was unplanned and unexpected, as well as the regular walk taken to heighten the senses and unburden yourself of stress and the needless fixation on daily obsessions.  Good walking un-stresses the body and promotes healthy breathing.  It encourages a natural rhythm and ‘gets the blood flowing.’  And if you walk well, you will probably have more experiences worth remembering than if you just ‘take your body out for a walk.’

Good walking promotes devout thinking as well.  I cannot count the times when, out for a walk, trying to overcome the lethargy that stems from too much work or being too busy, my mind has suddenly ‘come on’ (or so it seemed) and an interesting idea occurred to me that I then thought actively about as I continued my walk.  Good walking and good philosophy go hand in hand.  Philosophers have often been walkers; to walk meditatively stimulates the mind and frees it of its ordinary channels.

The art of walking is also conducive to the writing of poetry, as the rhythm of the walk can inspire the cadence of lines that then may be crafted into verse and become a poem.  A good number of my best poems have been conceived and worked out while out on a particularly inspiring walk.

A walk is also a good time for thoughtful talks, working out problems and discussing our spiritual directions with another devoted saunterer.  The movement of the walk – when well taken – seems to inspire in people an existential kind of movement.  Whereas we can become like a blocked waterway when sitting or working, walking opens the watercourses of the soul, launching us into flux & flow, wherein we may find it easier to work though conundrums and problems, our thoughts becoming mobile within the movement of the walk, our emotions bathed and comforted by experiencing the scenes through which we pass as we amble on.  The movement and the sensory impressions can often inspire new insights into our dilemmas and new possibilities of interpretation.

As we move into late Autumn – that season called by the Celts “An dudlach” (The Gloom), walk as you will, freely as you may, and nurture in yourself the delight in ambling about that can liberate the earthen soul from what oppresses it.  Walk responsibly; walk creatively.  Walk often; and you will get the exercise you need; but also much more.  The Earth is a House of Wonders; even still—if you know where to look, and make the time to go ambling there.  I urge you to learn the freedom that the body and mind can find in the way of disciplined wandering.

“The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself.”
‑ Wallace Stevens  Adagia (1957)