I love walking. I walk everywhere. I feel like Where’s Waldo. Who can spot the purple-haired girl first? There she is!!!
I live in a community where commuting is, I feel, in it’s infancy. I am a novelty. What are you doing? Can I give you a ride? Is something wrong with your car? Are you sure I can’t give you a lift? Then when I explain that I have chosen to walk, you can imagine the looks. Gasp. Googly eyes. In those moments, I feel like an alien. Really? Why? Once upon walking with my pack in the country I stumbled across an older gentleman offering to give me a lift. When I explained I was practicing walking, he brushed it aside: You’ll grow out of that. Does this seem like a problem to anyone else?
For a walking, Nature lover like myself, you can imagine my excitement when I run across support for my lifestyle choices. I stood at the grocery store and Organic Life magazine stared me down in the aisle. On the side in beautiful white letters, it said: WAYS THAT WALKING CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE. It was in my hands before I actually had time to register what I was doing. My body, my intuition craved what that article had to say.
For years I have found solace in walking. Over time the relationship between my gait and I has blossomed into a full-blown love affair. Growing up, my father pushed an outdoor lifestyle, but as I have found, discovering (re-discovering) things on your own is the most fulfilling sensation. One summer in high school, I began walking the mining hills behind our home in western Indiana. There was something about it. I ached for more. More time in the woods. More connection. More trees. More air. More hills. More climbing. More views from the top. More of that feeling. That feeling of life. That stitch in my side. The increased heart rate. Feeling my lungs work harder, as I climbed and climbed. My legs burning. Sweat dripping. I had to keep going. For I never want this feeling to go. I live for this invigoration. Then I went to Colorado. It was the most challenging time of my life, but the mountains saved me. I climbed to breathe. To discover. To rediscover that awe of life we lose, I feel, as we age. Conditioning numbs us, but being in the mountains gave me the most mesmerizing paradox. On one hand the glorious mountains morphed my problems. My problems seemed smaller. I seemed smaller. Yet at the same time, being in them, filled me with an electric energy of possibilities. With my diminished worries, I felt I had the whole world in front of me. Whatever I wanted to create, was possible and inside me. I found myself, over and over again. Away from society. From other’s thoughts, I found my dreams. My passions. What I wanted.
When I came back to Indiana, I wanted to keep this. I looked for ways to simplify to slow down. I went to a Built Environment workshop, where Mark Fenton reinforced my thinking. I grew up as a free-range child. My sub-conscious was aching to be done with my car. To be committed to commuting. And so I did. I rode my bike. I walked. And gradually as time has went on my commuting has increased. Most often I walk to work. To my sisters. I bike to the park, so I can walk along the well-worn paths, surrounded by trees. They filter out life’s bullshit. So I can meander through the labyrinth. To be present and mindful. To realign. To recharge. To reconnect with myself. Nature is my spot. The hunger of my soul. I crave this time. I NEED this time. Snow and cold weather, darkness and sunshine, I am out there, me and my two feet.
And I think that is why I have chosen a Thoreau quote of all the ones in the article. He resonates with me. That nature thirst. The simplicity. That’s what I was seeking when I lived in my shed. The basics. Life. When I simplified my life, I left space to live my life. To really find true value in meaning. And so when I simplified and started walking, there was also this fresh breath. I took more in. When I biked across the Wabash River bridge, I saw the rushing water. I watched as the Herring swooped over the river. When I walked down town, it’s amazing how I became more aware of my surroundings and community. I noticed things I’d never seen or noticed before. When you slow down, it is amazing all the beautiful things you can take in, rather than when you blaze by in a rush and hurry to get on to the next check mark in life. For this is another thing I discovered in the mountains. Pikes Peak is literally my peak. I’ve hiked it several times. And one of the things that frequently struck me was what I observed when I got to the top. For you can get there several ways: train, drive or hike. I’d watch as train goers would get out. Snap some pictures. Buy a t-shirt and then eat while they waited on the train to take them back. I talked to a man getting off the train looking for a spot to smoke, who told me he’d lived there four years and never been to the top. I’d lived there for three months and already been to the top 4 times. I think we do this. Look for short-cuts. Deny ourselves the full experience. Go from one thing to the next. Cross things off our bucket list, but never truly immerse ourselves in the experience of living or what we’re doing. Because on my climb up that mountain, I got caught in a hail storm. I froze my ass off under a rock, but I held in there. And when I was a mile from the top I was rewarded with the most mind-blowing, breathtaking, perfect double rainbow, as I looked down over the surrounding areas.
- So why walk? These are part of the reasons I walk, but what else? What did the article say?
Walk because it boosts your mood. Bath in the forest. Legit, look up forest bathing.
- Because we have stopped walking as much. In 1969, 48% of kids walked or biked to school. Today, only 13% do.
- It shaped our bodies, helped enlarge our brains, and freed up use of our hands. Hello, technology! Thank you walking for our evolution and development. For making us who we are.
- Because inactivity blows and makes us unhealthy.
- Walking is connected to our spiritual selves as well. Just look at pilgrimages in past and present times. Look up Santiago de Compostela
- How about the labyrinth movement? I mentioned that I like to go to our local park and walk the labyrinth. Why? What’s the big deal? It encourages healing. Self-knowledge. All by following the circular paths.
- Ever heard of Thich Nhat Hanh? No, check him out, he writes some gnarly stuff on mindfulness. He also has a book called How to Walk. He dishes that maybe you start by saying a gatha (verse) while you walk. Focus on your breathing (meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc. breathing is key). Breathe in: I have arrived. Breathe out: I am home. Breathe in: In the here. Breathe out: in the now. Breath in: I am solid. Breathe out: I am free. Breathe in: In the ultimate. Breathe out: I dwell.
- It frees up brain space. I mentioned my personal experience. Walking gets me in my creative space. That time, is where the flow, the sweet spot is. Recipes come. Blogs write themselves. Plus I’m in good company. Many great thinkers, like my man Thoreau were avid walkers. Add to that list: Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.
- It ties us to our community. We developed at a foot-pace. A walkers world is rich and detailed. Not a blaze of stone and concrete and green.
How much do you walk a day? Fitbits and pedometers are all the rage these days. What’s your steppage? Swiss average 9,700 steps a day. Western Australians make it 9,695. Japanese hold in there for 7,168. What about us, Americans? We estimate 5,117 steps a day. Not going to lie I’m a little curious about my own, but I know between commuting, hiking and having a job where I am constantly moving, I do miles. And sometimes I will just take off walking around town. Get a good 15 to 20 miles under my belt. Walking to the top of Pikes Peak and back is at least 26 miles. But how can we start walking more?
First step is always awareness. Then gradually pick up walking. Maybe head out to the park. Walk to the grocery store. Walk downtown. Walk your dog. Maybe try a commute. Start tracking. Keep trying to up your steps. Find something enjoyable to you. I’ve even placed a board on a treadmill and walked while I typed. Maybe just read this. Just think about walking. I for one am going to go grab Thich Nhat Hanh’s book. The Universe seems to be guiding me to it and more mindful walking, as I wrote this article and then my Facebook feed popped up with the book on his page. Ironic? Thus is my life, I see the sign and I am taking action.