On Walking

Sublimity and the Pleasure of Discovery

Sean Swanson
8 min readMay 17, 2019

i. Foreword

It’s been 5 months since I wrote my last entry. 5 months to refine my thoughts and propose a new topic of discussion.

The purpose of this blog is to pass knowledge and encourage internal dialog through my honest observations. My only intentions are to entertain the ideas that are sown in my mind and to provoke thought in others.

Identity, personal philosophies, and preferences of taste are often tricky to pin down but are totally deserving of some investigation, so let’s talk about it! An open mind is appreciated :)

Kasamatsu Shiro — Bamboo in Summer — 1954

I’ll try to stay away from jargon/fluffy words because this is not meant to be an academic essay… I will, however, use philosophical terms here and there to capture the complexity of something another word cannot.

Don’t overthink it.

I get immense joy from experiencing new places, ideas, foods, and even from tough challenges. I’m an explorer. A curious human who seeks out the unknown and begs for a challenge. There are unknowns in every facet of our life. In fact, the fear of ‘the unknown’ is a part of our genetic code and has been the cause of much anxiety and chaos. Why do I now welcome it? It’s quite simple: gaining knowledge from tackling things that are unknown is pleasurable and moreover leads to something pleasurable. And that pleasure is realllllly good. Pure serotonin. It’s a healthy kind of pleasure too, intrinsic pleasure; different from what I could get from drugs.

At a high level, these are just my musings on how good it feels to explore the world and its unknowns. I want to try to illustrate what discovery is and put forward some ideas about the phenomenon of that natural pleasure that comes from exploration and how to constantly experience it by walking.

Kawase Hasui — Road to Nikko (Nikko Kaido Line) — 1930

II. It is simply sublime!’ ,

Said the pretentious art critic with finger and thumb fiddling their chin…

I’m writing this entry solely in the name of the concept of sublimity. I had known the word sublimeeither as the ska-punk bad or a word a pretentious art critic might use to compensate for a lack of imagination… and then I started studying philosophy in college and got my mind blown.

I hadn’t taken the time to understand anything about the definition of the word and its use cases. Trust me on this one though: you want experiences of this nature — they are ✨MAGICAL✨.

Defining something that‘s incorporeal gets a little tricky. It’s an adjective. You use it to describe something — ‘Duh’ — but when would you use it? Here’s a definition I ran across that illustrates it accurately to me:

The term sublime refers to something that is great. This greatness can be physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. Very often, the term refers to something that is so great that it cannot be calculated, measured or imitated. Special skills are often needed to fully perceive or understand the sublime. ~Wikipedia

So… what I’m talking about here are experiences of such immense beauty that it inspires utter admiration and awe. We avoid throwing this word around or using it lightly because that would dilute its power.

In hindsight, I was having experiences of the sublime quite frequently from my mid-teens up to now in my twenties. Looking at the last ~8 years on a mental map I can note that these experiences align with times when I had made a radical life decision. Walking was the common denominator during those times. These sublime experiences subconsciously reframed my mind to be more available to positivity and pleasure. Moments of being overrun with emotions like gratefulness, awe, reverence, love, and even terror all fall under the same umbrella of sublime experiences and can lead to the same benefits.

What you get from these experiences is what I like to call ‘free wisdom’. This free wisdom from the universe is like being pointed to a door that’s always been there but you never noticed. On the other side of that door are new challenges, new places, and new connections. What do you do when you discover something new? Hopefully, you’d explore a little! Imagine a new mental and physical landscape awaiting exploration… Oooh-wee, sign me up! These discoveries start the cycle over again.

This cycle of discovery that becomes the engine of positive change looks a little like this:

III. Step outside > walk around > ??? > PROFIT!!

Foolproof *steps* for success. Get it?

This next section will describe why walking is one of my favorite things to do. So far, I’ve talked about the pleasure one could get from uncovering unknown knowledge and how experiences of the sublime lead to new frames of mind. I don’t think you can really manufacture those experiences directly but there are things that make them more likely to happen. Walking is a way that I streamline that process and how I actively discover that free wisdom.

When I mentioned serotonin earlier, I wasn’t just using that as a synonym for happiness. Walking, and other exercises for that matter, literally boost the production and release of serotonin from our pineal gland.

Walking is also known to aid in digestive and intestinal health and guess what: 90% of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract! I would wager that walking is the most underrated physical exercise so it’s no surprise that this neurobiological aspect of it gets ignored!

These benefits bring about an elevated feeling of well-being that is associated with productivity, recovery, decreased risk of mental and physical illness, and longevity. Overall, it’s one of the most accessible ways to promote a fruitful life in which we can more directly realize our aspirations. Sounds🤘 EPIC 🤘. Again, sign me up! Something I don’t have to pay money for, that I can do anywhere in the world (more or less) and that I can even compete in against my friends using a fitness tracker.

What does this have to do with discovery and pleasure? Everything!

Consider the routes you have established in your day. You might leave your house and walk to a bus that takes you to work. Or you could walk to your car and then drive to the highway. On the weekend you might take a stroll to your favorite café. You know these routes intimately and could probably navigate them with your eyes closed (not recommended). Where is the surprise, the intrigue, or novelty in something so predictable? The beauty is that we don’t have to be tethered to that route if we’re on foot. Walking grants us the mobility to go in a different direction. Consider the idiom: ‘the road less traveled’. The idea that doing something new or being curious to try something different is the crux of my argument for walking.

Photo by Rosalind Chang on Unsplash

The magic happens when you are empowered to go down that different road. Our brain is genetically wired for novelty but we are also socially conditioned to fall into regular programming. Limiting ourselves to the same routine, the same path, and the same frame of mind is stifling our ability to innovate on ideas. If you start incorporating regular exercise, e.g. walking, into your daily programming you’ll find yourself on a path to enlightenment in no time.

Walking grants us the mobility to go in a different direction- physically and mentally.

One factor that played into my decision to incorporate walking as an everyday habit was learning about the concept of “sitting culture”. America is notorious for sitting wayyyy too much… to the tune of 6.5–8 hours a day according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (Article Link). We sit for work. Then we sit in a car or bus on the way home. We may sit for dinner. Then we sit down to binge our favorite show or game. This is, unfortunately, a fairly common scenario (at least in the U.S.). We ought to make a conscious decision to combat these habits for the sake of our health and well-being.

Now that you’ve read about the reported benefits of walking, here’s how to get started. There’s a little work to be done pre-walk to reap the full benefits of walking and to stumble into a sublime experience. Setting an intention or affirmation is important to prime your mind for those ‘a-ha’ moments. Something like:

I intend to be present with my surroundings and aware of my breath during my walk.

I am walking away from conflict and toward solutions.

I am contributing to my daily fitness goal of 10,000 steps by taking this walk.

I allow my busy thoughts to arise and then float away like the clouds in the sky.

The next step is just to do it. Go outside, experience it for yourself if you can, and recognize the possibilities. Once this habit has been developed it’s likely that you will be more sensitive to changes in your mind and body. These changes should be questioned and explored. One of my favorite things is when I notice a sudden mood change from anxious to unconcerned during my walk because it lets me know I’m ready to approach lingering thoughts from a new perspective.

As I started walking more it took less time to get into a flow state which makes the rest of the walk more productive! I’m at a point now where I begin to look forward to what I can solve or discover on my walks before I’ve even started. That allows me to compartmentalize my anxieties for a time that I decide instead of feeling like I have to fight every fire that arises in that instance. I feel at ease just by knowing that I will have that ‘me time’ to spend however I want. Sometimes my walks are spontaneous and I have no solid mission. Other times I plan to do things such as:

1. Think about a current challenge I am facing (brainstorming)

2. Enjoy the fresh air, taking in the world (mood regulation)

3. Day dream (goal setting)

4. Listen to music (encouraging creativity and dancing)

5. Listen to podcasts/audiobooks (entertainment/learning/research)

Yada yada walking is a great way to explore new places, work through hard problems, and bring about more positivity in your life. These things bring such pleasure and fulfillment that we all deserve to experience. If we all had a mindful moving practice we would see increased empathy, more innovation, and general human flourishing!

So get out there and be open to what the universe has to offer. There are abundant opportunities for beautiful and life-changing experiences and those who are willing to receive them will be rewarded. We owe it to ourselves to create time to connect to the world and express ourselves fully. Movement really shouldn’t be taken for granted.