The Art of Walking
Walking has been for me, for the longest time, a means of transport, a medicine, a meditation since I cannot do so otherwise, a place for conversation… It has been a huge part of my daily life and my identity since I can remember.
“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering.” — Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau also said that “every walk is a sort of crusade”. He found it a sin if he didn’t walk at least four hours a day. A person of our age might think: My dear, how should I fit 4 hours of walking into my busy daily schedule?! But Thoreau knew that 4 hours of walking is not the same as 4 hours of doing nothing. Maybe it was his little secret and his way to work while staying sane.
Virginia Woolf called her solo strolls through London her “greatest rest.” Nietzsche said he didn’t trust an idea that wasn’t born “to the accompaniment of free bodily motion,” while Kierkegaard considered walking to be our most powerful cure: “I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it”.
That is why smart and great people have walked. But why do I walk? I walk, in the first place, because I like it. I like the rhythm of it, I like the way my thoughts become clearer as I become part of what surrounds me. Sometimes I walk because I have things on my mind, and walking helps me sort them out. Solvitur ambulando, as they say. It is also my favourite means of transport. I have this peculiar philosophy of not using public transportation for any distance under 7km. I also do not use it if I have to make a transfer. In a big city, if it takes you 40 minutes by train, it will probably take you one hour by walk. Right now, I live in a small city, but you can believe me anyway.
Walking is obviously the best way to get to know the place you live. It helps you to understand the city, to piece it together, connecting up neighbourhoods that might otherwise have remained separate entities. Walking helps you feel at home. There is a pleasure discovering new streets but also in knowing where to go without checking your map. Is there something more beautiful than coming home in Berlin, all the way from Prenzlauer Berg, through Mitte, and then straight into Moabit?
A path through different worlds, yet all contained in the same city. Can you feel more alive than while crossing Madrid, all the way from Malasaña, Salamanca, and down to Lavapies? Having a stroll from Gracia, through the center of Barcelona, all the way down, and you suddenly end up by the sea? Can you smell the city better than walking around Paris, without any destination? No matter where you are, walking restores your feeling of the place.
It is also a little bit like reading. You’re privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can become part of them. Sometimes it’s overcrowded; sometimes the voices are too loud. But there is always companionship. You are not alone. You walk in the city side by side with the living and the dead.
“If we observe very carefully someone who is walking, we also know how he thinks. If we observe very carefully someone who is thinking, we know how he walks. If we observe most minutely someone walking over a fairly long period of time, we gradually come to know his way of thinking, the structure of his thought, just as we, if we observe someone over a fairly long period of time as to the way he thinks, we will gradually come to know how he walks…
There is nothing more revealing than to see a thinking person walking, just as there is nothing more revealing than to see a walking person thinking… Walking and thinking are in a perpetual relationship that is based on trust.”
There is one more thing about walking that you shouldn’t miss. Rebecca Solnit said: “I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.” Walking is important if we talk about living in the flow. We always hear about working in a flow state, which helps you do deep work and tackle creative challenges. It’s the same with living because walking helps to keep your balance. On two feet, things seem easier to manage — things tend to move. And, more than ever, we could use a little help there. When our bodies align with the movement of the world, our minds light up.
Let’s finish with a wonderful poem about the art of walking:
by David Whyte
if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
PS: What is your way to keep the balance? Why do you walk? Do you think walking 4 hours daily is insane? Right now I try to walk approximately 2 hours during my working week and 4+ hours during the weekend when I can go up to the mountains and plan a one-day hike. I miss Camino De Santiago where all you really care about is walking. Have you done it or consider going? I would be happy to give you some advice about the Northern, Primitivo, and Portuguese routes. ;)
PS2: Did you know that “Solvitur ambulando” means “It is solved by walking”? What an awesome sentence! According to a legend it was first uttered by the Greek philosopher Diogenes. After listening patiently to another philosopher trying to prove that motion was impossible, Diogenes simply got up and walked away, muttering solvitur ambulando… If ancient Greeks had mics, that’d be a mic drop.