Born to Walk
“Slow down, you’re movin’ too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobblestones,
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.”
– Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
“The path to happiness—and deep down we all know this—is created by love, and being kind to oneself, sharing a sense of community with others, becoming a participant instead of a spectator, and being in motion. ”
– Michael Moore
In the early eighties iconic folksinger Art Garfunkel decided to get walking. He eventually walked across the United States (not all at once, of course) in a series of jaunts, and, in 1997, commemorated this walk with an album called Across America.
Why should Garfunkel and hordes of likeminded bipeds hit the roads, paths, and trails, stay there for a dog’s age, and, on returning home, immediately start making plans for the next walking trip?
Short answer: it feels good, on so many levels. Walking is not only one of the most natural and necessary of human behaviours and an essential part of our DNA since Opening Day, it’s good for our bodies, our minds, our work, our creativity, our environments, our families, and our societies.
Ottawa-based journalist, writer, editor, and walker, Dan Rubinstein, started walking to heal a knee injury, but the joy he experienced was so great that he quit his job and embarked on his own hero journey: a quest to find out all he could about the value of walking. He explored urban, rural, and wild terrains, took part in a religious pilgrimage in Wales, joined the foot patrols of Philadelphia police, took a hike with a First Nations doctor in northern Quebec, and walked with Scottish groups promoting mental health.
Rubinstein had a fabulous time gathering both hard and experiential evidence to back up the obvious truth that walking is a good idea. He travelled throughout the Americas, Great Britain, and Canada, joining the ranks of people who had seen their lives and environments transformed by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.
What did he discover? With all the progress, humanity has lost an important piece of itself. The sedentary, virtual reality, hothouse flower existence in which the industrialised world imprisons us is not only severely limiting, it’s life threatening. Regular walking reduces stress, depression, anxiety, and anger and can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. It can make us more creative and help us to problem-solve. It saves the environment from carbon emissions, and improves friendships and family relationships.
The most important chapter for mindful bards might be Chapter 6, the chapter on walking and creativity. The authors talk about art projects that incorporate walking.
“We want to create an ongoing poetic exchange with the places people live in and visit,” says curator Todd Shalom, organiser of “participatory art walks” at Elastic City in New York.
According to these creative types the highest and simplest means of learning about the world is to walk through it. History backs this up; films, novels, songs, performance art, graphic art have long been created on the subject walking and been inspired by it. Literature has many examples of how walking engages intellectuals and artists. Poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy and their friends enjoyed long intellectually rich discussions on their many forays into England’s Lake District.
Rubinstein encounters artists who’ve made art out of their walking habit, not just performance art but art whose construction requires the covering of many miles on foot. The artists he interviews report that the experience of walking not only enhances their understanding of the natural world, it gives them a deeper appreciation for the beauty—even sacredness—of simple, common things.
Walking is also a traditional spiritual experience especially, in the form of meditative walking, or pilgrimage. Buddhists do a walking meditation, Muslims walk seven times around the Kabbah when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and in the Kumbh Mela Hindus make a pilgrimage to enter a sacred river. “Peace Pilgrims” embark on long walks in a compassionate response to suffering and a desire to draw attention to injustice. All these pilgrims report an experience of profound fellowship with their walking companions.
There’s only time, pollution, materialism, and stress to lose. There’s deep thought, fitness, health, tranquility, serenity, creativity, and money saved to gain. So put on your walking shoes.
Born to Walk manifests eight of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading.
• It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
• It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
• It’s about attainment of the true self.
• It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
• It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.
• It gives me artistic tools.
• It renews my enthusiasm for positive social action.
• It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.
This article owes much to the indispensable research assistance of Bill Waterman.