Walk on by
Perhaps we should all be like dogs – think of what happens when the owner says the magic word: “Walkies?” Cue for furious rushing around the house, much panting and looking hopeful by the front door.
Walking on two legs sets us apart from other animals. We clap and cheer when the baby finally works out how to keep its balance, put one foot in front of another, move forward and not fall down. Walking is so basic, so fundamental, yet in urban life can get completely swamped by other considerations. Walking to the tube somehow doesn’t cut it, neither does walking on the treadmill at the gym. You have to feel the foot make contact with the earth for it to do the necessary magic.
There are many ways to find your inner balance, to sort out the mental chaos when it threatens to become overwhelming. Everyone finds what suits them and for me, walking is one of the best and most effective ways of stilling the thoughts and getting everything back in perspective. One foot after the other, heel down, rock, toe down, heel down, rock, toe down. As I walk along, I can withdraw, sing, muse, and have personal chats with a variety of people who are nowhere around.
The writer Bruce Chatwin, whose life was cut tragically short, was a committed walker. This is perhaps best expressed in his book The Songlines, where he studied indigenous Australian culture to understand the outback, Aboriginal beliefs and the land rights movement. He drew many conclusions about the value and power of walking, and what it does for the soul. One of my favourite quotes of his is: “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.”
It is impossible to avoid the numerous reputable studies undertaken by scientists and health professionals demonstrating that walking is probably all the exercise needed to remain healthy and not gain excess weight, and this is combined with significant benefits in terms of psychological and emotional wellbeing. I know mindfulness is currently seriously on trend, but perhaps it’s time for “walkfulness” to have a resurgence.
A former neighbour of mine was born in the 1920s to a working class family, so there was no family car and he did not have a bike. He thought nothing of walking several miles to meet a friend. Needless to say he enjoyed excellent health.
The more I looked into it, the more I found wonderful things that have been said about walking. Apart from Chatwin, here are two that particularly resonated with me. I hope you like them too:
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk, every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it…but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill…Thus if one just keeps walking, everything will be all right.” Kierkegaard.
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Raymond Inmon.
A propos, I think we can be sure that they whisper to women too!